Eye 94

One of your first reviews was on Joyce Carol Oates's Son of the Morning. In that review you wrote that every educated person should have The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind on their bookshelf. That was in 1978. Do you still agree with that?

Steven Moore

It blew me away when I read it. I shared it with a few friends and they too were blown away. It made you rethink the whole origin of culture and the origins of myth; it's really important. Now, I've heard that in later years some scholars have found fault with it, but I think it's still a very good work to read; because--you may have picked up on this in the review--I'm a little harsh on religion. And I still I am. And that book points out that all these religious visions, all these gods speaking to you and all that, it's just one side of the brain talking to the other. The bicameral mind. Two sides. There's nothing out there, it's all in here [pointing to his head]. There's no afterlife, no God, it's all made up. That's a lesson that still needs to be driven home to the world's population. And the way he talks about Homer and the Iliad; when characters are talking to gods, they're actually talking themselves, to their consciousness. It's a fascinating book. In fact, talking about it now, I feel like reading it again.

 

Eye 94

You wrote something similar about Brian McHale's Constructing Postmodernism.

Moore

Yeah, I still think that's one of the best books on the topic. He's so good at that sort of thing. He's written a couple books on postmodernism, and if you want to know what that's all about, his two books are the ones to go with.

 

Eye 94

Do you think you could just start listing books that belong on that shelf? That every person should read?

Moore

Um...No [we laugh]

 

Eye 94

I made a list of the writers who occupy more than four lines in the index of My Back Pages. There are sixteen: Barth, Burroughs, Eliot, Firbank, Gaddis, Gass, Joyce, Kerouac, Melville, Proust, Pynchon, Reid--[Moore looks at me like I just insulted his mother]--Reid? [Looking in the index] Keith Reid?

Moore

Oh. He can't have more than four lines. [I show him the index] See, it's the next entry that has four lines.

 

Eye 94

Ah. Religion. [we belly laugh] Sorry.

Moore

Do you know who Keith Reid is?

 

Eye 94

I don't.

Moore

He wrote the lyrics for Procol Harum.

 

Eye 94

Oh! I love their song, what's it called. Shoot. [Begins singing to Steven Moore...'How many moons? How many Junes?']

Moore

Yeah. Oh. Ah! It's, um.

 

Eye 94

Sailor something? [Moore later informs me that I was thinking of 'A Salty Dog'] Anyway...Pynchon, Pound, Sorrentino, Theroux, Wallace. Would you say that doesn't leave out anything that really got into your chest?

Moore

I'm surprised Melville is on there. Pound is in there a lot, but I don't know. He's important, but he's cranky. I wouldn't recommend the Cantos. But yeah, those are pretty much all my favorite writers.

 

Eye 94

Anthony Burgess once wrote that women have a better "natural fictional equipment" than men. Spackman cited that in his essay, "Ex Parte Comedy". What female writers would you throw on that list of names?

Moore

Djuna Barnes, I've always really liked her. I really like Rikki Ducornet and Carole Maso; I published both of them at Dalkey Archive. Marguerite Young, who wrote Miss MacIntosh, My Darling.

 

Eye 94

Do you still keep in touch with Rikki Ducornet?

Moore

Yeah. She's out in Washington now. We used to both live in Denver for about four or five years; I used to go over to her place. Who else? Brigid Brophy; Mary Caponegro; Susan Daitch had a really great book that came out last year.

 

Eye 94

Were you offered a look at The Pale King manuscript?

Moore

No.

 

Eye 94

Did you read the book?

Moore

Oh, yeah. Of course. I loved it. After one page, I thought, this is amazing; here's an unfinished, unpolished piece of work that reads better than 90% of polished work being published these days. Just astounding. And yeah, I really liked the whole book. Such a shame that he didn't finish it, couldn't pull it all together.

 

Eye 94

Did you read that thing in the New Yorker by [Jonathan] Franzen a few years after [David Foster Wallace] died?

Moore

Yeah.

 

Eye 94

Did it bug you?

Moore

I read it once, I can't remember it real well. There was always a little rivalry between those two.

 

Eye 94

In your essay, "Adam Buenosayres," you make a long list of metropolitan areas that were used as a backdrop in novels. Have you read all those?

Moore

There are a few that I know just by reputation. I'm pretty sure I've read most of them though. I like those kind of lists, there's a lot of information packed in there. Let me see. I never read Mark Smith's Death of the Detective or Leon Forrest's Divine Days [both novels centered around Chicago].  Oh, I've never read Les Miserables. But all these others, yeah. Life: A User's Manual, have you ever read that one?

 

Eye 94

No.

