“That Eerie Calm”: Jonathan Lethem on Writing and Tiger Woods

Photo credit: Bleacherreport.com
Photo credit: Bleacherreport.com

“INTERVIEWER: Do you ever feel envy of other writers who are near your age? Deep envy about their writing, about what they can do?

JONATHAN LETHEM: There are people who can do amazing things. But I never take it personally. Any more than I would take it personally if Christina Stead could do things that I can’t imagine doing, as she does, or Philip Roth, as he does. The generational thing just doesn’t really come into it. That sounds like a real wussy answer, but writing is a private discipline, in a field of companions. You’re not fighting the other writers—that Mailer boxing stuff seems silly to me. It’s more like golf. You’re not playing against the other people on the course. You’re playing against yourself. The question is, What’s in you that you can free up? How to say everything you know? Then there’s nothing to envy. The reason Tiger Woods has that eerie calm, the reason he drives everyone insane, is his implacable sense that his game has nothing to do with the others on the course. The others all talk about what Tiger is up to. Tiger only says, I had a pretty good day, I did what I wanted to do. Or, I could have a better day tomorrow. He never misunderstands. The game is against yourself. That same thousand-yard Tiger Woods stare is what makes someone like Murakami or Roth or DeLillo or Thomas Berger so eerie and inspiring. They’ve grasped that there’s nothing to one side of you. Just you and the course.

From that perspective, the fact of others carrying on the struggle beside you is no more threatening than the fact that libraries are full of great books. It makes the context for what you do. You’d never want to be the only writer, would you? How meaningless. Writers lose their temper sometimes and express a self-destructive wish in the form of a pronouncement that the novel is dead, that it’s a terrible time for fiction, etcetera. In fact there are thrilling novelists everywhere. It’s an amazing time.”

From The Paris Review interview with Jonathan Lethem by Lorin Stein

Read the whole interview HERE.

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