Peppering a Novel With Obsessions
John Irving is the author of twelve books, including “The World According to Garp,” “A Prayer For Owen Meany,” and most recently, “Last Night on Twisted River.” Over his career he has won a National Book Award, an Academy Award for his adaptation of “The Cider House Rules,” and many other honors, and has been translated into over thirty languages. A former competitive wrestler, he splits his time between Vermont and Montreal.
Question: Are the recurring themes in your novels, like bears and death, a conscious decision?
John Irving: It is. Well, there's a distinction to be made between the bears and the accidents, for example. Bears are just a sort of natural part of the landscape where I've lived most of my life. I live where there are bears, I see bears. The bear I saw most recently was swimming between one island and another. My wife and youngest son and I, we kind of followed it for a while in our boat. They don't seem, frankly, as special to me as they do to many of my readers. I've just kind of been around them. I'm aware that they're there.
There are other things, though, that are recurrent in my novels that are more on a level of obsession. I write very compulsively about what I feel. While there are many landmarks or signposts in my novels, factual things, that did cross my life or happen to me, those are the superficial autobiographical things that you see, I think, in many writers’ novels. To me, what's more revealing, emotionally, psychologically, autobiographical, are those things in my novels that never happened to me, but which I dread and which I fear and which I hope never do happen to me or to the people I love. The constant reappearance of the death of a child or the death of a loved one in a family, the idea that the more you fear losing someone, the more likely in the story itself, what you fear will happen. These nightmarish things that reappear that sort of haunt most of my novels, as much as I control the plot, the storyline of my novels, I don't control those obsessions. Obsessions, by definition, control you.
Recorded on: October 30, 2009
For the novelist, obsessions, by definition, control you. Thus, try as he may to control the plot of his stories, a variety of recurring fixations inevitably work themselves in.
The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.
- The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
- Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
- Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
The Canadian professor's old-school message is why many started listening to him.
- The simplicity of Peterson's message on suffering echoes Buddha and Rabbi Hillel.
- By bearing your suffering, you learn how to become a better person.
- Our suffering is often the result of our own actions, so learn to pinpoint the reasons behind it.
An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.
- Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
- The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
- The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.