On September 3, 1968, Nicholas Garnham interviewed  me  at
the  Montreux  Palace  for Release, BBC-2. The interview
was faithfully reproduced in The Listener,  October  10,
of  the  same year: a neat and quick job. I have used its title
for the present collection.

     You have mid your novels have 'no  social  purpose,  no
moral  message.  '  What  is  the  function  of  your novels in
particular and of the novel in general? 

     One of the functions of all my novels is to prove that the
novel in  general  does  not  exist.  The  book  I  make  is  a
subjective  and  specific affair. I have no purpose at all when
composing my stuff except to compose it. I work  hard,  I  work
long, on a body of words until it grants me complete possession
and  pleasure.  If the reader has to work in his turn-- so much
the better. Art is difficult. Easy  art  is  what  you  see  at
modern exhibitions of things and doodles.

     In   your  prefaces  you  constantly  mock  Freud,  the
Viennese witchdoctor. 

     Why should I tolerate a perfect stranger at the bedside of
my mind? I may have aired this before but I'd  like  to  repeat
that I detest not one but four doctors: Dr. Freud, Dr. Zhivago,
Dr.  Schweitzer, and Dr. Castro. Of course, the first takes the
fig, as  the  fellows  say  in  the  dissecting-room.  I've  no
intention  to dream the drab middle-class dreams of an Austrian
crank with a shabby umbrella. I also suggest that the  Freudian
faith  leads  to dangerous ethical consequences, such as when a
filthy murderer with the brain of a tapeworm is given a lighter
sentence because  his  mother  spanked  him  too  much  or  too
little-- it works both ways. The Freudian racket looks to me as
much  of  a farce as the jumbo thingurn of polished wood with a
polished hole in the middle which  doesn't  represent  anything
except  the  gaping  face of the Philistine who is told it is a
great sculpture produced by the greatest living caveman.

     The novel on which you are working is, I believe, about
'time'? How do you see 'time'? 

     My new novel (now  800  typed  pages  long)  is  a  family
chronicle, mostly set in a dream America. Of its five parts one
is  built  around  my  notion  of  time.  I've drawn my scalpel
through spacetime, space being the tumor, which I assign to the
slops. While not having much physics, I reject Einstein's slick
formulae; but then one need not know theology to be an atheist.
Both my female creatures have Irish and Russian blood. One girl
lasts 700 pages, dying young; her sister stays with me till the
happy ending, when 95 candles burn in a birthday cake the  size
of a manhole lid.

     Could  you  tell  me which other writers you admire and
have been influenced by? 

     I'd much prefer to speak of the modern books that  I  hate
at  first sight: the earnest case histories of minority groups,
the sorrows of homosexuals, the anti-American Sovietnam sermon,
the picaresque yarn larded with juvenile obscenities. That's  a
good  example  of  self-imposed  classification--  books  stuck
together in damp lumpy groups,  forgotten  titles,  amalgamated
authors.  As for influence, well, I've never been influenced by
anyone in  particular,  dead  or  quick,  just  as  I've  never
belonged  to  any  club  or  movement. In fact, I don't seem to
belong to any clear-cut continent. I'm  the  shuttlecock  above
the  Atlantic,  and  how  bright  and  blue  it is there, in my
private sky, far from the pigeonholes and the clay pigeons.

     The pattern of games such as chess and poker  seems  to
bold  a  great  fascination  for  you  and  to  correspond to a
fatalistic view of life. Could you explain the role of fate  in
your novels? 

     I  leave  the  solution  of  such  riddles to my scholarly
commentators, to the nightingale voices in the apple  trees  of
knowledge.  Impersonally  speaking,  I can't find any so-called
main ideas, such as that of fate, in my  novels,  or  at  least
none that would be expressed lucidly in less than the number of
words  I  used  for  this  or  that  book.  Moreover,  I'm  not
interested in games as such. Games mean  the  participation  of
other  persons;  I'm interested in the lone performance-- chess
problems, for example, which I compose in glacial solitude.

     There are constant references in your novels to popular
movies and pulp fiction. You seem to delight in the  atmosphere
of  such popular culture. Do you enjoy the originals and how do
these relate to your own use of them? 

     No, I loathe popular pulp, I loathe go-go gangs, I  loathe
jungle music, I loathe science fiction with its gals and goons,
suspense  and suspensories. I especially loathe vulgar movies--
cripples  raping  nuns  under  tables,  or  naked-girl  breasts
squeezing  against  the tanned torsos of repulsive young males.
And, really, I don't think I mock popular trash more often than
do other authors who believe with me that a good laugh  is  the
best pesticide.

     What  has  the  fact of exile from Russia meant to you?


     The type of artist who is always in exile even  though  he
may  never  have left the ancestral hall or the paternal parish
is a well-known biographical  figure  with  whom  I  feel  some
affinity;  but  in a straighter sense, exile means to an artist
only one thing-- the banning of his books. All my  books,  ever
since I wrote my first one 43 years ago on the moth-eaten couch
of  a German boardinghouse, are suppressed in the country of my
birth. It's Russia's loss, not mine.

     There is a sense, in all your fiction, of the  imagined
being  so  much  truer  than boring old reality. Do you see the
categories of imagination, dream, and reality as distinct  and,
if so, in what way? 

     Your  use  of the word "reality" perplexes me. To be sure,
there is an average reality, perceived by all of us,  but  that
is  not  true reality: it is only the reality of general ideas,
conventional forms of humdrummery, current editorials.  Now  if
you  mean  by  "old  reality"  the  so-called  "realism" of old
novels, the easy platitudes of Balzac or Somerset Maugham or D.
H. Lawrence-- to take  some  especially  depressing  examples--
then  you  are  right in suggesting that the reality faked by a
mediocre performer is boring, and that imaginary worlds acquire
by contrast a dreamy and unreal aspect. Paradoxically, the only
real, authentic worlds are, of course, those that seem unusual.
When my fancies will have  been  sufficiently  imitated,  they,
too,  will  enter  the  common domain of average reality, which
will be false, too, but within a new context  which  we  cannot
yet  guess.  Average reality begins to rot and stink as soon as
the act of individual creation ceases to animate a subjectively
perceived texture.

     Would it be fair to say that you see  life  as  a  very
funny but cruel joke? 

     Your  term  "life" is used in a sense which I cannot apply
to a manifold shimmer. Whose life? What  life?  Life  does  not
exist  without a possessive epithet. Lenin's life differs from,
say, James Joyce's as much as a handful of gravel does  from  a
blue  diamond, although both men were exiles in Switzerland and
both wrote a vast number of words. Or  take  the  destinies  of
Oscar  Wilde  and  Lewis  Carroll--  one flaunting a flamboyant
perversion and getting caught, and the other hiding his  humble
but  much  more  evil little secret behind the emulsions of the
developing-room, and ending up by being the greatest children's
story writer  of  all  time.  I'm  not  responsible  for  those
real-life farces. My own life has been incomparably happier and
healthier  than  that  of  Genghis  Khan,  who  is said to have
fathered the first Nabok, a petty Tatar prince in  the  twelfth
century  who  married  a  Russian damsel in an era of intensely
artistic Russian culture. As to the lives of my characters, not
all are grotesque and not all  are  tragic:  Fyodor  in  The
Gift   is  blessed  with  a  faithful  love  and  an  early
recognition of his genius; John Shade in Pale Fire leads
an intense inner existence, far removed from what  you  call  a
joke. You must be confusing me with Dostoevski.

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