If, Literature

An interview about If at SeattleWrote


The intrepid Norelle Done at SeattleWrote recently posted our interview about If. I feel like I’m finally getting a little better at describing what kind of book If tries to be — in a way that neither sets readers up for disappointment by making it sound more lighthearted-and-easy than it turns out to be, nor alienates readers by making it sound more experimental and challenging than it actually is. For example:

Q: In any case: why write a literary choose-your-own-path (or “choicefic,” or “gamebook”) novel?

A: Partly because it had never been done before. People have come close, but I wanted to write a piece of literature that’s as serious and literary as my favorite novels, while still using this format associated with children’s books. I’ve always been attracted to works of art that bring together the difficult and experimental with the simple and playful. Like the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, Andy Warhol, Laura Riding Jackson, Borges. There are all sorts of strange ways that punk and surrealism and the avant-garde intersect with children’s literature and music. If tries to belong to that tradition. Continue reading

Literature, Politics

A third defense of the humanities

In recent posts, I’ve been trying to imagine defenses of the humanities that answer the question: what can the humanities do that the sciences can’t?

So here’s my third idea. On the one hand, it’s the first of my defenses that’s consistent with the usual sophisticated humanities scholar’s view that the aesthetic establishes its own values, that art is an end in itself, that “poetry makes nothing happen” (in Auden’s words) and shouldn’t be required to make anything happen — even wisdom or the broadening of the soul.

On the other hand, this defense is still likely to infuriate sophisticated humanities scholars, because it’s based on an appeal to national pride.

As is often the case, Helen Vendler got there before me:

In the future, will the United States be remembered with admiration? Will we be thanked for our stock market and its investors? For our wars and their consequences? … Future cultures will be grateful to us for many aspects of scientific discovery, and for our progress (such as it has been) toward more humane laws. … But science, the law, and even ethics are fields in motion, constantly surpassing themselves. To future generations our medicine will seem primitive, our laws backward, even our ethical convictions narrow.

The same cannot be said of our art.

Continue reading