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Effets de voix

Pierre Gault

"Desperately seeking for the 'Undersong"': A Definition of Voice1

Jerome Charyn y Pascale Poulain

Texto completo

  • 1 This interview is the main part of the speech delivered by Jerome Charyn at the University of Orléa (...)

1Jerome Charyn:

  • 2 Le Degré zéro de l'écriture, 1953, suivi de Nouveaux Essais critiques, Paris: Points-Seuil, 1972.

2I'm struck by something Roland Barthes said in Writing Degree Zero2, that twentieth-century language exists outside of culture and history, and is a language full of dream and menace. I think the dream and menace are really where Pynchon and Barthelme and other writers of that order exist. It's a kind of dreamspeak; I knew Barthelme quite well and met Pynchon without ever knowing it because you were not introduced to Pynchon... One is struck by the eternal sadness underlying the comedy, and I think that's certainly true of Barthelme in particular; how to describe the language or the voice or I would say the undersong, and that is, you read with a kind of internal ear and your ear picks up the song in the language, and to me that is voice...

3I would say that one's life has a particular song; you find a rhythm and you're graced with that rhythm and you move into it and you move out of it, and I think it exists beyond irony, I think it exists beyond meaning, it exists in images, metaphors, and it's something that is so difficult to talk about, it seems to me, it doesn't matter whose work it is, but to talk about voice, it's so primitive, it's so elementary, it's so essential to the text that it's quite difficult to grasp...

4Marc Chénetier:

5That wraps it up pretty well! Just to launch into the discussion, two questions that are very different:

6One: In Pinocchio's Nose, there is a whole passage on what you call "mythopsychosis". Mythopsychosis, the way I understand it, is merging into somebody else's character and trying to come out with his/her voice. So, could you expatiate on this?

7Two: Nobody in your books ever walks into a room, goes into a room, he either dances or waltzes or flies; now, what is the relationship of this to the tonality that you're trying to establish?

8Jerome Charyn:

9Mythopsychosis, in my mind, is the disease we have to narratize everything. If you put three words on a blackboard, we would necessarily, in terms of our own life, have to form a narrative around the three words. I think we narratize everything, in terms of meeting someone, we narratize a relationship; it's more than fantasizing, it's this illness, the desire and the need, the desperate urge to tell a story. So I would say that all writers, good or bad, suffer from a kind of mythopsychosis, which is the need to narratize their own lives. I always shy away from meaning, I don't care what the meaning of the text is, I care what the music is because the meaning will come from that music. Faulkner is a profound writer because he allows you in his music to get so close to his characters that it's quite frightening, and it's that kind of proximity that provides the meaning.

  • 3 It is worth noting that this quest of the notion of voice is coupled here with a marked inflexion o (...)

10In relation to your second question, yes, because someone just wrote a paper called "Waltzing with the witches", which is about the idea of dancing in all these strange texts of mine. I didn't notice it myself until I went back and saw that characters always do waltz into a room, or they're constantly dancing. For example the novel that I've just completed is called Death of a Tango King, and again, there's this constant desire to exist within the frame of the dance, which is the frame of the music of the text, and it seems to me that it's always in relation to a song. I'm not saying that it's true of any other kind of writing, but I'm saying that when I read a text, it's not the meaning that holds me, it's the need to find the song, and if I can't find the song in the first page, I don't read the second page3, I must hear that music in my own ear. I must hear that waltzing, I must hear that kind of dancing which you get constantly, let's say from Faulkner in the very first image of The Sound and the Fury, you're just stuck in the music and you can't get out of it. And it's certainly true of Nabokov, it starts with James Joyce and maybe all of modern writing comes from those first lines of Portrait of the Artist: "Once upon a time and a very good time it was...", suddenly taking you into the narrative and into its song. I would call it the undersong, I look for the undersong when I start a text. What is the music that underlies the narrative, never mind the meaning, what is the music? And for Barthelme, it would be the incredible sadness that underlies every single text of his, that ultimate, terrifying kind of pessimism that is coupled with this incredible music and imagery.

11Marc Chénetier:

12The last word you used is a way of relaunching the discussion. What is it that produces the song you're looking for? Where do you spot the first modulations of it, is it metaphor, is it something that raises the text above itself in some manner or another, is it rhythm?

