Sunday, January 5, 2014

Oates does Oates

Why are you a writer, and what is it all about? 

My theory is that literature is essential to society in the way that dreams are essential to our lives. We can’t live without dreaming — as we can’t live without sleep. We are “conscious” beings for only a limited period of time, then we sink back into sleep — the “unconscious.” It is nourishing, in ways we can’t fully understand. Even a bad dream is nourishing, somehow — it is your own creation.

Dreams spring out of sleep, and sleep springs out of — ?

The human brain. Literature is to society as the part of the brain called the hippocampus is to memory. The hippocampus is a small, seahorse-shaped part of the brain necessary for long-term storage of factual and experiential memory, though it is not the site of such storage. Short-term memory is transient; long-term memory can prevail for many decades. If the hippocampus is injured or atrophied, there is no memory. I think that art is the commemoration of life in its variety. The novel, for instance, is “historic” in its embodiment in a specific place and time and its suggestion that there is meaning to our actions. Without the stillness, thoughtfulness and depths of art, and without the ceaseless moral rigors of art, we would have no shared culture — no collective memory. As it is, in contemporary societies, where so much concentration is focused on social media, insatiable in its myriad, fleeting interests, the “stillness and thoughtfulness” of a more permanent art feels threatened.

Well! That sounds like speechifying. That would not be acceptable on Twitter. Shall we leave it at that?

The writer will have the last word?

Of course!

- "Oates interviews herself"