Moore

Oh, it's good. It's so good.

 

Eye 94

Did you ever read Edouard Levé? From Dalkey?

Moore

No.

 

Eye 94

He wrote a book called Suicide. He committed suicide after submitting the manuscript for it.

Moore

Wow, really?

 

Eye 94

Yeah. But he wrote another book called Autoportrait, and the first sentence begins, "When I was young, I thought Life: A User's Manual would teach me how to live..."

Moore

[mirthful laughter]

 

Eye 94

Have you been to any of those cities from the list?

Moore

Yeah, I've been to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, London, Paris. Maybe that's about it.

 

Eye 94

It's often quoted how James Joyce said he wanted a reader to be able rebuild Dublin after reading Ulysses. Do you think any of those books actually succeed in leaving a kind of map behind of the city they were writing about? Or do you think it's just hyperbolic way of saying--

Moore

Ulysses almost. There's an incredibly dense amount of detail in there about that kind of stuff. But the other books, no; that'd be too much.

 

Eye 94

I really enjoyed your personal matters section. I also sensed some unease in talking about yourself. I don't know if you still try to write fiction, but do you think that holds a person back in trying to write fiction? I have a friend, a pretty talented musician and writer, who decides not to dedicate himself to art because he believes that much indulgence in his ego would make him a terrible person. Does that ring true to you?

Moore

That would certainly describe a lot of authors in history. I don't know if that would apply to me. In a sense, all the writing I've done is just keeping myself occupied. I've dealt with depression most of my life. Rather than become a drunkard, or a drug addict, or a couch potato, I've tried to keep myself busy and working on something, to fend off the depression. It's why I've written so much.

 

Eye 94

Are there times when you're writing when something really personal, surprising even, slips out and you say, no I can't leave that in there?

Moore

Not really. In my novel history especially, I allowed myself to insert some personal bits.

 

Eye 94

Because "Nympholepsy" is extremely personal.

Moore

Yeah, that's the only thing I've written like that.

 

Eye 94

How did it feel?

Moore

I really enjoyed writing it. As embarrassing and humiliating as some of the material is, it was one of the most rewarding rhetorical things I've done. It starts off very plain, but then it started growing in weird directions and taking on a life of its own. My language started opening up, I started finding metaphors; it was just a wonderful experience to write it, which is exactly what "Nympholepsy" is all about. It's not "nymphomania".  Nympholepsy means being inspired by a muse or a nymph, which gives you higher powers of rhetoric and writing. Writing that essay, I could feel my powers of rhetoric growing, as silly as that may sound. And that's why I decided to publish it. There's some embarrassing stuff in there, and it kind of makes me look like a loser, but I also think it's a rhetorical feat, the kind of thing you don't normally see in nonfiction or criticism.

 

Eye 94

At the end of "Nympholepsy" you refer to Winesburg, Ohio [the story, "Adventure", in which a woman remarks that some people must live and die alone]. Do you still feel that way?

Moore

Yeah. I still like Winesburg, Ohio and I still feel that way.

 

Eye 94

I've read some things from Franzen and Wallace talking about reading being a cure for loneliness. In my own experience, it works both ways. Reading a great author, I feel connected to thoughts and emotions I rarely otherwise do. However, when I go back into the world, it seems impossible to share that experience with other people, which can make for further loneliness. Does any of that make sense to you?

Moore

I find the literary world much more interesting than the real world. That's why I've spent so much time in that kind of alternate world.

 

Eye 94

Well, that's what kind of scares me.

Moore

It's better to be engaged with the real world. I envy people who are married, have lots of children, and all that; that's the way a person should live their life, let's be honest. But if you don't have family and friends and all that, literature is a very nice alternative. And I guess ideally you would mix the two. I don't know how to do that, myself. I think literary characters are more interesting than real people. Why spend a half an hour talking to some boring person when you could be reading about a really interesting character? Which sounds really heartless and anti-social, but...

 

Eye 94

I think that goes back to what we were talking about earlier. The sacrifice. Some people don't think sacrificing those social relationships, even if they're uninteresting, is worth a different kind of relationship that can be developed with that alternate world.

Moore

Yeah, there will always be people who say, Get your nose out of the book. When the rest of the world becomes as interesting as inside books, then I'll go join it. And I guess that's what a lot of literature and art is: it's an alternative to the real world, the boring place, the ugly place. So here's "a world elsewhere," that's what Shakespeare called it, that's more interesting, more witty. Proust spent the first part of his life in the world, then he escaped for the next ten years to write about it. I think what he wrote is probably much more interesting than the events themselves. I think literature enhances the world.