The Paris Review Interview With Janet Malcolm

Janet Malcolm is a careful writer. The new Paris Review has an interview with her. The Review still publishes the best interviews on code-cracking the art of writing. This exchange—which interviewer Katie Roiphe notes in her introduction took place primarily via email—is a little Master class in artful phrases, and an insightful analysis of journalism, at a time when what journalists do and why they do it is much in the news.


Roiphe describes Malcolm’s books as “simultaneously beloved, demanding, scholarly, flashy, careful, bold highbrow, and controversial.” When she asks if Malcolm’s style is informed by psychoanalysis, this is the answer:

“Although psychoanalysis has influenced me personally, it has had curiously little influence on my writing. This may be because writers learn from other writers, not from theories. But there are parallels between journalism and clinical psychoanalysis. Both pan the surface—yes, surface—for the gold of insight. The metaphor of depth—as in depth psychology—in wrong, as the psychologist Roy Shafer helpfully pointed out. The unconscious is right there on the surface, as in “The Purloined Letter.” Journalism, with its mandate to notice small things, was always congenial to me. I might also have liked being an analyst. But I never would have gotten into medical school, because I couldn’t do math, so it wasn’t an option. I never went to journalism school, either. When I started doing journalism, a degree from a journalism school wasn’t considered necessary. In fact, it was considered a little tacky.”

Malcolm’s style cannot be imitated; it is indivisible from her nature. Yet can you mine her work for rules? Some might be: be self-deprecating, even if in doing so you slyly draw attention to the fact you are doing so (“surface—yes, surface—for the gold . . .”). Be subtle, but specific, in your condemnations (“tacky.”). Know your stuff (“as in The Purloined Letter.”)

Malcolm tells Roiphe that “writing for me is a process of constantly throwing out stuff that doesn’t seem interesting enough. I grew up in a family of big interrupters.” Another rule: edit.

European wind farms could meet global energy demand, researchers now say

A new study estimated the untapped potential of wind energy across Europe.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • A new report calculated how much electricity Europe could generate if it built onshore wind farms on all of its exploitable land.
  • The results indicated that European onshore wind farms could supply the whole world with electricity from now until 2050.
  • Wind farms come with a few complications, but the researchers noted that their study was meant to highlight the untapped potential of the renewable energy source in Europe.
Keep reading Show less

Physicists find new state of matter that can supercharge technology

Scientists make an important discovery for the future of computing.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new state of matter called "topological superconductivity".
  • The state can lead to important advancements in quantum computing.
  • Utilizing special particles that emerge during this state can lead to error-free data storage and blazing calculation speed.
Keep reading Show less

New vaccine (for cats) nixes allergic reactions for humans

You want one. Now you may be able to survive one.


Photo credit: Jie Zhao
/ Getty contributor
Technology & Innovation
  • Cats live in a quarter of Western households.
  • Allergies to them are common and can be dangerous.
  • A new approach targets the primary trouble-causing allergen.
Keep reading Show less