13Jerome Charyn:

  • 4 On Being Blue; A Philosophical Inquiry, Boston: Godine, 1976.
  • 5 Born in 1928 in New York, Cynthia Ozick is the author of: Trust (1966); The Pagan Rabbi (1971); Blo (...)

14I think it's rhythm, and metaphor, and certain writers have it in an infinite way; Bill Gass has never written a bad sentence, you can't find it, so in a sense when you read Gass, whether it's his essay on the color blue4, I mean they're all fictions, it doesn't matter what is a fiction... I was just talking to Marc before about trying to punish him because Gass's essay hasn't been translated into French and he's saying that you can't find any equivalent for the color blue or the permutations of the color blue, but that is such an elemental text about modern writing that it has to be translated and perhaps it can't be; but I would say that I don't know what the magic tone is, whether it comes from the metaphors; but when I read Grace Paley I hear something in my ear that I don't when I read writer X, Y or Z. When I read Cynthia Ozick5 I hear from text to text, from line to line, from image to image, from mood to mood, a kind of tonality that's like a stream of language which Barthelme writes about in one of his stories.

15Now, Barthelme is something else, it's a kink of broken syntax, it's a kind of schizoid landscape that bombards you with images and pulls at you in every direction, with its incredible intelligence, with its ability to throw back the culture at you in all its permutations, taking all the junk food of language, playing with it, twisting it around, with infinite pleasure at the same time; he's incomparable, I think he changed the whole landscape of Sixties' fiction and it's sad to me that a writer of that power has not found the audience that he deserves, because he defined the whole sensibility of the Sixties in the United States more than any other writer.

16Noëlle Batt:

17In fact you've just changed the metaphor: instead of having voice, now we have music! And when you try to define it you use words like metaphor, rhythm, mood...

18Jerome Charyn:

19Because it's so difficult... I can't equate Barthelme s music with Gass's music, it's not the same, they're almost the opposite: one has a very profound, beautiful, regular modulation, the other has a very schizoid, tight pause in its structure, but they both have very distinct voices, you can recognize them, almost by reading two lines, just pick them up and you can tell it's Barthelme even though it's true that there were Barthelme clones existing almost as soon as there was Barthelme. There were other people sending out stories in his name and I remember him telling me because I thought it's wonderful, "Look, it's great to have all these imitators, don't you feel great?", and he said, "No, I'm not getting their checks!"

20Also, the other question I find fascinating is that when you read a writer and you hear him or her speak, then when you go back to their text, you're reading it in a much different way because you can hear the inner voice and it's incredibly more pleasurable. When I read Barthelme now, I can always hear the sound of his voice, so I would say it has to go back to the spoken word, and in a way this was what the Voice Project was about.

21At Stanford it was instituted by that wonderful idiot savant John Hawkes who is a great writer, who at the same time knows absolutely nothing but his wonderful, innocent ideas, and it, was his idea that you could make a great writer out of anyone, all you had to do was to find his or her individual voice. So we were all transported across the country by grant or whatever, to Stanford where he directed this project, where we were going to find a hundred and fifty masterpieces so long as we could take any eight or nine-year old kid and find out what the music of his voice was. I'm sure we found no masterpieces at all, but I think he was right to feel that you had to equate the spoken voice with the written voice on the page, even if it was the exact opposite; somehow there had to be a profound relationship between the way people spoke and what was found on the page. What we did was to take young writers and have them talk into a machine, and we went over to East Palo Alto, wherever it was, like an octopus who went everywhere, finding six and seven-year old kids, hearing them speak and trying to see if we could emulate the voice or recapture the voice, and I think there was a profundity in it, in that if we could capture that voice we would find something. Well, after months of turmoil and very very hard work I assure you we came up with nothing!

22You can't define voice, it's too idiosyncratic, it's a kind of print, a kind of identifying mark that consists of so many things and so many histories that it's bewildering and yet it's there, one can define Faulkner's voice.

23I would give you my definition: it's music, it's music alive with extreme sympathy so that when you read a work by Faulkner, there is no space between you and the text. He adores everyone of the characters he writes about, they can be the worst scoundrels, and no other writer other than perhaps Melville or Barthelme has that quality. So we can't simply say that it's language, we can't simply say that it's this unique use of language, it's language plus, and it's that plus, that infinity that makes it particularly you, so it's language plus something else and that's what is so difficult. Please argue, because there's no reason why you should agree with this, it's a nonsensical theory but I think it works!

