Monday, February 12, 2007

A conversation with Michael Cunningham

To introduce this year's Prague Writers' Festival, director Michael March talked with Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours and other works, at the Municipal Library in Prague.

Two parts of the exchange caught my eye. First:
MM: What were the highlights of your youth?

MC: You know, I had a youth that was entirely devoid of highlights. That is one of the reasons why I loved Woolf´s Mrs Dalloway. I was just a kid living in a suburb in Los Angeles, one of those places that if you drove by, you might very well glance out the window of your car and think to yourself: "Thank God I don't live there". I understood it to be magical and strange and complicated and singular, even though it looked like almost any other place in America, and when I read Mrs Dalloway and understood that somebody named Virginia Woolf had written this epic story of an ordinary day in a life of an ordinary person named Clarissa Dalloway, I thought: "Oh, I want do that! I want to try, if it's anywhere in me, to convey the strangeness and magic and off-kilter beauty of where I'm from, of the lives of the people that I know that are not full of highlights".
Then there's this bit that reminded me, somewhat obliquely, of Faulkner's comment about the past:
MM: You appear as a romantic - sensitive, extremely observant - looking down from the spires almost as a ghost observing life.

MC: Yes, absolutely. I've always been acutely aware of the passage of time. I think of novels as doomed attempts to preserve time, to fix it and hold it and make it last - that's part of why we love novels. Take Madame Bovary - her world's still intact, in time. In the act of writing, when we reach the end of a sentence, it's already in the past. If there is no present - as we are always moving at breakneck speed into the future - then we can only write about the past. All stories are ghost stories.
Read more of the conversation.

--Marshal Zeringue