Caryl Phillips and Corina StanNov 11, 2021
Stitching the Past to the Present
Caryl Phillips speaks with Corina Stan
New Books Network 2021
Caryl Phillips, professor of English at Yale, world-renowned and prize-winning novelist (from The Final Passage to 2018’s A View of the Empire at Sunset) shares his thoughts on transplantation, on performance, on race, even on sports. Joining him here are John and the wonderful comparatist Corina Stan, educated in Romania, Germany, France and the US, author of The Art of Distances: Ethical Thinking in 20th century Literature.
It’s a rangy conversation. John begins by raving about Caryl’s italics–he in turn praises Faulkner’s. Corina and Caryl explore his debt (cf. his The European Tribe) to American writers like Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Meeting Baldwin was scary–back in those days before there were “writers besporting themselves on every university campus.” Caryl praises the joy of being a football fan (Leeds United), reflects on his abiding loyalty to his class and geographic origins and his fondness for the moments of Sunday joy that allow people to endure. John raises Orhan Pamuk’s claim (In Novel Dialogue last season) that the novel is innately middle-class; Caryl says that it’s true that as a form it has always taken time and money to make–and to read. But “vicars and middle class people fall in love, too; they get betrayed and let down…a gamut of emotion that’s as wide as anybody else.” He remains drawn to writers haunted by the past: Eliot, W.G. Sebald, the huge influence of Faulkner trying to stitch the past to the present.
And his treat? Caryl treasures his ability to stop writing; he turned down a Guardian column because he hopes to have the good manners to shut up when he has no thought pressing to get out. But when the writing itself stops being a treat?
Mentioned in the Episode
- James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charley, The Fire Next Time
- Richard Wright, Native Son
- Johnny Pitts, Afropean
- Caryl Phillips, Dancing in the Dark
- J. M. Coetzee, “What We like to Forget” (On Caryl Phillips)
- Graham Greene (e.g Brighton Rock and The Quiet American) wrote in “The Lost Childhood” (1951) that at age 14 ” I took Miss Marjorie Bowen’s The Viper of Milan from the library shelf…From that moment I began to write.”
- Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter
- William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom
Aarthi Vadde is Associate Professor of English at Duke University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: email@example.com.