24Pierre Gault:

25Our work as critics, then, should be a gesture of recognition, simply? Just to recognize the presence of the voice and try to define it, that's all, but without any set-phrase or any set way of describing it, just the gesture?

26Jerome Charyn:


28Noëlle Batt:

29What you say is not true because if it was as easy as that we should simply record you now, put in on the page, and there would be a new book by Jerome Charyn, and you know it's not true!

30Jerome Charyn:

31No, I said it's not true! But what is true is that I'm only speaking for myself. Hearing William Gass read, when I went back to the text somehow I read it in a very different way, I found the rhythm just by listening to his voice.

32Marc Chénetier:

33Counterexample: at least several witnesses are here. Reading John Hawkes. You read John Hawkes and you have this extraordinary voice coming over; then you talk with John Hawkes and you can't read for two years! The opposite applies, you can actually have helping voices over in your head and you can also have debilitating voices!

34Jerome Charyn:

  • 6 A comic strip by George Herriman in which the location shifts from panel to panel (Author's note).

35Okay, but this is not a good example because John Hawkes is the most unconscious writer you can ever find. Just ask him to speak about his own work and what he says about his own work bears no relationship whatsoever to it! So that in one sense he's not a very helpful accomplice. To hear him read is to destroy the text rather than to move closer to it; but that also suggests a kind of schizophrenia in the voice which makes his best work incomparable, it's the schizophrenia, you don't know where you are, you begin The Lime Twig you're here and then suddenly you're in some other place, in some other landscape. It's like working with "Krazy Kat6", you're in one panel, then the panel changes and suddenly you don't know where you are, with his very best work. You can find some kind of cohabitation in terms of the writer and the text and the music that text provides; the music may not even be in the author's voice or you may have a superb reader like Stanley Elkin and it may defuse the text as you're reading it. But it seems to me that it's not Stanley reading his text that interests me, it's talking to him when he's not being literary and then getting that voice down as you read the book; that to me was incredibly helpful, not the way he read which was perfect.

36So it's very elusive, it's very difficult but necessary, because if you don't find the voice in a text, it becomes completely random and very often you notice, I would say for myself: I pick up a text, I read a paragraph and I don't understand a word, and I don't know what's happening. What's happening is that the music is incoherent for me, they're just words on a page, I can't find the rhythm and therefore I have to stop reading, it's meaningless, it's gibberish; not because it doesn't have a meaning on the page but because that undersong, that underlining music, just isn't there.

37Marc Chénetier:

38When you take predetermined structures for your books, say a detective story or a fable like Pinocchio or anything else, what is it that you do to it or what is it that you want to do to it that's going to (select one) add/transform/none of the above?

39Jerome Charyn:

40It's always to sabotage the form, to push it to its limits, to play with it and yet make it moving at the same time; it is the best parody, it seems to me, always those parodies that touch you or move you in some way, and you get outside the form that "barks", the form that as you say is a house and you destroy the house at the same time and yet as you're destroying it you're also rebuilding another one, at the same time, you're finding a bigger house than the house that was given. So when it's a baseball novel, it's always the idea of moving outside for me. For example people would say: "You can only write a baseball novel about one season, you need the grammar of a season...", you know at the beginning the hitter will arrive, it doesn't matter what the book is, it always ends up in a kind of World Series. Well then you throw that away and you write a baseball novel about fifty seasons, not only that, you write a baseball novel about a left-handed third baseman, which is impossible, not only that, you write a baseball novel about a white player who plays in the Negro League; in other words, you just take all of recorded history, twist it around, and restructure your own myth, to your own liking, everything is possible. It's the same thing, like mythopsychosis. Once you start mythologizing it never ends, and what is the ending of a text? And where does the text really end? There's a kind of violence in any beginning and there's also a similar violence, it's much more violent to end, all of a sudden you're sort of moving, shifting into a page and then you're getting out of the page, which is frightening to me. But I think it doesn't really end, I think that it continues in an invisible way, an invisible ink, the text becomes a kind of infinity that goes on, it can't stop. It's that disease of mythopsychosis, it doesn't really end, you have the illusion of ending because otherwise the reader would go as mad as you are, so you give him a break by saying: "Yes, this is the end!"

