December 9, 2011

Writing and the Barricades

John Hawkes, excerpted from an interview with Robert Scholes in The New Fiction: Interviews with Innovative American Writers, ed. Joe David Bellamy (Univ. of Illinois, 1974):

SCHOLES: Jack, I know that in addition to being a writer you are a teacher of young writers, if there is such a thing, and I know that this question of politics and its relation to creative writing or the writing of fiction is a thing that worries a lot of young writers. They find it difficult to justify the indulgence in the personal satisfaction of writing at a time when the calls to the barricades seem to come more frequently and more urgently every month. What do you do to reassure young people, to keep them writing and off the barricades, or do you encourage them to go?

HAWKES: I think the acts of courage and the acts of creativity evident in the writing of fiction are similar to the qualities evident in revolutionary acts. I think clear vision, detachment, personal strength, selflessness – these are needed to change the world literally and, no doubt, are also essential to the imaginative act. The paradox is that the literary act can’t take place in the context of revolution or “real life” or world activity. I would be willing to give up writing (which I began to discover only as a young person and not at the barricade but in the midst of the primordial, fluid, slippery, messy stuff of the Second World War) – I would be willing to give up art if the actual barricade were before us. If it were literally a moment of attempting to participate in those human efforts of planning and action that had to do with political ultimacy and finality, I would want to be there.

SCHOLES: In your fiction are you working out of a consciously held theoretical position?

HAWKES: Recently I did formulate a kind of theory of fiction which can be expressed in a few words. It seems to me that fiction should achieve revenge for all the indignities of our childhood; it should be an act of rebellion against all the constraints of the conventional pedestrian mentality around us. Surely it should destroy conventional morality. I suppose all this is to say that to me the act of writing is criminal. If the act of the revolutionary is one of supreme idealism, it’s also criminal. Obviously I think that the so-called criminal act is essential to our survival.

SCHOLES: Recently I saw W.H. Auden quoted as saying that the world would be exactly the way it is if Shakespeare and Dante and somebody else had never lived, which suggests a sort of beautiful irrelevance to art or, at any rate, an existence apart from political, geographical, geopolitical realities. Do you accept Auden’s view?

HAWKES: Was he joking?

SCHOLES: I think he was serious. I assume this is a later version of his “poetry makes nothing happen.”

HAWKES: Then he’s filled with despair. I’m sympathetic with despair. I don’t agree with the idea. It seems obvious that the great acts of the imagination are intimately related to the great acts of life – that history and the inner psychic history must dance their creepy minuet together if we are to save ourselves from total oblivion. I think it’s senseless to attempt to talk as Auden talked. The great acts of the imagination create inner climates in which psychic events occur, which in themselves are important, and also affect the outer literal events in time and space through what has occurred in the act of reading.

1 comment:

Gary Lain said...

Thanks for posting this, no one really talks about Hawkes any more. I read him closely as a younger man and got a lot out of his novels, especially Second Skin. His comments here on writing and politics seem honest and well-reasoned.