Below is the fourth part of my week-long interview with Tom McCarthy:
Mark Thwaite: Who should we be reading from way back when and who should we be reading who is writing now? Why!?
Tom McCarthy: You gotta read the Greeks if you want to understand how the whole symbolic order fits together; it’s like the main-frame from which all subsequent literature springs. Read the Oresteia, Oedipus, Antigone. Then the Renaissance writers, obviously. And the big modernists. Not reading Joyce if you want to be a serious writer would be kind of like not looking at Picasso if you want to paint. In terms of now, I think some of the most interesting literary figures (as I suggested earlier) aren’t necessarily writers. The films of David Lynch, for example, have an extremely literary logic; his latest, Inland Empire, is structured like Finnegans Wake or the novels of Robbe-Grillet, with a set of repetitions regressing inwards, modulating as they repeat. He’s grappling with questions of narrative and representation and identity in a way that mainstream novelists simply aren’t, and is therefore much more interesting as a ‘writer’, even if he isn’t strictly speaking one.
MT: You've established yourself as a writer, but you still see yourself as an artist -- what non-writing work are you involved in at the moment?
TM: I’m heading off to New York this week to present the International Necronautical Society’s (INS) Declaration on Inauthenticity, a joint statement with INS Chief Philosopher Simon Critchley, who I see you’ve interviewed on these pages in the past. It’ll be delivered in the form of a White House-style press conference, at the Drawing Centre on the 25th Sept. There are also INS projects coming up at the Museet Moderna Kunst in Stockholm, where we’re going to install an audio ‘crypt’ in the gallery, at Tate Britain here in London and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. I’m also working with the artist Johan Grimonprez, who made this brilliant film called Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, all about airline hijacks, which won the Documenta prize a few years ago. He’s working on a new film about Hitchcock and the double, a theme obviously very close to my heart, and I’m writing a kind of voiceover-narrative for it.
MT: Are you dismayed by the current state of writing/publishing?
TM: Nes and yo. I think it’s a great time to be a writer; it’s just an awful time to publish. But, as I suggested earlier, a result of the closing out of literature by corporate publishing here in the UK has been that literature runs underground and bubbles up elsewhere: art, film, philosophy and so on. The borders between these disciplines get blurred, there’s hybridization, new forms emerging. That’s a good thing.