41Elaine Safer:

42Voice and style are very closely allied. But there's still a difference; I find a difference between the voice in Vineland and the voice in Gravity's Rainbow and V, do you?

43Jerome Charyn:

44Yes. But let's go back to that first question: What is the difference between voice and style? Style is something that is much more conscious: it's the writer who's honing images, reworking the sentences, finding a text, that's the style.

45The voice is something that's much more basic, it's much more primitive, that underlies the signature of the style and yet it's something that doesn't change so much from book to book. I think what; changes in Pynchon is the style. It s first of all the genius, the absolute genius of parody, he's the greatest parodist probably we've ever had, in that he can do anything. On the other hand, I think that as he creates, he also destroys. Now, in Vineland, it's Pynchon twenty years later, it's a different kind of persona, maybe there's more resignation, maybe there's more sadness, it's playful, but playful with a kind of vengeance, it's a celebration of the end of America, or the end of the possibility of America, but I may be wrong, it's difficult to say. But still, to describe Pynchon's voice would be a very very difficult thing. If you ask me, I would say it's the absence of a voice, it's the writer moving towards invisibility as he assumes one mask after the other and the masks are infinite, he can play with anything as he plays with names; an extraordinary use of names, probably as profound or even more profound than Dickens, the ability to find the right name, and the permutations.

46The other thing in Pynchon which is so extraordinary is that you're left with nothing. You end up in a kind of quicksand, everything he creates he destroys one page later so there's no sense of character. The characters are simply fabulations and he plays with, he picks up, throws them away at the same time, from text to text and they don't really change, they're mask upon mask upon mask...

47The two texts that I celebrate as a writer, texts that destroyed me, were the early stories of Barthelme and V. I had never encountered a book like V, because he creates something in an extraordinary chapter and you say he can't really do anything better than that, the next chapter takes you one stage further, the next chapter even goes beyond that as he tries to define the sensibility of V, so that by the end of the book you're almost strangled in the text, it's an endless kind of weaving; I think for most writers it was the revelation of those years, but to define the voice in V is very difficult. I would still say it's man hiding behind man, it's brilliant, there's nothing that escapes him, there's nothing he can't write about, he's limitless, he can mythologize, and it's not mythopsychosis because I don't think it's a disease, I think he's in absolute control of everything he's doing; but I can't find the voice, I can find the mask but I can't find the voice. This is not a criticism, I'm just saying that what was to me so profound is that it was utterly, absolutely nihilistic. When you end that book you're left with nothing. There's nothing, because he tabulates and then he destroys the fabulation, he creates V, you say: "Ok, V is here", then in the next chapter V is some place else, and it's very sad, I was in love with V, it's a masterpiece, it's wonderful and beautiful at the same time, and harrowing, an absolutely harrowing text.

48Pierre Gault:

49How would you place Nabokov?

50Jerome Charyn:

51In my opinion, the three great American writers are Melville, Faulkner and Nabokov. All three had an absolute sense of music; if you take the novels that Nabokov wrote in America, a sum of three books: Pale Fire, Pnin and Lolita, the three variations on the same theme... it's difficult to describe but again, when I read the opening of Lolita, the way he describes Lolita's name, I was just overwhelmed; it's incredible, it's the absolute sense of music, it's the sadness, again I think there is a relationship between Lolita and V. They're both about this butterfly hunt in which you're left with nothing, except the kind of grace of language and if you go back to Melville, when you look at Pierre, what is Pierre about, what is The Confidence Man about? You're left with nothing. That writer who takes you to the edge, takes you to the precipice, and I think Hawkes does that too, that's the thing that I love, there's no escape, there's romance but there's no escape, because after all Lolita is a love story.

52Noëlle Batt:

53When you say that the voice doesn't change from book to book, what is the implication of that? We tend to conclude that the voice has something to do with the author more than with the text?

54Jerome Charyn:

55Yes, in other words, the voice of the narrator is a kind of impersonation, but the voice of the author is beyond the impersonation, it's the undersong, it's much more basic than the narration because the narration can always change; for example in my own stuff, I would say that it wasn't until a very crazy book called Eisenhower, my Eisenhower, where I really discovered my own voice, which has nothing to do with the first-person narrator speaking in that text. It was the ability to let go, it was the ability to say the hell with it, I don't have to be logical, I don't have to be sane, I don't have to find any order, I can just let the text take care of itself.

