What can literature do that nothing else can?

This chance to become something

“I think there were many things involved, but looking back, there must have been some sense that not only was writing a chance to express myself (…) I think it was something else, I think I recognized it was a chance to create myself. To actually decide for myself, who I was going to be. (…) There’s this whole world, the cosmos, is pressuring you into a shape. And then you have this blank page, and on that page, you can decide to become anything and say anything. And you show it to someone or you don’t. And years later, you publish it, or you don’t. But that possibility, absolute freedom as far as you’re willing to go – it’s up to you, right? This chance to become something, to invent yourself, I think for me has always been incredibly enticing, and to this day it’s probably the most compelling reason to write. (…) And there is always a sense for me, when I’m creating a character, or many characters, that I’m escaping finality. I’m escaping the finitude of life. That I’m expanding the horizons, of me. Of my experience in life.”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview (transcript) by Marc-Christoph Wagner for the Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art , 2012 (see video below).

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That’s where I want to go

“Because I’m curious about how it is to be there. I’m curious about that extreme. And writing allows me that, in a kind of, really often, very, very fierce way. When you find a character in a moment of weakness, whether it’s a moment of failure, or doubt, or loss, or suffering within himself, you find him often at his most human. And that interests me. That’s where I want to go. It’s not to rub my nose in it, or rub the reader’s nose in these difficult things, it’s because I think that we have an opportunity to sit with those difficult things for a while. We also find a way to transcend them. I also don’t mean to be overly hopeful – but I do think that there is something in facing these things, which, constantly in life we’re given opportunities to turn away from. Whether it be death or whether it be something about ourselves, which we’ve hidden from ourselves all our lives, but which our entire life is built on this lie. That interests me in a character, and that’s the spot that I’m drawn to, that lie or that place under which the entire structure- you know, that is hidden under the whole structure of the character – what happens if you move it, does the character fall? Or can she find a way to build herself again in a new way?”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview (transcript) by Marc-Christoph Wagner for the Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2012 (see video below).

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To stand in another person’s inner life

“What can literature do that nothing else can do?” is another way to ask the question. And that is it gives us the opportunity to stand in another person’s inner life and feel what it is to be him or her, in the most intense way. I don’t think there’s anything else in life that gives us that.”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview (transcript) by Marc-Christoph Wagner for the Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2012 (see video below).

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Eve (detail), by Albrecht Durer

*

To create a self

“I’m particularly moved, not by the way the past impacts us, or shapes us… we know it does, there’s no way around it. We’re all, in such deep ways, chiselled and shaped, just stamped by the past, by our parents, by our grandparents, by history. Okay, so we know that to begin with. Then what do you do with that? What really moves me, is not that, in and of itself, but how people respond to it by somehow, recreating themselves. (…) And that’s who you are. That’s the story you tell yourself. You’re a fiction writer. We all are, right? But that fiction, is the fiction of the self. This goes back to my idea of writing as the creation of self. I’m sure it’s not only writers who do it – I’m sure it’s not. I think that is how we create who we are. And it’s something a little frightening, but it’s also something, I guess quite empowering.”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview (transcript) by Marc-Christoph Wagner for the Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2012 (see video below).

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To create a home

“Well, it’s like there are certain strands of life, of personal experience, that are used, but they’re woven into something that would be unrecognizable to anyone, even who knew me intimately, I think. When I’m writing a novel, I think there is a kind of longing to create a home in the way that I’m describing. This elusive idea of “home,” which I’ve never quite had. There’s a sense that somehow, by bringing all these strands together a bit like a mockingbird – some bits of glittery personal things, but also complete inventions, and things that fascinate me or move me or sadden me; if I can find some form that they can be perfectly woven together into this kind of architecture, then that would be “home.” At least for the time being, while I’m writing the book. As soon as it’s finished, I can’t live in it anymore. The door is closed and it gets published and I have to “move,” I guess, so to speak. I really think of the novels, spatially, as these kinds of houses with rooms that I’m building, as if from the inside, and I’m pulling all these parts together…”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview (transcript) by Marc-Christoph Wagner for the Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2012 (see video below).

*

Something quite political

“Well, I guess I think that the writer is at his or her best in the work, and I think the work is always in some ways political, because it’s always about relationships between people. And it’s also always championing the individual over the masses. Every novel which gets a reader to care about one person and his or her unique world, is doing something quite political in that, I think. Not meaning to, necessarily, that’s not necessarily the main goal. But it is, inevitably a kind of political act. If you convince a reader with your novel, that a unique person is a world that didn’t exist ever before and will never exist again, that that one life has infinite value, you’re teaching them something political, I think. So yes, maybe that’s a kind of vague thing, but I think that, in and of itself, is a lot.”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview (transcript) by Marc-Christoph Wagner for the Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2012 (see video below).



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