Q: How was working with Malkovich?
Q: When I asked why you were selected for this award, I was told that you're a writer many other writers say they admire — a writer's writer.
A: That's good to hear.
Q: There are different ways you could take that.
A: Yes, I understand. But I have written books that ended up on best-seller lists, as well.
Q: I imagine writers admire your work because it contains so much cultural criticism, and also because of the quality of your prose. The reader gets the sense that you work very hard on your sentences.
A: Yes, I'm very concerned with questions of language. This is what I think of when I think of myself as a writer: I'm someone who writes sentences and paragraphs. I think of the sentence — not only what it shares but, in a sense, what it looks like. I like to match words not only in a way that convey a meaning, possibly an indirect meaning, but even at times words that have a kind of visual correspondence.
Q: A visual correspondence?
A: Well, you look at letters, you see, on a page. There are times when you might have an adjective and a noun that have letters that create a kind of abstract correspondence, just in terms of the letter shapes. I know this sounds a little strange, but it happens to be the case. I lived in Greece for a time, and there I was, a grown man learning the alphabet — the Greek alphabet — and I began to understand that the alphabet, if you look at it with fresh eyes, is actually a work of art. It's a series of abstract shapes that convey a certain feeling that you may get looking at, say, paintings at a museum. That's how it struck me. And of course there are the Greek inscriptions on monuments as well, which raise the level of artistic suggestion.
And so I began to look more carefully at what I was writing, and I began at this time to try, in first draft, to limit the work to one paragraph per page, so that I could see it more easily, when I finished writing it and was rereading and rewriting, simply to have that visual clarity.
Q: You still do that? One paragraph per page?
A: Yes, I still do. I have pages here of my novel-in-progress, and I have maybe 180 pages. But if this were typed properly, with each page filled, it would be a great deal less, because many of these pages have just 10 or 12 or 15 lines on them.
Q: I imagine when scholars examine your manuscripts, that'll take some getting used to.
A: Well, that's their problem.
Q: In an interview years ago with the New York Times, you said you were influenced by jazz, European movies and abstract expressionism. Could you give some specific examples?
A: I don't know if I could say that jazz is an influence in the usual sense, but certainly it was and is important to me, and in fact today I listen to the same jazz I listened to when I was 22 years old — guys like Ornette Coleman and Mingus and Coltrane and Miles Davis.
I began to discover European movies around 1960, which gave me the idea that movies could have the depth and range of novels. Antonioni and Godard and Truffaut, and then in the '70s came the Americans, many of whom were influenced by the Europeans: Kubrick, Altman, Coppola, Scorsese and so on. I don't know how they may have affected the way I write, but I do have a visual sense.
I want a scene, if possible, to be something that can be imagined visually. I'm not an essay-like writer, as some fiction writers are. I want to see what's happening on the page.