  • 7 One of the early comic book superheroes (Author's note).

56And a very real influence was Second Skin, the work of John Hawkes. Just to see how far he was able to go, of course not when you spoke to him, you had a completely different person then, someone controlled; this is the old Jack Hawkes, he looked like the mad doctor from Captain Marvel7 he had no ears whatsoever, he had these enormous spectacles, and he just was crazed and wonderful, and I remember Hawkes said that he had met with a convict at San Quentin who was his greatest reader, because he had read all his books, and when Hawkes went to visit him, the convict said: "Be careful, you're getting a little bit soft in your writing!"

57Noëlle Batt:

58And you think that the voice of the author has a fight with the voice of the narrator, somehow?

59Jerome Charyn:

60Yes, I think it is a fight, not a conscious one, I don't think the voice is conscious, the narration is conscious, it's technique, it's building up word upon word, image upon image. The voice isn't conscious, it's a kind of shriek, it's a kind of scream, it's much more primal. You've all seen work that was wonderful and then from book to book it's not so wonderful and you wonder why. You say the writer is tired, the energy is gone, the ability to create... it's not true! But the voice is strangled, it's hiding, afraid to come out; it could be manic, it could be the opposite, it doesn't really matter.

61For example, let's look at Faulkner, if you look at the first two novels, they're absolutely dreadful! They're just imitations of Hemingway, and suddenly you find the voice and from book to book that voice coheres in an extraordinary way and then he loses it again, it becomes pretentious, it becomes silly, it becomes exaggerated and it never comes back. I think that's true, in a sense you find your rhythm, there's a kind of joy in discovering your rhythm and it will go from text to text and then at some point it will betray you and you'll lose it. I think it's invariably the case, I don't think you can find any exception.

62Marc Chénetier:

63How do you go about the first pages of your books? Do you have a sort of oriented vision of where you're going?

64Jerome Charyn:

65No, I'm terrified, I'm terrified and then I stall. And I write the first sentence and it's no good, and I can't go beyond and it takes me about three weeks to find that first sentence, to take me into the text and after that I'm not afraid. I find the music, it somehow sounds right.

66I find the music and then I say Okay I'm in the text and I let the dream take over. It doesn't mean I don't revise, I revise a great deal but I'm not afraid, that's the crucial thing. But to get that first sentence is terrifying. I'm not afraid of ending it, I'm not afraid of doing anything about ending the text, but to start it is a kind of nightmare.

67Marc Chénetier:

68That Barthelme story, "The Dolt": "Middles and ends are O.K. hut to begin, to begin, to begin...!"

69Jerome Charyn:

70Exactly. And also, if you look at Barthelme, there's a curious contradiction. He's the great great story writer trying to be a novelist, and what makes him a great story writer means that he can't be a novelist, and that he can never reconcile it throughout his entire life. He was sad and depressed that he wasn't a Dostoievskian novelist. And he just didn't understand that the talent he had, the extraordinary ability to telescope within two or three or five pages an entire narrative was the very thing that made it impossible for him to be a novelist though he has written novels and they're good novels, but they're not great ones. And the stories are great, they're incomparable, and he could never reconcile one with the other.

71Now some people might say that to begin is very easy, you just start and you change it and put it on the computer and let the computer write it and then you can just go on. But I don't find that, I find that when I have the rhythm I have the text. As a matter of fact, I know it will sound silly to say but, as I'm writing one book, I'm dreaming the next. By the time I finish the book, I've already in my own head, sort of written the next one. I'm not even aware of it, if you ask me what the book is about, if you asked me what the title was, if you asked me who the characters were, I don't know! But somehow it's there, it's the dreamscape, the dreamwalking, that's where the rhythm comes from, and that's where the voice when it gets blocked, it's the writer who can no longer dream, and therefore can't find the sense of music, even though the basic talent is there!

72Noëlle Batt:

73Since you're writing with music, when you read other writers, you try to get their music... Do you ever find any interference between your music and that of other writers?

