This is a setup, right? It’s all a setup, right? I mean, I am not sitting somewhere shooting my mouth off to somebody sitting the same somewhere with me.

Auditor’s note: According to the author, a reporter from Interview Magazine initially interviewed Gordon Lish for an article. Evidently, Interview was unsatisfied; it subsequently sent Lish a list of questions, asking him to make the interview “more accessible”; this “Self-Interview” was the result.

This is a setup, right? It’s all a setup, right? I mean, I am not sitting somewhere shooting my mouth off to somebody sitting the same somewhere with me. There is no tape-recording going on. There is no note-taking going on. What the deal is instead is that I, Lish, am sitting by my lonesome with a list, which list is the product not of my contrivance but of Interview’s. (How else have the composure to manage the acoustical divertissement of list and Lish whilst evincing seeming indifference to an exhibition of an absence of humility?) I mean, the entries that constitute it, this list, Interview entered them. Fine. I’m ready. Got pencil and paper. Actually, it’s a lie—got felt-tip and paper. Anyway, here is the list as Interview made it—Death and Immortality, the Most Overrated Writers in America, Harold Brodkey, Harold Bloom, My Being Called the Antichrist, Knopf, What Writing Means to Me, What My Enemies Mean to Me, and, finally, Me, Gordon Lish. Hey, that’s me again—Lish again! Swell. Here’s goes. Death? Scared shitless of it. Not of dying—which I elect to accuse of being sexy and dramatic and an occasion for rapturous opportunism and for a certain ultimacy in narcissism—but of being dead. Which state of non-being, reported allure of consciouslessness notwithstanding, I would do anything to get out of. Even art. Like remarking, for example, the hallucination written into the gerund just used: because you’re not going to, I’m not going to, no one s going to, be anything. So to say being dead is to get it wrong because you are saying it wrong. And ditto, less tellingly but tellingly enough, goes for saying non-being, fair enough? So by my saying speech says it wrong, I can believe myself to be in charge of the conditions, which is indeed an illusion, but, I claim, a not unprofitable one. Skip it, it goes without saying I am not in charge of anything by saying. But I give myself to believe that I sort of maybe tragically magically pretty pathetically pitiably a little am—by placing into motion a spoken token of myself, a meagerness, yes, but one whose dialectical action I can pretend transmutes me, its origin, into a muchness by reason (irrational reason) of my being the father of it, okay? Doing art is not a way of saying it right but of saying it as wrong you can say it—namely, an act of saying under the sign of your hallucination, not under anyone else’s. Which is why the other famous faith system we devised for ourselves doesn’t do a job for me. Likelier for me to get myself to think I can overcome, or can march myself to a distance from, Beckett’s sign than God’s. God’s sign—the event of my end, that unimpeachable dissolution—is very dense and specific. Whereas Beckett’s transgression against me, his text, is nowhere near as material and aggressive. I wake up innocent but hours nearer my undoing. This is an offense God delivers to me—Jesus, Jesus!—in irrepressibly vivacious and precise detail. Everything else in experience (we can take Beckett again, or take pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, or take the mortification of the flesh) is comparatively soft and insubstantial and thus more or less resistible, yes? God—God’s agent nature—is the one object whose incommensurate power nothing I can do can subdue. Oh, fiddlesticks. Give me Beckett—and the other mighty dead—that I may vie to be among them or even to trick myself to believe that I am over them. Give me—guess I am quoting Frost—any chance bit that I might manipulate it—am done with the quoting—that I might make of the labor a deformation in my name—the controlled conjunctions, continuities, turbulences, morbid deviations, and so forth. False, false, false, to be sure, but here’s a deception I can let myself succumb to because my name is Gordon, is Lish, is language, is not God, is not the clock, is not the rock. Vanity, vanity, vanity—you bet. So, therefore, why not—next-entry-wise—notions of immortality? Which all it is is vanity imagining for itself a future, no? Well, immortality, yes, such a notion is right up there with the other enabling fictions—those of no fear, no severance, unbreachable sovereignty, anxiety-free freedom, perfection, completion. It couldn’t hurt. It could only help. Glad to go along with it for the time being. Most Overrated Writers in America? Yon mean writers of fìction of my generation in the context of their fictions? Okay, how about this— how about every writer of fiction but Lish? That’s one answer to your question—probably the only unquestionably durable answer the person named Lish could contribute. But here’s another—every writer of fiction but the Don DeLiUo who wrote any novel Don DeLillo wrote, every writer of fiction but the foregoing and the Cynthia Ozick who wrote “Bloodshed” and “Usurpation: Other People’s Stories,” every writer of fiction but the foregoing and the Cormac McCarthy who wrote “Outer Dark” and “Blood Meridian,” every writer of fiction but the foregoing and the Harold Brodkey— of course, of course!—who wrote “His Son, in His Arms, in Light, Aloft,” who wrote “Verona: A Young Woman Speaks,” who wrote “Ceil,” who wrote “S. L.,” who wrote “Largely an Oral History of My Mother,” who wrote “The Boys on Their Bikes.” Please, you want for me to badmouth? I am happy to badmouth—both the living and the dead. I could give you names and addresses till the cows come home. But so go pick for yourself Because whatever proposition you come back to me with, chances are it wouldn’t be in me to rumpus around with you on account of it. Neither, it seems reliable to assert, will it be in history for it to do so. On the other hand, I beg you not ever to come back to me with any of the dozens of, with any of the scores of, with any of the hundreds of grandeurs America underpraises, dispraises, or—the fuckers!