Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Art of the Interview

"Do you consider yourself a postmodern author?": Interviews with Contemporary English Writers.
Edited by Rudolf Freiburg and Jan Schnitker
Münster: LIT, 1999. (239 p.)
(Erlanger Studien zur Anglistik und Amerikanistik; 1)
ISBN: 3-8258-4395-5
39,80 DM / £15.99 UK

Rudolf Freiburg's interview with Julian Barnes took place in July 1999, a month which brought a particularly fine stretch of pleasant weather to London. One imagines the warm sun slowly heating Barnes's neck and shoulders as he took "tea and biscuits" (3) in his backyard and prepared himself for a friendly chat with Professor Freiburg. The light air wisping through the trees may have suggested a day of light questions, as well, but then comes along something like this:
Q: Are you familiar with or have you read about Bacon's doctrine of the faculties of the mind, ratio, memoria and imaginatio? (54)
or this:
Q: Do you consider existentialism as a cure for this paradoxical form of life or non-life?
Not exactly what you would expect over tea and biscuits on a warm, summer afternoon. And Freiburg, happily, does not stop with Bacon. In a series of intelligently prepared questions, Freiburg does attempt to address the question of whether Barnes considers himself a postmodern author, but Barnes never truly owns up to an answer. Instead, we are given healthy doses of his humor, as when he offers "five or six quintessences of Germany" (64); his theories on literary theory, "in my case there is no continuing dialogue between writing fiction and literary theory" (52); and the amazing insight that he has tried his hand at writing both poetry and screen-plays (65)!

Each novel is addressed in turn, with Barnes providing many fresh and useful responses. Grand issues, such as Barnes's take on Satire, History, Religion (God), Memory, Happiness, Love, Criticism, the bourgeoisie, are discussed among comments about the smaller incidents of life, such as Barnes's typical writing schedule or whether he has read any recent German literature. Freiburg has conducted one of the finer interviews with Julian Barnes to date. He should be given credit for providing Barnes ample space to formulate his responses, which are nearly always both unique and useful to our understanding of his writings. Those responses are what mark the true quality of this interview. The personal details and the humorous anecdotes are nice, and Barnes supplies several here, but his direct commentary on the works he has written is of much greater value to our understanding of him as a writer.

-- Ryan Roberts, April 2000

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