74Jerome Charyn:

75No, there's never any interference. As a matter of fact, when you read a writer, let's say when I discovered Barthelme and saw that I could never write sentences the way he could write a sentence, it didn't threaten me. It almost made me feel that there was something I could learn and this is the real education, so it's not threatening to find writers who are great; it may destroy you in terms of your wanting to absorb it and internalize it, but I think you need to hear the music of other writers. When I first began writing stories, I happened to stumble upon "The Pedersen Kid" and in a way it changed my life! It's an extraordinary text, it's incomparable, I don't know how to describe it; the text about the disappearance of the American psyche... The fact that I knew that I could never write a text as good as that didn't make me sad because in some way I was able to incorporate it in my own head, it became mine, I don't mean I stole from it but I absorbed it, I learned from it and therefore in my own small way I could use it as I could also use John Hawkes. I had no music at that point, I had written six novels where I simply impersonated six voices, six first-person voices. Then I went to California, went crazy for a little while, put my writing off for three years, came back to New York, and then wrote a book about California where I had somehow unconsciously found a voice that was mine. I don't say it was good. It was Eisenhower, my Eisenhower; it's an incomprehensible book but it doesn't matter! As a matter of fact, that's the book Pynchon really loved, he said: "That book is crazier than mine!"

76Noëlle Batt:

77And then you kept it?

78Jerome Charyn:

79Kept the voice? No, it's not that I kept it, I wasn't doing impersonations any more. In other words, until that point I was really faking, I could get into a voice academically, I could research it, I could write it, but it was really an impersonation. After that, good or bad, it was not an impersonation any more. Now most writers by six failures would have stopped, most writers by twenty-two failures would have stopped! Finally, what was working was that something internal was happening; each of the texts was a kind of waltz, a kind of dance... it doesn't mean that I might not have lost that music or voice but it's at that point that I didn't usurp, that I could really feel I was writing my own text.

80Again, I can't speak for anyone else. Maybe you dream of an ideal reader but I think you are your own ideal reader, you are the composer... I hate to get into psychology but it's very true! We cannot pretend to be continuous people, for example, I 'm about to write a page, if I write it today it will be one thing, if I write it tomorrow it's going to be a completely different page; therefore when I assemble two hundred and fifty different pages, how do I dare call it a novel? How do I dare pretend that it has a continuous line when it really doesn't? But the three thousand and eighteen sentences, two hundred and seventeen thousand words strung together under the illusion of what one calls the novel, and I don't think that's the case, I don't think that's true. I think publishers have to pretend they've given you a text that coheres, but I would say that the very best texts don't cohere at all; and that's what makes them extraordinary, that they're flirting with a kind of anarchy, this is what makes them powerful; the ability to just move to the very edge, to maybe go over, and I think maybe that's what the wise convict was saying to John Hawkes, when he said: "You've gone to the wall, step back a little bit, because you're going to fall and fall very far!"

81Marc Chénetier:

82We've reached the point where we confirm the idea that "you ain't got a thing if you ain't got the swing!"...

83Elaine Safer:

84You put your finger on something I was looking forward to finding here. That voice actually is non-literary, it is everything that is non-literary and it is something that comes from pulsion, from the unconscious. It is the presence of the pulsion and its breath in the text and that's why it is so hard for us to say where it is and how you can pin it down. When it's carried through a text it becomes very difficult to separate, to abstract it from the words...

85Jerome Charyn:

86I'm not sure you could abstract it. You could only say that when you take a particular writer and suddenly by the fourth book or the third book something is appearing that was not in the earlier two books, is it the development of craft? I'm not sure! There's a kind of breath in there, it comes alive on the page in a perverse way. Suddenly you're very close to the characters, you're close to the persons and the language and then it may drift off; a novel estranged: fifty pages are working beautifully, the next twenty-five put you to sleep. We expect that because it's a kind of journey, I would say reading is like being on a horse, it's like galloping on a crazy horse. This is the way I would define my own writing, I won't talk about anyone else but it's really being on a horse, and sometimes the horse falls asleep, and sometimes it goes at a terrific pace and sometimes it dies, it just dies on you!

87Marc Chénetier:

88But still, it's all very well if you define the voice as something that to a certain extent you're listening to yourself but nobody else will listen to say, it's pulsion, self-conscious. This being said, ask poor lay people reading a text, they also hear something, it must be there! There is something there and as Barthelme would put it: "It's not between the lines, it's in the 'bloody lines', it's there!"! so I'm still sorry to be so positivistic about all this but it must be somewhere where we feel it!

