1972 Anonymous

«The New York newspaper for which this interview, conducted by correspondence in 1972, was intended, refused to publish it. My interviewer’s questions have been abridged or stylized in the following version.»

The New York newspaper for which this interview, conducted by correspondence in 1972, was intended, refused to publish it. My interviewer’s questions have been abridged or stylized in the following version.

Critics of Transparent Things seem to haw had difficulty in describing its theme.

Its theme is merely a beyond-the-cypress inquiry into a tangle of random destinies. Amongst the reviewers several careful readers have published some beautiful stuff about it. Yet neither they nor, of course, the common criticule discerned the structural knot of the story. May I explain that simple and elegant point?

You certainly may.

Allow me to quote a passage from my first page which baffled the wise and misled the silly: «When we concentrate on a material object . . . the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object.» A number of such instances of falling through the present’s «tension film» are given in the course of the book. There is the personal history of a pencil. There is also, in a later chapter, the past of a shabby room, where, instead of focusing on Person and the prostitute, the spectral observer drifts down into the middle of the previous century and sees a Russian traveler, a minor Dostoevski, occupying that room, between Swiss gambling house and Italy.

Another critic has said-

Yes, I am coming to that. Reviewers of my little book made the lighthearted mistake of assuming that seeing through things is the professional function of a novelist. Actually, that kind of generalization is not only a dismal commonplace but is specifically untrue. Unlike the mysterious observer or observers in Transparent Things, a novelist is, like all mortals, more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past.

So who is that observer; who are those italicized «we» in the fourteenth line of the novel; who, for goodness’ sake, is the «I» in its very first line?

The solution, my friend, is so simple that one is almost embarrassed to furnish it. But here goes. An incidental but curiously active component of my novel is Mr. R., an American writer of German extraction. He writes English more correctly than he speaks it. In conversation R. has an annoying habit of introducing here and there the automatic «you know» of the German emigre, and, more painfully yet, of misusing, garbling, or padding the commonest American cliche. A good specimen is his intrusive, though well meant, admonition in the last line of my last chapter: «Easy, you know, does it, son.»

Some reviewers saw in Mr. R. a portrait or parody of Mr. N.

Exactly. They were led to that notion by mere flippancy of thought because, I suppose, both writers are naturalized U. S. citizens and both happen, or happened, to live in Switzerland. When Transparent Things starts, Mr. R. is already dead and his last letter has been filed away in the «repository» in his publisher’s office (see my Chapter Twenty-One). Not only is the surviving writer an incomparably better artist than Mr. R., but the latter, in his Tralatitions, actually squirts the venom of envy at the infuriatingly smiling Adarn von Librikov (Chapter Nineteen), an anagrammatic alias that any child can decode. On the threshold of my novel Hugh Person is welcomed by a ghost or ghosts— by his dead father, ! perhaps, or dead wife; more probably, by the late Monsieur Kronig, former director of the Ascot Hotel; still more probably by Mr. R. ‘s phantom. This promises a thriller: whose ghost will keep intruding upon the plot? One thing, however, is quite transparent and certain. As intimated already in this exegesis, it is no other than a discarnate, but still rather grotesque, Mr. R. who greets newly-dead Hugh in the last line of the book.

I see. And what are you up to now. Baron Librikov? Another novel? Memoirs? Cocking a snoot at dunderheads?

Two volumes of short stories and a collection of essays are by now almost completed, and a new wonderful novel has its little foot in the door. As to cocking a snoot at dunderheads, I never do that. My books, all my books, are addressed not to «dunderheads»; not to the cretins who believe that I like long Latinate words; not to the learned loonies who find sexual or religious allegories in my fiction; no, my books are addressed to Adam von L., to my family, to a few intelligent friends, and to all my likes in all the crannies of the world, from a carrel in America to the nightmare depths of Russia.