Thursday, October 06, 2005

Saunders: Fables, Crippled Diction, Genocide, and Happy Face

Michael Silverblatt's latest Bookworm broadcast is one worth listening to more than once. He interviews the incomparable George Saunders, who in his beautiful Chicago accent, says, "Give me this crippled diction and make it walk!"

The subject is Saunders' new novella, THE BRIEF AND FRIGHTENING REIGN OF PHIL, and the discussion turns (how can it not?) to Saunders' interest in the institutional language that accompanies lying. From corporate cover-ups to ethnic cleansing.

Silverblatt observes that Saunders' "laughter language" always is "characterized by profuse overadequacy to its situation." But that the "tear language"--which is the same language--is inadequate to its situation. Here's a snippet:

The stories are engineered so that the things that made you laugh suddenly have a second side, an ulterior motive...

As they say in Chicago they come back to bite you in the ass.

That's what they say. And suddenly you feel guilty for having laughed so easily. The stories are meant, I think, to let the reader feel an uncomfortable guilt at how much is assumed by easy language.

I was thinking about the fact that I am a very sentimental person. I mean, Kahlil Gibran was a tough guy, compared to me. And I am also very conscious that I want to be liked all the time. That's my number one thing. Also I'm not all that crazy about myself. I'm very anxious about myself. So when you put those things together, it kinda makes sense--and I can feel myself doing it--that you're going to keep a "happy face," that language-attentiveness-to-style as a form of a "happy face" thing, and I think that when those "tear" moments come they always surprise me. It's not planned, but I think it's the inevitable outcome of somebody who is keeping too stiff a back.

Very humbling to hear Saunders talk like this. Also to hear his spot-on impersonation of Valley-speak, to illustrate the kind of real-world language he has grown to value, following, in a way, the American tradition of Mark Twain.

I won't rehash more. But do listen.


Blogger katrina said...

I recently bought this book. I can't wait to read it.

8:59 PM  
Blogger virginia said...

thank you Anne, I heart Saunders too, and this interview was inspiring.

And happy belated birthday!

12:42 PM  
Blogger Anne said...


10:44 PM  

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