—appraises neither one way nor the other. I mean, ignores, is ignorant of, proclaims its smug ignoramusness because of. As witness your New York Times, your Village Voice, your New York Review of Books, to cite certain more notable igginesses in sight. Having not one word to say, the lot of them, either for or against, for instance, Dawn Raffel’s “In the Year of Long Division”—or either for or against Sam Michel’s “Under the Light,” for instance. Ditto Brian Evenson’s “Altmann s Tongue,” ditto Victoria Redel’s “Where the Road Bottoms Out “ which for-instancing I guess I could also get myself to keep up until kingdom come. Harold Brodkey? We used to be friends. Or we used to appear to be friends. Now we are no longer friends—neither actually nor apparently. Harold Bloom? We used to be friends. We used to appear to be friends. Now we are no longer friends—neither actually nor apparently. Ah, but these states of affairs hardly rule out my reading Brodkey and Bloom. You would have to watch me pack up and take myself off to jail if there were a law made that tried to make me quit reading Brodkey and Bloom. Which would just this minute go double for Donoghue and Kristeva and Deleuze and Guatarri and Levinas and Lentricchia and Langer and Nelson Goodman and Adorno and—who have I just now got laid out on the tiny table next to my toilet?—Hegel. Hey, hey—how about, what about “Gordo, why come is it that you are no longer friends with Brodkey, for one, and with Bloom, for another?’’Answer? Because he’s a shit, for one, and a shit, for another! Answer? Because he’s a stinking rotten shit, for one, and a stinking rotten shit, for another! But who’s calling names? Am I calling names? These men will be among the mighty dead one day—gods, be gods, such as anyone might come gloriously to install either or both for himself. But better revered as ghosts changelessly vaporous in the firmament than spotted as all too fleshly moral dishevelments for the children to see panhandling on the Rialto. My Being Called the Antichrist? No kidding. Somebody did that? Who did that? Maybe in Los Angeles maybe. Maybe in Portland. Maybe in Chicago. Here in NYC all I am trying to do is betray, betray—but on the page, baby, on the page!—such that the ties that bind me will be let loose from me for long enough for me to get a toe or two into a hitherto untrampled domain. This means being against everything—against it!—but that means, first and foremost, being against myself. So, check, if there is good in me, then I am against it—but let us seek to keep the categories discrete. I’m all for anything, all for being Yertle the turtle, plus also all for opposing what I say Fm all for—but on the page, baby, on the page! Which happens to be the elsewhere I chose and still choose. Well, okay, I admit it—maybe also, you know, forgive me, don’t get excited, but, right, right, no argument, it’s true, put the cuffs on me, you got me, I give up—it all goes ditto for in the class, where I am the demons consort, its thing, its conduit. Knopf? We used to be friends. We appeared to be friends. (Come on, you know the rest of the dirge by now.) But so what’s the deal here, so friendless at 61? Am I, at long last, wising up? Which, however, it not to say you will catch me looking one inch inattentive to the careers of any of the following Knopf undertakings—Gary Lutz’s “Stories in the Worst Way,” Jason Schwartz’s “A German Picturesque,” Diane Williams “The Stupefaction,” Christine Schutt’s “Nightwork,” Ben Marcus’s “The Age of Wire and String,” Ken Sparling’s “Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall,” Anne Carson’s “Plainwater”—since it was I who, before my being Knopfed off, took them all on—not to mention, proud to mention, Denis Donoghue’s “Walter Pater.” Oh, and another thing— Wayne Hogan’s “Book of Life”—no, correct that, “Book of Tubes”—be smart and get in touch with me at the Q, at 212-888-4769, if you are a publisher who is not too chickenshit to stand strong for a corker. Now then, “What Writing Means to Me?” Meaning itself. Despite the meaninglessness of it. An answer to the insult. Despite the exorbitance of it. The works, or Works, which was my dead wife’s name before it was Lish. But best to say time. Because time beats meaning. Best to say writing means life lived in Lish-made time, not life spent in given time, not life suffered in death-row time, which is nature’s time, dig? “What My Enemies Mean to Me?” Everything—the works (oh, don’t worry, I know all too well, I know exactly what I am saying) again—the inertia-taunting otherness in me—starting with God and with time and with Mommy and Daddy and ending with the vicious incurable ironizing instability of the sentence. Oh, heck—of the comma, of the period. On the other hand, who, what, is there anything exterior or, for that matter, interior, that is not the enemy? That is not an impediment to your existence, to your freedom? “Gordon Lish?” Hey, that’s me, that’s me!—my name, not the first governance but the most agreeable governance. Well, isn’t it, wasn’t it, a. naming, the whole damned deal, an onomatologically determined act of being?Which, when you get right down to it—which is where we’re all going to one day have to get to—namely, right down on your back on your deathbed to it— which would you sooner say? Give you two choices. “Oh, well, that’s life.” Or: “Yeah, that was me.” It of course being conceded there is any say left in you.

About the Author

Gordon Lish

Gordon Lish is editor of The Quarterly. He was an editor at Knopf for 18 years and, previously, an editor at Esquire for eight years. His most recent novel, “Zinzun”, was published by Pantheon.

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