A Real, Fictional Depth
Robert Glück in Conversation Part 4
So let’s see. Where are we in …
Oh I’m sorry. I brought in sexuality just to get over having asked you
about a state of being.
is a fiction that we make up and also a depth.
It’s a real, fictional depth. That’s my jumping
off point . In order to think of my own extra-literary self, I have
to think of it as a fiction. And these literary creations are also fictions,
to me that’s where they link up.
With each other and with you.
Right. The bridge is fiction, and
it extends into the „real“ world, and back again into the literary.
Yeah. I mean „fiction“ just comes from
which just means „to make.“
we make up ourselves.
So I don’t think writing
a book is so different from making up my own personality, or imagining
the world the way I must just to go out my front door into it.
Right. What about.. do you have a philosophy of teaching writing? Or is
You mean a philosophy that I teach or a
philosophy of teaching writing?
A philosophy of teaching writing. Like, why would you teach writing?
Well I think teaching writing is like recognition. At heart it’s that.
A student needs to be seen. That’s what makes it hard, and tiring. The
rest is just sort of busywork. You have to see what somebody is doing,
and recognize it, and articulate it. And that’s close to, well, love.
It’s like loving someone.
Perhaps that’s also why things sometimes get so mixed up in classrooms.
Because you really are delivering barrels of what affection, at it’s best,
gives. That’s what one hopes to do, anyway, to locate what people are doing
so they can articulate it for themselves and see it for themselves and
move on. And locating what a writer is doing is really close to locating
who a writer is. Who the person is. Then there’s just creating possibilities,
showing people books that they might like to read and introducing them
to writing practices and traditions that they haven’t encountered. Especially
now, when the
master narrative, the so- called master narrative, has been dismantled.
Students have little sense of where to place anything in history, or, if
they’re studying one subject, how to relate it to the larger field. Since
there isn’t any larger field, apparently. Or not one that has replaced
the one that was so odious. So I try to create context. When I started
writing, I may have been wrong, but I certainly saw myself as part of a
continuum. And even now I do; there are European writers that I feel close
to, there is a whole body of central
European writing that I feel is mine. And there is modernism in this
century which I feel related to and so on. And if everything is just a
big soup, from what vantage point can someone start writing. So I try to
create vantage points for students. I bring in lots of books, and I talk
about the history of writing and I bring in international writing which
hardly ever gets taught, just as foreign
films hardly ever get shown. I try to create access, and a sense of
scale, so that beginning writers can say, Yes that’s where I am and here’s
a direction I would like to go in.
That’s wonderful. I find that it’s almost impossible not to love somebody
you’ve given that much to. In some way.
It’s really emotionally taxing. When you said that thing about recognizing–
there are many heartbreaks I have every year, one of them is that when
I’m handing papers back, I’ll say to somebody, „Oh, yours isn’t here yet,“
and they’ll say, „You mean you know my name?“ And you can just see that
weird gratitude, the excessive gratitude on their face when they realize
I know their name, that just is really tragic.
So I always make sure that I memorize people’s names as much as possible,
and demonstrate it. It’s not cynical, but it’s hard to say without it sounding
cynical, that teaching often is a kind of sex work, because you
manipulate this transference to get them to learn. That’s where it
gets the most trying for everybody, in a way that I mean it quite responsibly.
But– what do you do after you’re done teaching? In terms of a class where
you’ve given that much. How do you get out of it?
Well, it’s like anything else, something comes along to replace it. Just
yesterday I was saying to Chris, my boyfriend, how much I missed my students
at Santa Cruz. On the other hand, the problem is money. In the best of
all possible worlds I would just be their teacher, I would be their
teacher for six or seven years, and then they would go off to be whatever
they were going to be and continue to relate to me. And since we’ve had
an exchange, they are right to think that it shouldn’t stop.
Because, it shouldn’t. If people have some kind of emotional exchange,
and like each other, why should it stop? Well, the problem is the culture
doesn’t provide these kind of relationships outside of an economic context.
So I have a whole new batch of students, and then they’ll be replaced by
a whole new batch of students, and the exigencies of earning a living make
it impossible to continue to relate to all these people.So only that. But
I miss my Santa Cruz students.
Yeah. I always get that way, with every graduation there is always a trauma.
But they are always specifically named ones. But I wouldn’t want it to
be any other way because if I didn’t feel that way, there would have been
major failure on my part that year, I think.
Teaching writing is a studio class. It’s an art class, rather than an academic
class. And so that makes for yet more
personal contact. Because they’re not just learning a body of knowledge,
not that it’s ever just that, but they’re learning an expressive art, and
that makes for a great deal more intimacy.
Maybe the Renaissance
apprenticeship structure would be better than what we have.
Right. Or tribal. But apprenticeship
would be great. Then copying could come back. Copying, which I think was
Oh, you mean like manuscript
No no, I mean like learning from someone by copying their style. Which
I think is an excellent way of learning. And it is completely
abominated now, because one is supposed to come up with one’s own voice,
whatever that is, and one’s own style, whatever that is.
Is that one of the reasons you wrote „Reader“?
