Interviewer: On January 1, you stirred up considerable controversy when you announced that you wanted your work read and considered exclusively in the context of twenty-first century literature. In your speech — if I can quote a bit here — you said, “Henceforth, I want my work read and considered exclusively in the context of twenty-first century literature, henceforth.” A little bit about what that means please.
Author: Certainly, and let me just begin by saying I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and thank you for leaving both “henceforths” in my statement. That’s very decent of you, and it means a great deal to me. A number of your colleagues in the media were — I’m not sure how best to put this — not so generous, ripping my few well-chosen words out of context and omitting that second “henceforth.” I spent most of yesterday writing a couple hundred letters to editors, then faxing them off, then phoning to see if people received their faxes. But to answer your question, what I meant was I didn’t want my work read any longer in the context of twentieth century literature. Henceforth. I think you see where I’m going.
Interviewer: I’m not sure I do yet. Can you elaborate?
Author: Surely, and gladly. Once I renounced the context of twentieth century literature — and let me emphasize as I walk you through the myriad steps I took that this was not a decision I took lightly — I was casting about for other contexts. To replace the old one, you see. I was adrift you might say. What else was there? I asked myself. What other contexts are there even? I was pretty strapped for ideas. I won’t kid you, there were a few days there — dark days, as I look back now — when I considered renouncing my previous renouncing. But I hung in there, drank lots of chamomile tea, and did what every author does after renouncing the context of twentieth century literature, I started to keep a long list, a list of ideas, if you will, of other contexts. I wrote down everything that came to me. No idea was too dumb or out-there. All the standard generative brainstorming techniques were in play. After considering the list, deliberating on the merits of the five best, and sipping a few more cups of tea, I arrived at one conclusion.
Interviewer: Which was what?
Author: Which was that the twenty-first century context made a good deal more sense than, say, the sixteenth century context, for obvious reasons.
Interviewer: Such as….
Author: Oh, obvious reasons such as that I don’t speak sixteenth century. You know what I’m saying here? I’m not from that time or whatever. Not my milieu. Those aren’t my people.
Interviewer: Right, but I think I speak for a lot of folks when I say nobody really gets what this context is, this twenty-first century context. Which is why your announcement made so many waves. First, how do you define twenty-first century literature, and second, how do you see your own work fitting into it?
Author: Some of the contexts I considered but then discarded included fifteenth century literature, the aforementioned sixteenth century literature, seventeenth century literature, can’t forget old eighteenth century literature, nineteenth century literature, vertebrate literature, literature of all organic life both known and unknown, literature of the absurd, literature that tests one’s patience with literature, and box.
Interviewer: What’s “box”?
Author: Box is…. I’m not sure what box is. It’s something I wrote on my list. Box was among the top five, to be sure, and a fiercer and more honorable competitor than box you’d be hard-pressed to identify, but in the end I discarded it.
Interviewer: In favor of twenty-first century literature.
Author: Exactly right! You’re getting to the very essence of this better than anyone before you.
Interviewer: But what is twenty-first century literature?
Author: Right back to that one are we? I admire your professional doggedness. Let me answer your question by telling you a story. There once was a man who was plagued by armadillos. Armadillos came onto this man’s property and dug holes. They burrowed underneath his shrubs and trees, inadvertently harming the root systems. They dug around the foundation of the man’s house, exposing it to the elements. The man tried to rid his property of armadillos. He trapped them and released them into the wild. But they returned, often in greater numbers. The armadillos were dogged, much as you with your questions are dogged. The man began to shoot the armadillos, when and where he could find them. And yet still they came. They arrived in such numbers that they overwhelmed the man and trapped him in his own house. For several days they had a run of the property, and during those days they dug around the foundation of the house. They dug deep into the earth, deeper than they had ever been able to while the man was hunting them. Their efforts paid off, for beneath the house lay a giant slumbering armadillo, as large as the house, which their digging and diligence had uncovered. When the sun rose that day it awakened the giant armadillo, which took off with the house on its back, running faster than you’d think such an animal capable.
Interviewer: And that’s an example of twenty-first century literature?
Author: That story? No. That’s a parable to illustrate how twenty-first century literature lies underground, if you will, waiting to be awakened, metaphorically.
Interviewer: So that makes you like one of the little armadillos?
Author: I suppose, in a manner of speaking.
Interviewer: How do you see your own work fitting into twenty-first century literature?
Author: I have another story.
Interviewer: I thought you might.
