Why do you write?
Well, Jonathan Safran Foer told The New York Times Magazine that he writes “in order to end [his] loneliness.” I write in order to prolong, and if possible to exacerbate Jonathan Safran Foer’s loneliness. I aim to embody a Jewish American authorial masculinity so totalizing, it not only takes his breath away, but all his friends, his wife, novelist Nicole Krauss, and their two children.
Is loneliness a factor in your own work?
It doesn’t motivate writing. Literally it doesn’t motivate writing. I moved to Kansas in July from New York and I’m living by myself in a sad house, alone, and not writing.
You moved there intending to write?
Sure. It could be a Foerian Watusi—just self-aggrandizing performance—but I had access to a house. There’s a mortgage my Socialist late uncle was able to arrange via the USDA’s Office of Rural Development. I moved to right-wing Kansas for the welfare, in effect. And also to write, which means first of all living cheaply. And second of all, what it means to me is to summon the kind of intelligence I’d most hope to find in a book. If you’re brilliant already that must be a cinch, but if you are not a brilliant person, you’ll have to take whatever intelligence you have and extend and transform it until it’s capable of apprehending something extraordinary and worth reporting. Or that’s the theory. I’m here as an experiment in “changing,” rebuilding, my mind.
What are the results of this experiment?
Yesterday I drank gin. And you can do that in New York: drink gin. So I put a minus sign in my writing journal. I didn’t go outside, talk to anyone, think, read, or work. It was indistinguishable from Brooklyn.
You make Kansas sound dangerous.
Indistinguishable from Bagram, excuse me.
You seem obsessed with danger, one might almost say dangerously so. Do you deliberately create it, and why?
The path into the life-furthering wisdom is reputedly perilous. One risk being the risk of the false path. Corollary: if you’re sure of your steps, you’ll have failed. I might be wrong, I might have missed something important, but when I was eighteen and taking notes on the matter, it struck me that I’d never met somebody happy who was worthy of respect. No one was happy—but everyone would tell you how to best live your life. The conclusion was that one should improvise, blaze unexpectedly, try to stay weird.
Your misery is strategic?
The misery, if any, is habitual.
But in the difficulties that you seem to engineer for yourself, is there a strategy?
I don’t mean to say that weirdness for the sake of it, addiction, desperate solitude and elective pseudo-poverty are any kind of universal answer. But I am skeptical of other answers.
You’re a man without a clue? No answers?
Good laughs. Canyonlands National Park. Tanqueray. I think the nearest answer is a wholly arbitrary oscillation between absolute doubt, on the one hand, and ingenuous reverence and joy: aloofness, immersion, repeat.
Say agnosticism sprinkled with Buddhist meditative practice, alcoholism, and a feel for the American landscape. Because that’s what works.
What relationship is there between wisdom, happiness and writing?
I don’t know that wisdom leads to happiness. The nature of the universe could turn out to be one of those things that you’re better off not knowing. But like anyone, during bouts of confusion, inertia, or sadness—bouts that come nightly in my case—I look instinctively for guidance from the sages, and the sages that I find most compelling are the writers whose experiential depth comes through in their words. They know what I want to know because they haven’t missed life.
To write the kind of books you’d want to read, you’re required to live, then.