Franzen wrote something basically hinting at or alluding to the problem that when your best friend commits suicide, it sort of gives you this responsibility to not commit suicide. Because, you know, Harris already did it. Like, I can’t do that now, because that’s Harris’s whole thing. So Franzen, in a much more elegant way, wrote this whole thing where there’s this resentment toward Dave for committing suicide, because now Franzen has to fucking stay alive. And I know it’s not an exactly logical argument, but it feels so true.
I think I refer in The Guardians to the now statistical unlikelihood of my killing myself. Not that I had been looking forward to killing myself, but it was this very strange and unexpected feeling that was absolutely clear and absolutely a result of the experience of having Harris die that way. I have no idea what your original question was, and I apologize.
ES: No, it’s okay. I think I have a better way to ask it. You wrote an essay for Powell’s Books blog where you say that some of the most successful autobiographies you’ve read are ones that don’t attempt to solve problems — because often the failure is more interesting. What does interesting failure in autobiography look like?
SM: I think there is this general idea that a book should provide a function — it should attempt to answer a question, or it should attempt to solve a problem. It’s this very Western understanding of what writing is for. Like, “It should serve a function, it shouldn’t just be there as an aesthetic experience, that’s not useful.”