Author: There once was a man who owned a tree that was very special to him. The man cared for the tree as you might care for a loved one. Now there was a woodpecker who also cared for the man’s tree, but its manner of caring for the tree consisted of pecking holes through the outermost layers of bark. The man tried everything to rid his tree of the woodpecker. He ran outside whenever he saw it and chased it away. But the woodpecker returned, sometimes with reinforcements. The man put sticky, repellent material all over the trunk of the tree. This annoyed the woodpeckers, slowing and even inconveniencing them, but it did not deter them, for they were —
Author: Right, dogged. Thank you. The woodpeckers were quite dogged, and sneaky, I might add, and they kept at the tree. Well, those dogged and sneaky efforts paid off. As soon as they completed a ring of pecked holes around the trunk of the man’s tree, the top fell over revealing a giant slumbering woodpecker inside, as tall as the former tree.
Interviewer: And this too is another parable about how twenty-first century literature lies hidden, waiting to be awakened, and so forth.
Author: How do you mean?
Interviewer: It just seems a lot like that armadillo story.
Author: No, that’s just a story my parents told me when I was a child, to get me to go to sleep.
Interviewer: Perhaps if you show me your new work that would answer my questions.
Author: I don’t have anything ready for publication at this time.
Interviewer: Just an excerpt of your work-in-progress?
Interviewer: A couple of pages maybe?
Interviewer: One page?
Author: Sorry, not presently.
Interviewer: A paragraph then?
Author: I don’t think so.
Interviewer: What about a sentence, one really great twenty-first century sentence?
Author: No can do.
Interviewer: We could do a sidebar.
Author: Sidebars are nice.
Interviewer: This could be a big, honking sidebar.
Author: What you describe is inarguably tempting, but no.
Interviewer: Then can you tell me what you’re working on?
Author: It is unwise to speak of that which is not yet ready to be spoken.
Interviewer: You’re quoting someone?
Author: Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. It was Epictetus who said that.
Author: Herodotus, a.k.a. the father of history.
Interviewer: Your fellow authors have said your call for twenty-first century literature jumps the gun.
Author: Not all of them do.
Interviewer: Some of them then.
Author: And some of them say I’m actually late, that the twenty-first century started last year.
Interviewer: And you say what?
Author: I say I have Stephen Jay Gould on my side, who wrote, in Questioning the Millennium, "The Gregorian reform of 1582 revised the Julian calendar by dropping those ‘extra’ ten days, and then promulgating a new rule of — "
Interviewer: All right, that’s enough.
Author: That’s from page 148.
Interviewer: Fine, duly noted.
Author: You are being so professional about this.
Interviewer: Commentators — some commentators — suggest that placing yourself at the center of twenty-first century literature is “premature.” How do you respond?
Author: I assumed they were making light of the well-known fact of my low birth weight. That’s what commentators do.
Interviewer: Your critics have lambasted you, pilloried you even, charging, among other things, that you have no twentieth century work, have no new on-going twenty-first century work, and are only drawing attention to yourself to distract from your aforementioned lack of work.
Author: People are saying that?
Interviewer: Well, no, but I’m saying it and attributing it to your critics.
Author: You are wily. Well, the twentieth century, if you recall your history, was so very unreceptive to me and my work, so inhospitable to my kind, so bitterly opposed to my even joining it. It was a terrible time, as you may have heard.
Interviewer: I do have a few vague recollections of the twentieth century.
Author: Excellent. I’ve always said it’s important for the young to study their history. You know, some have gone so far as to say the twentieth century was the bloodiest century of all the centuries.
Interviewer: I have a vague recollection of hearing that.
Author: Well, so there you go, what more proof do you need?
Interviewer: Look, is this some kind of clever ploy?
Interviewer: A deceitful ruse?
Author: Not a chance.
Interviewer: Vast Ponzi scheme?
Author: Absolutely not.
Interviewer: Well-hatched plan?
Author: Please don’t be mad at me.
Interviewer: It is a well-hatched plan?
Author: Yes, but don’t be mad.
Interviewer: I’m not mad.
Author: Everyone’s doing it. Look around. Twenty-first century husbands meet twenty-first century wives as they step off planes flown by twenty-first century pilots wearing light-weight suits sewn from twenty-first century fibers. Soon people everywhere are going to have twenty-first century relationship problems, stemming from unique twenty-first century anxieties, placating only by twenty-first century pharmaceuticals. You got your twenty-first century businesses, your twenty-first century education, it goes on and on. Everything’s new. Everything’s different. Everything’s distinct from how it worked before. We’re all starting over.
Interviewer: You think there’s any need for a twenty-first century interviewer?
Author: Good lord, yes.