Quick questions from TLS answered in Amit Chaudhury’s insightful and sometimes trenchant style.
Is there any book, written by someone else, that you wish you’d written?
I have written other people’s books, without having read them, necessarily. Friend of My Youth borrows its title from a story I never read by Alice Munro. All art is about desire – about wanting to be somewhere, or someone, else. Why not desire to write a book someone else has written? “Being a writer” is the first act of make-believe. I’ve also written a song, “So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star”, with a famous title.
What will your field look like twenty-five years from now?
I don’t know. Either the party will continue, or there will be a belated, vituperative intellectual and artistic backlash. If the latter happens, I hope it comes from non-professionals.
Which of your contemporaries will be read 100 years from now?
Difficult to say. I can say that Joni Mitchell will be discovered and rediscovered several times in the future. I know she’s not just a writer (writers may not primarily be interested in other writers anyway), but she’s often doing what a writer does, in creating a space within song that shows us new ways of thinking of the ways in which we have lived. Some of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Adil Jussawalla’s essays and poems, surely. I hope Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage is read in 2117 with laughter and joy, and Anne Carson’s Glass and God with wonder. I think Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival will come to be seen as the definitive book of the second half of the twentieth century; in Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter, the narrative’s cadenced progression and narrator’s pain and tenderness will, I think, amplify with, and endure, the passing of time.
What author or book do you think is most underrated? And why?
Much of Indian writing outside the English language is a significant achievement and terribly ignored. In English, Christopher Isherwood is very important, but there seems to be no political reason to champion him, as is perhaps still the case with Henry Green. The novelist, poet and critic, Buddhadeva Bose. The poet Jibanananda Das. The novelist and short story writer Bibhuti Bhushan Bandhopadhyaya. The world is waiting to hear of them.
What author or book do you think is most overrated? And why?
Difficult to single out overrated writers when the contemporary system of valuation is dependent on incantation – that is, bringing excellence into existence not by arguing for it or describing its qualities, but simply celebrating it.