Saturday, June 07, 2003

Every now and then, I discover a hard nugget of common sense that isn't always perfectly welcome, especially if 1) it makes me too self-conscious and 2) I feel certain I'll never forget it. Like this quote from an interesting 1973 Paris Review interview with Anthony Burgess:

Interviewer: Are there any limits that you think an author should observe in the language he uses to present controversial subject matter ?

Burgess: My aversion to describing amorous details in my work is probably that I treasure physical love so highly I don't want to let strangers in on it. For, after all, when we describe copulation we're describing our own experiences. I like privacy. I think that other writers should do what they can do, and if they can spend—as one of my American girl students did—ten pages on the act of fellatio without embarrassing themselves, very good luck to them, But I think there's more artistic pleasure to be gained from the ingenious circumvention of a taboo than from what is called total permissiveness. When I wrote my first Enderby novel I had to make my hero say "For cough," since "Fuck off" was not then acceptable. With the second book the climate had changed and Enderby was at liberty to say "Fuck off." I wasn't happy. It was too easy. He still said "For cough" while others responded with "Fuck off." A compromise. Literature, however, thrives on taboos, just as all art thrives on technical difficulties.

(Italics, immortally, mine.)

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