One of my favorite books is Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, which he wrote immediately after his mother committed suicide. It’s just a perfect book. And the last line of it is “someday I will write about all of this in more detail,” — but he hasn’t, which is even better. I mean, deranging emotion is great. The idea of emotion recollected in tranquility is a popular one because it sounds smart, it sounds reasonable. But, do you really like reading Wordsworth more than you like reading Keats? I certainly don’t.
ES: How are you conscious of self-presentation in your work?
SM: Oh, yeah. So this is a question about vanity, right? I keep saying that what I’m really interested in is accuracy and precision in language. I guess my ego has ways of announcing itself but I don’t know how much of it is something that I’m consciously aware of. I think the second I become aware that I’m trying to present myself in a certain way, I try to stop doing it. Because I think by definition if you’re trying to present yourself in a certain way, you’re limiting what you’re saying. It’s like, I’m going to leave this out so I appear this way.
Generally I’m interested in including everything, and then if it becomes necessary to produce a more coherent piece of writing, I remove some things later on. But really, my memory is just spotty, and my ability to present narrative is really poor, actually. I never remember movies, I never remember the ends of stories. I tend to fixate on one detail in the middle. David Shields and I have had a very close correspondence by email and one of the points at which I think we’re most intimate is this shame that we can’t remember narrative. Like, I’ve read Anna Karenina, I remember generally what happens at the end, but really I remember this scene in the middle where she’s wrapped all these gifts for her little son who she gets to see but she doesn’t have time to give him the gifts, and so she brings them back home with her. So that for me is what Anna Karenina is about, that scene. It’s not — it’s this utterly forgettable thing...