Imani reproduces part of The Art of Fiction interview no.195 with Oe Kenzaburo from The Paris Review. In the article, the interviewer says at one point, "In America, literary criticism and creative writing are, for the most part, mutually exclusive." I'm not sure that that has ever been quite true but, regardless, Oe's response is perfect:

I respect scholars most of all. Although they struggle in a narrow space, they find truly creative ways of reading certain authors.

To understand literature we need the three-pronged attack that Oe outlines: submersion in the author's work; submersion in the critical response to the work (both general critical and academic); and then we need to triangulate that reading with ourselves and dwell on how this study plays with our previous reading and learning.

The interview ends with this gem: the interviewer says, "It sounds like when you travel you spend most of your time in your hotel room reading." Oe Replies:

Yes, that’s right. I do some sightseeing, but I have no interest in good food. I like drinking, but I don’t like going to bars because I get in fights.

Readers Comments

  1. Michael Richards Monday 04 February 2008

    "In America, literary criticism and creative writing are, for the most part, mutually exclusive." What an odd remark: haven't writers always kept the wolf from the door by writing reviews, essays, and the like? Henry James, Mark Twain, E A Poe, John Cheever and countless others did it, as does John Updike, whose critical writings these days are probably welcomed more than his fiction.

  2. Absolutely, Michael. And writers -- when they haven't been academics and critics themselves -- have always learned much from other academics and critics; and vice versa, of course!

    There is no neat line here ... Indeed, I don't think there is any real line at all.

    Certainly, I'd prefer to read Josipovici writing about Kafka, than read some third-rate novel cavalierly claiming to be kafkaesque.

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