THE GALIMATIAS INTERVIEW (PART TWO) – CATHARSIS, THE SUBLIMINAL, AND THE MORAL IMPERATIVE OF THE NOVEL

This is the second part of the interview with Paul David Adkin that was carried out by the Spanish literary magazine “Galimatias” in March, 2015. We have translated it here into English. (Part one is also published here, see the link below)

GALIMATIAS: You’re implying that there is a large aesthetic difference between the novella and novel?

ADKIN: Yes, I think there is. A difference embedded in the need to hide the central question of the novel. In the novella that question can be tackled more openly and directly, like a play can. But Art Wars, remember, was also written as an anti-novel. Just as The Clown and Hamlet Rex were anti-theatre.

GALIMATIAS: It almost seems as if you like to throw stones at your own house.

ADKIN: It’s my personal catharsis.

GALIMATIAS: When Sirens Call is also a tragedy, as is, in a sense, Purgatory. Are these works also cathartic?

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ADKIN: No, not really. For the same reason that they are novels. The novel forgets the big question, whilst catharsis is a tackling, head-on, of the big question. Let me reiterate it: when one decides to adopt the form of a novel to one’s expression, one needs to sublimate the central theme. That is where the resonance of the novel comes from. By pushing the theme into the subliminal, it attacks the readers on a subconscious level as well.

GALIMATIAS: When Sirens Call has references to the Odyssey, sometimes I the form of direct quotes. There is also your big question of the Home that has its resonances with Homer. How conscious of the big question were you in this regard?

ADKIN: Like many of my works – like Hamlet Rex and The Clown – When Sirens Calls began as a kind of academic experiment or a joke. Hamlet Rex was a re-writing of Oedipus Rex through the conduit of Hamlet, but a Hamlet as a young actor in the 21st century. When Sirens Call began as an experiment to rewrite the Odyssey via Joyce’s Ulysses, but a Ulysses taken out of Dublin and brought back to Greece. I was always conscious of this original idea although the experiment itself dwindled away and became lost in the greater demands of the novel. Nevertheless, this original experimental impetus did help the process of sublimation, for the idea of sifting the Odyssey through Ulysses was itself an alienating method. In a sense, the form itself of When Sirens Call provided the distancing required from the narrative and its theme to allow the novel to freely unfold.

In Purgatory there is a different kind of filtering, but the purpose was basically the same. Purgatory, of course, had an original source – the log books of the explorer Mendaña and his crew – but I needed to distance myself from them in order to make their accounts realistic. And to create that distance I invented the character of Valentín. This also facilitated the possibility of achieving another effect with Purgatory that was “the epic”. For me that meant the creation of a profound sense of journeying through a timeless landscape. I think of the epic as something essentially un-historical, existing in a timeless space. That is what Greek theatre and Shakespeare have in common. One can use any wardrobe one pleases or set the stories in any historical moment one wants. In the epic and its timelessness, there are no anachronisms.

The Terra Australis Incognita Volume 1

GALIMATIAS: And yet Purgatory is a deeply historical work, with tremendous attention to historical detail.

ADKIN: Yes. It is and it isn’t. It could be classified as an historical novel, and yet it’s not, just as you wouldn’t classify the Iliad as an historical work, and yet it is.

GALIMATIAS: According to Hermann Broch – and I’m paraphrasing him through Milan Kundera – the only moral imperative that the novel has is the transmission of knowledge. Do you agree with this?

ADKIN: A novel is obviously never a science book, and any would-be novelist would always fail if all he or she wanted to do was impart knowledge. I don’t know the quote from Broch in its proper context, but I imagine he is really saying that a novel is a description of life that pulls off certain veils and opens certain closed doors in order to reveal a vision of life that we don’t get by simply watching life go by around us. So, I’d say that the novel is a transmission of a certain type of knowledge that is not normally obvious. The imagination of the novelist opens up into life, and this provides a different insight and therefore a different kind of knowledge. And yes, perhaps we could say that there is a moral imperative for this opening and unveiling to take place, and …. as I’ve already said … there is the imperative of the big question. However, as I also said, I think it’s a mistake for the novelist to consciously try and answer the big question in the novel. It’s enough that the question is raised. Finding an answer may even ruin the book. I made that mistake when I was writing the first drafts of Art Wars. They were awful attempts to resolve the questions brought up by the plot. I’ve written more drafts of Art Wars than anything else, mainly in an attempt to rid the book of its resolutions. That was, perhaps, where I learned my most important lessons in novel writing.

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GALIMATIAS: Although you said that Art Wars was an anti-novel.

ADKIN: Which it is. Perhaps the best way to understand what a novel is is to write an anti-novel.

SEE ALSO: https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/the-galimatias-interview-part-one/

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