Christian Lorentzen: Was it ever your ambition to approach the sublime?
Gordon Lish: Oh sure. But never came close. You have to have an interest in the world to capture the sublime. I’m not interested in the world. You have to have an interest in people. Apart from my relations as a father, a husband, a lover, I’m not interested in people. I’m not really terribly interested in anybody else’s heart or mind, or even in my own. The great affection of my latter years, I attend to her bearing but not as I imagine others would and do. I’m not exactly autistic, but if you called me that, I wouldn’t object. Hey, I’ve been fired from every job I’ve ever had. I can manage, if I choose to manage, but I don’t choose to. Really, the society of others – certain friends, family and lovers aside – is not a prominent need in me.
To bring about the kind of work that has been brought about by a person we would cite as possessed of the power to sweep us away, one would have to be interested in others, in nature, in the machinery of the given. One would have to be interested in what’s without. I so often don’t even notice it. If I were to walk to the grocery, I will glance at a woman on the way but walk right past a war breaking out, not thinking anything of it. I would note a datum in the margin. Not so with DeLillo, for example, his apprehension of the details of the world. Not so with Cormac McCarthy. I’m a poseur, a potzer – not a writer in the sense that matters. Shit, are you kidding? The sublime.
CL You brought it up, the sublime.
GL Right. But not with respect to my own writing. Only, if ever, through my acts of revising the materials of others.
CL You approach the sublime through editing?
GL By revising, let’s say, yes. Or so I prefer to claim.
CL Do you think that’s the case with Carver, or are you thinking of other writers?
GL I’m thinking of anybody whose work I’ve fooled around with. Had I not revised Carver, would he be paid the attention given him? Baloney!