To Write the Thing That is to be Written

An extract from Astri von Arbin Ahlander‘s interview with Tom McCarthy in The Days Of Yore 2011:

…So after college, in Prague, there was always the project: To write the thing that is to be written. …There was a project. I couldn’t name it, I didn’t know what it was, but it was to write. So, all of this was somehow part of the project. Even partying was somehow part of the project. …It was a very good place for being a painter, writer or filmmaker without painting, writing or making films, necessarily. It was conducive to taking the scenic route. But, I mean, look at Baudelaire. He sits in his bed in Paris smoking hashish for weeks on end and then that becomes “the thing.”

…Read. Read, read, read. That would be the thing. Because, ultimately, it’s not about having something to say. It’s what Kafka said, “I write in order to affirm and re-affirm that I have nothing to say.” Writing is not about having something to say. It’s about an intense relationship with the symbolic. Which means being completely immersed in literature, which means in other literature, but also in the world and all its mediations. So, maybe that would be the advice: Go and get immersed.

…People who proclaim the end of the book just haven’t read their literary history. I mean, the first novel, Don Quixote, is about the end of the book. That is the premise of literature.

I think this is a unique thing about literature: It’s a medium that only works because it doesn’t work. Right? It’s always about the experience of failure. The people who have best theorized about what literature essentially is — like Blanchot, Derrida — they keep coming back to this: It’s a system failure, like a computer crash, like Macs used to be before Steve Jobs came back. They would crash every few minutes — that is what literature is. And so it has always been living out its own death.

The problem would not be if literature was doomed, the problem would be if it wasn’t. Then we would have something to worry about. That is the state the middlebrow novel is in; it is genuinely doomed.

…I think any writing that confronts its own impossibility, its embedding within media, mediation, the interruptedness and so on that this involves, is, because of its very impossibility, actually destined to paradoxically survive the same way that fish grow lungs when the seas dry up, or something. It’ll find its biological form.