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Posts tagged "george saunders"
Tobias Wolff: “An artist was someone who worked, not some special being exempt from the claims of ordinary life.”
There’s a fantastic Paris Review interview with Tobias Wolff that has way too many great bits, but some of which I had to archive here.
On patience as a virtue:
I don’t have a lot of advice to give. The one thing I would say to a young writer who wanted counsel is to be patient. Time, which is your enemy in almost everything in this life, is your friend in writing. It is. If you can relax into time, not fight it, not fret at its passing, you will become better. You probably won’t be very good at the beginning, but you will become better, and eventually you may actually become good. But it doesn’t help to be afraid of time, or to measure yourself against prodigies like Conrad or Crane or Rimbaud. There’s always going to be somebody who did it better than you, faster than you, and you don’t want to make comparisons that will discourage you in your work. In fact, most fiction writers tend to graybeard their way into their best work.
On obligations and compromises that supposedly take away from an artist’s work:
I find that all the best things in my life have come about precisely through the things that hold me in place: family, work, routine…
…It’s the gravity of daily obligations and habit, the connections you have to your friends and your work, your family, your place— even the compromises that are required of you to get through this life. The compromises don’t diminish us, they humanize us—it’s the people who won’t, or who think they don’t, who end up monsters in this world.
On the self-destructive and self-pitying impulses of many artists:
[T]here is an ancient disaffection between artists and the institutions they see as their antagonists, the status quo. There’s an offended sense of dignity at work in them, and also a tremendous temptation to self-pity and self-indulgence. And the American version of artist outlaw is very, very heavy on the self-indulgence. The self-pity of being a writer or an artist has been a sovereign excuse for all kinds of baloney. You know, All the sufferings I endure and the terrible things I do to my wife and children are because I’m an artist in this philistine America.
Here’s George Saunders: on his former teacher:
“Toby was the first great writer I ever met and what the meeting did for me was disabuse me of the idea that a writer had to be a dysfunctional crazy person,” Saunders said. “Toby was loving, gentle, funny, kind, wise — yet he was producing these works of great (sometimes dark) genius. It was invigorating to be reminded that great writing was (1) mysterious and (2) not linked, in any reductive, linear way, to the way one lived: wild writing could come from a life that was beautifully under control. Watching him, I felt: O.K., nurture the positive human parts of yourself and hope they get into your work, eventually.”
Filed under: writing
For some people, “selling out” isn’t just doing a commercial1, it’s wanting to expand your audience, period.
I want to be more expansive. If there are 10 readers out there, let’s assume I’m never going to reach two of them. They’ll never be interested. And let’s say I’ve already got three of them, maybe four. If there’s something in my work that’s making numbers five, six and seven turn off to it, I’d like to figure out what that is. I can’t change who I am and what I do, but maybe there’s a way to reach those good and dedicated readers that the first few books might not have appealed to. I’d like to make a basket big enough that it included them.
I got in a Twitter spat (well documented over at io9) defending the quote, and I really don’t want to rehash it here, but basically what I’ve (finally?) realized is that all my disagreements about art these days tend to come down to whether the people I’m talking to believe that “real” art is only something that you make for yourself without any considerations of how it will go over with an audience.
It’s refreshing to find someone at Saunders’ level at his point in his career wanting to expand his audience rather than just shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I’m doing my thing, if the dumb masses don’t get it, then that’s their fault. Fuck ‘em, I’m keeping it real.” As @meaghano put it, not simply dismissing those you’ve failed to reach with “false preciousness/grandiosity.”
As Saunders says, “A writer understands his work as something that originates with him but then, with any luck, gets away from him.”
The idea that “real” artists only make the work for themselves (take it or leave it, world!) is not only wrong, it’s boring.
We not only need to stop worrying about selling out, we need to be open to the idea that the artist thinking about audience, or, god forbid, seeing what he does as a collaboration with his audience, under the right circumstances, can actually improve the work, or get him someplace different, or more interesting.