89Jerome Charyn:

90You misunderstood me! I said that when I read a text, I hear the voice too, but of course you're hearing the voice of the writer; what is that voice that you are hearing and why is the voice suddenly more powerful in one instance and less powerful in another instance? That's difficult to define! Is it the breakdown of language? I think it's a kind of rhythm that may cohere around a character, that may cohere around a scene, when suddenly something is ignited, something comes alive, something is made personal, I would say the voice can only be personal, it can't be impersonal, it's a very specific signature.

91When you talk about Faulkner's language, there is something else there that's so primitive, that's so powerful, that draws you just into the characters, into the psyche, there's no distance between you and the page, and at that point the voice is ultimate, the voice takes over. As you go, let's say in The Sound and the Fury, from Benjy to Jason, there's something that just moves you in an extraordinary way; you could say it's technique, four different points of view, there are millions of novels with four different points of view! Anybody could have come upon that idea, but it's the ability to just take you into the text, and that's difficult to talk about.

92For example, what is "The Pedersen Kid" about? It's about nothing. It's about a kid who may or may not have been in the snow. Does the kid exist? Nobody is sure. Has there been a kind of murder? Maybe, maybe not, maybe nothing happened! It's about snow, it's about whiteness, and he's lying between the whiteness. That's it! So I don't know, we could talk about, we could articulate it but would we ever really find it?

93You can't imitate the voice, because the voice is a kind of print that is unique. You could imitate the trappings of the voice but never the voice, I don't think so.


94- Once Upon a Droshky, 1964.

95- On the Darkening Green, 1965.

96- The Man Who Grew Younger, 1967.

97- Going to Jerusalem, 1967.

98- American Scrapbook, 1969.

99- Eisenhower, My Eisenhower, 1971 (Le Marin du Président, Ramsay, 1978).

100- The Tar Baby, 1973.

101- Blue Eyes, 1975 (Zyeux Bleus, Gallimard, 1985, trad. M. Deutsch).

102- Marilyn the Wild, 1976 (Marilyn la Dingue, Gallimard, 1984).

103- The Education of Patrick Silver, 1976 (Kermesse à Manhattan, Série Noire, 1978, trad. R. Fitzgerald).

104- The Franklin Scare, 1977.

105- Secret Isaac, 1978 (Isaac le Mystérieux, Seuil, 1981).

106- The Seventh Babe, 1979.

107- The Catfish Man, 1980 (Poisson-Chat, Seuil, 1982, trad. D. Mauroc).

108- Darlin' Bill, 1980 (Darling Bill, Seuil, 1983, trad. D. Mauroc).

109- Panna Maria, 1982 (Panna Maria, Seuil, 1986, trad. Β Géniès).

110- Pinocchio's Nose, 1983 (Le Nez de Pinocchio, Stock, 1989, trad. M. Chénetier).

111- War Cries Over Avenue C, 1985.

112- Metropolis, 1986 (Metropolis: I love New York, Presses de la Renaissance, 1987, trad. B. Géniès).

113- Paradise Man, 1987 (Frog, Stock, 1988, trad. M. Chénetier).


1 This interview is the main part of the speech delivered by Jerome Charyn at the University of Orléans on December 8, 1990, at the invitation of the group LOLITA (Laboratoire Orléans-Tours de Littérature Américaine).

2 Le Degré zéro de l'écriture, 1953, suivi de Nouveaux Essais critiques, Paris: Points-Seuil, 1972.

3 It is worth noting that this quest of the notion of voice is coupled here with a marked inflexion of the spoken voice, a mimetic sign, as it were, of the growing presence of voice leading to an intensification of emotion (Interviewer's note).

4 On Being Blue; A Philosophical Inquiry, Boston: Godine, 1976.

5 Born in 1928 in New York, Cynthia Ozick is the author of: Trust (1966); The Pagan Rabbi (1971); Bloodshed (1976); Levitation (1982); The Cannibal Galaxy (1983); The Messiah of Stockholm (1987).

6 A comic strip by George Herriman in which the location shifts from panel to panel (Author's note).

7 One of the early comic book superheroes (Author's note).

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 1994

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