Tuesday, July 26, 2005

a conversation with michal viewegh - part two

Q: Do you feel like there’s any jealousy on the part of Czech critics?

A: I firmly hope that there aren’t any of those kinds of primitive emotions, such as jealousy over the number of copies sold, at work here. I think, probably, among those serious critics, it’s a misunderstanding of a different type. For example, I was thinking about writing Bringing Up Girls In Bohemia for about a year. For a year I was working on it, preparing for it, and then I wrote it in about a quarter of a year. I wanted it to include everything that I think is good about post-modernism, whether it be word play with metatextual references, or archetypal myths such as “The Sad Princess.” I really put a lot of work into it and I think you can see that in the text. In one part of the novel I needed a two-page story that would’ve been something written by a twenty year-old girl, so within about twenty minutes I wrote something which I thought would be an average piece of work for a twenty year-old girl - something similar to the kinds of submissions that I received working as an editor at a publishing company, interior monologues by the main character with banal psychological characterisitics. And one renowned critic, an older man, wrote that the entire novel is an intellectual loss, that it’s superificial, that it was just for show, and that the only place that I displayed real talent was in that two-page story. I think that really typifies the type of misunderstanding that occurs with the critics. That just because I’m writing something that resembles film cuts - the scenes change quickly, it’s sort of spliced together - doesn’t mean that there’s not something more behind it, or between the lines. I understand the battle for readership in the era of film clip culture, and I can’t write fifteen page realistic descriptions. I would bore every modern reader.

Q: Let me ask just one more question about your relationship with the critics. Does the post-modern style, the fact that the narrator of Bringing Up Girls In Bohemia has written two books with the exact same titles as your first two books, and the fact that he teaches at the same middle school in the same city where you taught, does this make you any more susceptible to the criticism? Does it make you more tender? Does it sometimes make the criticism a personal thing?

A: Without a doubt, but then again my intention as an author was to play with that border between fiction and autobiography. I myself as a reader am also more excited when I can ask myself the question whether the writer really did undergo that experience or whether or not it really hurt as much as they’re describing it. It’s more interesting for me when I know that the story I’m reading on paper is sort of a bloody or painful part of the author’s life. Understandably a lot of people make the mistake of identifying the narrator of the book with the author. That’s understandable for the lay reader, but not for the critics. I would have to write as a female character to finally make it clear for them, that the narrator is not the same as the author.

Q: I’m glad to hear your answer, because I think with most readers, both critics and lay readers, there’s the temptation to associate the narrator or protagonist with the author, but sometimes when I’m speaking with writers I’m timid about asking whether or not a work is autobiographical. I think it would be a fair question in regard to Bringing Up Girls In Bohemia, but often the underlying accusation, to some, is that the writer is somehow lacking in imagination if the work is primarily autobiographical. In what ways are you different from this novel’s narrator?

A: It’s different in each book. In each book there’s a difference in the distance between the narrator and the author. In some books there’s not much difference and in some books there’s a lot bigger difference. I admit that I take the life that I lead as a natural background or starting point for the things I’m going to write about, but even in those novels which are allegedly the most autobiographical the realistic elements are only thirty or forty percent of my life. Of course, I also like to fantasize, invent, but it works better for me if I start with what I know. I always say that that’s the difference between a novel and a diary. Which of us can say that his life is so interesting that the mere recording of it would create an interesting novel? That’s the reason that I have to invent.

a conversation with michal viewegh - part one
a conversation with michal viewegh - part three
a conversation with michal viewegh - part four

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