September 28, 2010

in the morning light
you held the ashtray tight

Stacie Albano, Shaded, 2009

* From a Paris Review interview of Michel Houellebecq:

INTERVIEWER: So what made you write your first novel, Whatever, about a computer
programmer and his sexually frustrated friend?

HOUELLEBECQ: I hadn’t seen any novel make the statement that entering the workforce was like entering the grave. That from then on, nothing happens and you have to pretend to be interested in your work. And, furthermore, that some people have a sex life and others don’t just because some are more attractive than others. I wanted to acknowledge that if people don’t have a sex life, it’s not for some moral reason, it’s just because they’re ugly. Once you’ve said it,
it sounds obvious, but I wanted to say it.
INTERVIEWER: And what about poetry?

HOUELLEBECQ: I think poetry is the only domain where a writer you like can truly be said to influence you, because you read and reread a poem so many times that it simply drills itself into your head. A lot of people have read Baudelaire. I had the more unusual experience of reading virtually all of Corneille. No one reads Corneille, but I came across a little pile of classics, and for some reason, I loved it. I loved the alexandrine, the traditional twelve-syllable verse. When I was at university, I wrote quite a bit of classical verse in tetrameters, which appealed to the other poets. They said, Hey, that’s not bad. Why not write in classical verse? It can be done.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think of yourself as a poet as well as a novelist?

HOUELLEBECQ: Not really. It’s sad to say, but when you write novels that have a certain impact, you start to sense that editors are publishing your poems out of charity. And it becomes embarrassing.

INTERVIEWER: But you do put poems in all your novels.

HOUELLEBECQ: But it doesn’t work. I’ve always tried to put poems in my novels, but I’ve never really succeeded.

INTERVIEWER: You have said, “The struggle between poetry and prose is a constant in my life. If you obey the poetic impulse, you risk becoming unreadable. If you disobey, you’re ready for a career as an honest ‘storyteller.’”

HOUELLEBECQ: You might get the impression that I have a mild contempt for storytelling, which is only somewhat true. For example, I really like Agatha Christie. She obeys the rules of the genre at first, but then occasionally she manages to do very personal things. In my case, I think I start from the opposite point. At first, I don’t obey, I don’t plot, but then from time to time, I say to myself, Come on, there’s got to be a story. I control myself. But I will never give up a beautiful fragment merely because it doesn’t fit in the story.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have other requirements for writing?

HOUELLEBECQ: Flaubert said you had to have a permanent erection. I haven’t found that to be the case. I need to take a walk now and then. Otherwise, in terms of dietary requirements, coffee works, it’s true. It takes you through all the different stages of consciousness. You start out semicomatose. You write. You drink more coffee and your lucidity increases, and it’s in that in-between period, which can last for hours, that something interesting happens.

* In DC? Don't forget: The Foreign Press performs at Velvet Lounge (915 U St. NW, WDC) this Friday October 1. With Janel and Anthony and Mariage Blanc. $8. We will go on around 11:45.

* Have'nt seen Cocksucker's Blues, Robert Frank's doc on the Stones? Now you can.

* "A poem is an empty suitcase that you can never quit emptying." -- Kay Ryan


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