Yes, it is. And also I wanted to kind of show how when you read someone
you welcome them into your psychic life. You welcome their work into your
psychic life, because they’re dead.
Not all of them.
They might as well be if you’re..
Copying them. [laughter]
They’re dead on the page, they may be alive somewhere else. But it’s almost
like a vampire
or a virus when you welcome them into your system. And for a while,
perhaps forever, but certainly for a while, you’ve arranged for them to
take over. And I like that very much. That’s what reading is. In the most
naive reading you’re just allowing somebody to come in and give you a guided
daydream. You just fall into the pages of the novel and get led through
it. And from there it becomes more and more complicated, but certainly
you’ve allowed somebody to come in and reorganize things. And to me that’s
very friendly, the undead notwithstanding. And I wanted the book to be
a very sweet and friendly book. Because that’s what you do with your friends
helps you structure experience. Your friends tell you stories about
what happened to them, and you allow those stories to be re-staged in your
psychic life. And you tell them stories, about what happened to you, and
your stories are re-staged in their psychic lives. So there’s this constant
dramatization. And you make a
theatre of your interior life for your friend, and allow your friend
to re-stage her or his drama. In
Margery, I was thinking about how
belief happens – – that’s one of the ways. We believe in our own lives
when we mount these productions in the interior lives of our friends. Our
friends allow us to do that. If that dramatization is only going in one
direction, that’s where power dynamics come in.
But it certainly is what happens in writing. That’s why a writer can be
powerful, When you think of a writer as powerful, the power is that that
writer has organized at least a portion of the psychic lives of many people.
Or more completely affects a few, like a cult writer.
R. Delany says that the speaker, or the writer or the actor is the
sadist because she or he’s
demanding to be loved. And the listener or the reader is the masochist
because she or he is
willing to love the listener. What do you think of that?
Well, in order for the sadist to have pleasure, he or she needs to see
the masochist’s excitement.
So I just would add that to it. [laughter] I mean I don’t disagree, but
you are your own reader, at the beginning, and you become excited
as the first reader, and then you hope those feelings will be duplicated
in innumerable others.
Because a sadist can only be a good one, if she or he can identify with
the masochist’s pleasure too, you mean.
Exactly, exactly. But also, the Delany thing eliminates the idea that one
is one’s own first reader, too. Because you are not only writing for yourself
the writer, you are writing
for yourself the reader. When I get an idea for a book, it’s a book
that I want to see in the world. It’s a book I want to read.
What are you doing now?
Oh, let’s see. I’m noodling away, just noodling, the cistern is getting
fuller. I’m making plans to do kind of a long short story or a novella.
A second part to a story called „Everyman“
that appeared in Men on Men 4. I’m just thinking it through, and
making notes for it. And then I’m also returning to a novel that I’d started
at the beginning of the decade, of the last decade.I never felt I had the
right kind of access to the material, and now I do, so I’m going back to
that. I think it’s going to be called
The Century As King, a title
from Jabes, about a father and a son. The father is murdered. The son had
designed his life according to what he believed the father’s life was like.
Which was empty of story. After the father is murdered, this florescence
of story appears that was the father’s actual life. So the father had mistresses
lovers— he did quite a lot.
But the only father the son knew was this failed night
clerk at a motel. This guy who was a failure and seemed to do nothing but
read Zane Gray novels. The story, the short story is about the death of
my friend Ed. Which I started writing about in Everyman. And that
will conclude a book of stories called Everyman. I like the fifteenth
That’s what I was just about to say. You do have something about the
late middle ages, early Renaissance.
I do, I do. I think of it as pre-tonal. I think the late &
middle ages and post-modernity have a lot in common, in terms of the
assumptions a writer would make about writing itself.
Can you say something…
Oh, just that ideas of originality were not in place. We have seen this
idea of individual as a point of origin, which has carried literature in
such good stead for a couple hundred years now, disintegrating. And the
fifteenth century was the point where it was coming together. It hadn’t
quite come together yet. Also it’s a hellish century: the Hundred Years
War. Just what the 20th century will be called. Postmodern appropriation
challenges the idea of interior life and the authority of the writer’s
voice.In the fifteenth century, such borrowing was considered a regular
part of writing. There was little thought of the writer’s original voice..
the original Margery modeled her book on the
manuals of other women of the time, like Bridget
of Sweden. They all had characteristics in common. A wedding with God
seemed to be essential. And sometimes tears.. People often say that Margery
knew these works, and that she had organized some of her
book around other books. So maybe Margery was creating a fiction in
her book. That is, how much was appropriated ideas? How much did Margery
live through? If she did live through them, does that mean they weren’t
Right. Because she could have lived through them because she read them,
That quandary over what
experience means and how the authority, or whatever authenticates experience,
runs back and forth between yourself and the world. That idea itself attacks
the idea of the isolate author spinning a world out of his or her own experience,
if you look at experience as a collaboration. Experience itself is a collaborative
effort. I guess that’s what I mean by having your
own stories restaged.
So the self is also a collaborative effort.
Exactly, it’s a collaboration.
Oh, that’s great.
Well, that seems like enough.
Yeah, that’s a good ending.