Q. It’s interesting that you say your new book is surreal but not magical realism. You’ve said that you don’t consider your earlier books to be surrealistic. Why not?
A. Surrealism was born out of a preoccupation with the irrationality and illogic of the subconscious, and a view that human relationships are fundamentally absurd. Whatever else my books may be about, they don’t express an absurd view of existence. The form of the books, and the strange juxtapositions of their narratives, may strike people as surreal, but the central concerns that drive the stories are traditional ones. I don’t think any true surrealist would consider me a surrealist, in the same way no hard-core science-fiction fan would consider me a science-fiction writer, since the basic concern of most classic science fiction is the relationship between man and technology. Philip K. Dick and Theodore Sturgeon and a few others are exceptions. Technology is a completely valid and important topic to write about, but it just doesn’t happen to interest me. And my books aren’t “experimental” because my priorities don’t involve reinventing literary forms, and they’re not fantastic because they’re not characterized by the sense of wonder that fantasy evokes. I think it’s been hard for my novels to find a niche.
Q. Do you see your books as being postmodern?
A. You know, I’ve never been entirely clear what “postmodern” means. But to at least some extent postmodernism seems to involve a cultural or aesthetic self-awareness, and an insistence on art recognizing and tweaking its own artifice. My aim isn’t to call attention to the artifice of my books but to make readers forget the artifice, to persuade them to exchange their reality for the one I’ve created. I’m aware that trying to get readers to give themselves over to another reality is always doomed to failure. On the other hand, that’s the job of the novelist, to fail and fail again. The great hope isn’t to succeed-I’m not sure what success would really mean-but to risk everything, and perhaps to fail by narrower margins, until there’s nothing left to fail with.
From a 1997 interview with novelist Steve Erickson. Larry McCaffery and Takayuki Tatsumi conducted the interview, which published in Contemporary Literature, Autumn, 1997, Vol. 38, No. 3.