segunda-feira, 10 de novembro de 2008

Eagle in a pidgeon hole: Interview with Michael Bishop

A stylistic writer and an English scholar, Michael Bishop seems to be a man in search of an ideal: to produce more and more works with more and more literary quality in every possible genre or subgenre: from hightech hard science fiction to humanist social character based mainstream, passing through alternate history and even supernatural horror narratives. This is not an easy task, but thanks to us who had the pleasure to read his books, he have give his best in all his attempts.

Now, talking a little about his Literature classes, some of his favorite authors and how to transcend the genres limitations, Michael Bishop give us one of our best interviews to date.


OCTAVIO ARAGÃO - It was a pleasure to know that you used O EVANGELHO SEGUNDO JESUS CRISTO (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ), by José Saramago, in your literature classes, side by side with other works by authors like Norman Mailer and Dostoievsky. In my own classes I used other Saramago novel, A HISTÓRIA DO CERCO DE LISBOA (The History of the Siege over Lisbon), and compared him stylistically to other modernists such as Proust and Borges.

As a stylist yourself, which Science Fiction authors could actually achieve such a high state-of-the-art status in literary terms?

MICHAEL BISHOP - I believe that any number of British and American sf writers have written to a high level of literary art already. I can't help mentioning Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Thomas M. Disch, Gardner Dozois, Joanna Russ, Michael Swanwick, Kim Stanley Robinson, Karen Joy Fowler, as well as younger writers like Jeffrey Ford, Jeff VanderMeer, Kelly Link, and the superb young Canadian Holly Phillips. Of course, I've inevitably left out any number of other writers who have the ability to write beautifully efficient prose to high storytelling and stylistic standards.

Thanks for ranking me as a notable stylist myself, by the way.

OA - Kurt Vonnegut and Margareth Atwood, both great writers who have interests that involve SF themes in a way or another, usually disdain the genre and have the inconditional love of the critics. You, on the other side, do not curse your SF roots but claim to have some difficulty gaining recognition in the mainstream even writing sensitive novels like AN OWL AT THE CRUCIFIXION. Personally, I like your way of thinking, but don't you think that if you act like Vonnegut and Atwood you could have more chances outside de SF ranks?

MB - At this point in my career, the only way for me to emulate Vonnegut and Atwood would be to produce a fresh body of work under a pseudonym and to stand adamantly aside from everything that preceded this hypothetical new work. Further, the new work would have to find a readership, and I would have to keep my identity secret until no one could authoritatively assign this new material to a particular genre based on my earlier stories and novels. Maybe some writers would have the chutzpah and stamina for such a complicated ruse, but I don't see myself as one of them. Right now, however,I'm pigeonholed as an sf writer or a fantasist, and my unpublished novel, AN OWL AT THE CRUXIFIXION, may be unpublished in large measure because I didn't write it under a pseudonym and both publishers and editors could check my past sales records and determine that the novel was unlikely to sell well enough to justify putting it between covers and marketing it.

OA - You claim that one of your basic influences were the short stories by Ray Bradbury. Umberto Eco, in his book APOCALÍPTICOS E INTEGRADOS, claims that Bradbury is an example of *kitsch* literature, since he uses,- according to Eco -, *effects* trying to emulate an erudition that his text actually doesn't have. How could SF survive a that kind of critics? And more important: was Eco right in his criticism?

MB - Bradbury's best stories (some of those in A MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, and THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES) are definitely category stories, but they work on their own terms. And I don't think Bradbury ever seeks to "emulate an erudition" that he lacks himself, primarily because his stories celebrating other writers (whether Melville, Poe, Dickens, Whitman, Shaw, or Whomever) are so clearly enthusiastically boyish homages rather than bona fide attempts to ape the effects or the styles of his assumed betters. The texts lack erudition, yes, but they don't pretend to any erudition beyond Bradbury's fondness for the works of the writers who have inspired these particular stories.

Attacking Bradbury for lacking erudition is quite a bit like denigrating a whipped-cream-covered banana split for lacking the nutiritional value of a sixteen-ounce steak.

OA - You have written in nearly all subgenres inside SF (even Hard SF, which seems a little odd for a writer who is not a professional engeneer, but an English scholar...). Which one is your favorite and why? Which one is the most pleasure to write?

MB - I immensely enjoy writing in whichever category or subgenre I've decided to write in, at least while I'm working in that particular category or subgenre, and so I really don't know how to answer this question. Right now I find myself producing more mainstream work than otherwise, but I would be appalled if some self-appointed Authority were to say to me that I could no longer write anthropological sf, or hard sf, or pulpish horror, or humorous fantasy, or mystery, or hard-boiled detective stories, or satire, etc. One of the real perks of being a writer is that one can choose to write about something new every time one starts a fresh project, and I try to take full advantage of that prerogative. The only writing that isn't particularly pleasurable to me occurs on projects that resist coming together as I want them to and so also resist my bringing them to completion. And I've had this unfortunate situation arise writing in nearly every category or subgenre.

OA - How do you manage to feed your "Muse"? I mean, when do you feel the urge to write about something? You said that even now and then you attend to an editor's suggestion about a plot or a concept, but what about the *fresh* ones? How do they are born?

MB - Most writers feed their individual muses, I believe, by reading, traveling, and remaining open to experience. Imitation isn't a bad place to start a new story, although by "imitation," here, I don't mean crude plagiarism but rather an effort -- identifiably one's own -- to reproduce another writer's effects in one's own style and by one's own methods. I've done deliberate pastiches (of the work of R. A. Lafferty, of Philip K. Dick, and of Flannery O'Connor, among other writers), but I've also tried to infuse these pastiches with elements of my own writerly personality (whatever that may be) as a means of inscribing my own signature within the artificial autograph of the pastiche. And, as I've said elsewhere, another way to feed the muse is to find two or more dissimilar concepts and to strive to link them coherently in a single story or novel. The best example of this technique that I can give, off the top of my head, is my story "And Thus I Remember Carthage," in which I worked to integrate the astrophysical phenomenon of quasars with the life, philosophy, and ecclesiastical career of Augustine of Hippo. This technique is hardly original to me, however, and may be the chief method of all forms of genuine creativity.

OA - Thank you very much for your kind attention, sir!

MB - You're welcome. Forgive me for having taken so long to reply.

Yours sincerely,
Michael Bishop

Visit the Michael Bishop website.

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