21 November 2012

Pullman on “your appalling self-consciousness”

More from the Mother Jones interview with Philip Pullman:
The central moment in the account of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis is when they sort of come to after they've eaten the fruit and they realize they’re naked and try and cover themselves with fig leaves. That seemed to me a perfect allegory of what had happened in the 20th century with regard to literary modernism.

Literary modernism kind of grew out of a sense that, “Oh my god! I’m telling a story! Oh, that can’t be the case, because I’m a clever person. I’m a literary person! What am I going to do to distinguish myself? I know! I’ll write Ulysses.” [Laughs.] Actually, I don’t think that was Joyce’s motive—but a lot of modernism does seem to come out of a fear of being thought an ordinary storyteller. So they tell it backwards and they tell it in the present tense and they cut loose the pages and shuffle them around—all that kind of stuff.

When I first started writing, I tried to do that sort of thing, but I realized that there was a limited value in that. And it also made it difficult to read, and I didn’t really want my books difficult to read. This is the value for me of writing books that children read. Children aren’t interested in the least about your appalling self-consciousness. They want to know what happens next. They force you to tell a story.
This isn’t the only Christian allusion that Pullman drops in this interview—though he also describes himself in this interview as an agnostic and is notorious in some self-conscious circles for portraying organized religion in a harsh light. Which shows you can take the vicar’s grandson out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of him.

Of course, Pullman has other levels of belief:
The state of mind which I put myself when I tell a story is one in which superstition flourishes very easily. And I welcome that because it helps me. A story, to me, has a particular sprite, like the angel of the spirit of that story—and it’s my job to attend to what it wants to do. When I tell the story of “Cinderella,” the sprite does not want me to make it into an allegory of the fall of communism. The sprite would be unhappy if I did that. I can’t put it any more clearly than that because it’s a strange area and I’m not very sure about it myself. But I’m perfectly happy about being superstitious and atheistic.
An almost supernatural way of divorcing his authorial consciousness from the act of storytelling.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the interview, but from what you have quoted he seems to describe himself as an atheist, not agnostic - I guess he can't make up his mind.

J. L. Bell said...

In this interview Pullman uses both terms, "agnostic" when directly addressing the question of theism beyond human understanding.