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ROGER ROSENBLATT, Newsday interview

20 February 2011

You joke a lot with your students, but you're deadly serious about writing and literature: you tell them that great writing "must be useful to the world" and that "the artist is the only free person."

I tried to parcel out such statements, because I didn't want to sound like a horse's ass, but if you got me on one of those truth serums, the whole book could be reduced to those very sentences you quote. I take literature very seriously, and I do believe that art is the only way the world continues to roll. My main goal is stated in the last few pages: I want my students to think in very grand terms about their role as writers.

But you caution your students against reading too much, saying, "You'll learn everything that is known and nothing that is unknown." You've hit on a very subtle and difficult point, which I think I'm right about. It is a real mistake to be excessively sophisticated in your writing and to have your mind depend too much on other minds of the past. I think one really has to cultivate ignorance as an artist: Everything must be new to you.

That ties in with something you write in the book: "I never fail to say "we" to my students because I do not want them to get the idea that you ever learn how to write, no matter how long you've done it."

Absolutely. The more I write, the more I understand that you never learn, and this helps you as a teacher. You're not up there giving them the canon or an amount of agreed-upon knowledge; you're discovering things with them all the time. I think that's one reason writers look younger than other people--it's not because of cosmetic work! I think it's because of wonder: we start our day looking outside and saying, "What will this day bring?" I think writing is a very good way to understand how to live in the world.

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Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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