But if you’re a fiction writer you have to pay attention to how things are working. Saul Bellow always used to say you have to be wised up. Hemingway thought you had to have a good bullshit detector. And they’re probably right.
SL: Putting all these ideas in the here and now, in this cultural moment, what do you see as the most pressing issue that you know fiction can really make sense of, or work through? What do you see as the big subtext of today’s culture?
CB: It’s a terrific question. But if I were to answer it, it would sound like a manifesto, or an agenda. And that makes me really uncomfortable. I have my own agenda, my sort of manifesto for myself. But I feel that a writer in my position shouldn’t be saying to someone like you, “Okay here’s the thing you should be writing about.” I think that for writers in their twenties or thirties or early forties, they’ve gotta figure all that out. You know, I could say, “All right, who’s got the power? Write about that.” Or, “How are people in your generation finding their lives in this period of late-capitalism?” But there are thousands of other topics. John Gardner used to always say in his books that fiction had to have some sort of moral agenda, and I didn’t like that idea then and I still don’t like it. I mean if there’s an agenda, it’s just, you know, what is it like to be alive now?
SL: I appreciate that response. I remember at some point in an interview or an essay you said that a fiction writer shouldn’t go forth with an agenda, a fiction writer should just write.
SL: Okay. Well let’s veer toward more grounded territory so that I don’t ask you any more questions that make you uncomfortable —