2.5 Stitching the Past to the Present: Caryl Phillips speaks with Corina Stan (JP)

Caryl Phillips, professor of English at Yale, world-renowned and prize-winning novelist (from The Final Passage to 2018’s A View of the Empire at Sunset) shares his thoughts on transplantation, on performance, on race, even on sports. Joining him here are John and the wonderful comparatist Corina Stan, educated in Romania, Germany, France and the US, author of The Art of Distances: Ethical Thinking in 20th century Literature.

It’s a rangy conversation. John begins by raving about Caryl’s italics–he in turn praises Faulkner’s. Corina and Caryl explore his debt (cf. his The European Tribe) to American writers like Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Meeting Baldwin was scary–back in those days before there were “writers besporting themselves on every university campus.” Caryl praises the joy of being a football fan (Leeds United), reflects on his abiding loyalty to his class and geographic origins and his fondness for the moments of Sunday joy that allow people to endure. John raises Orhan Pamuk’s claim (In Novel Dialogue last season) that the novel is innately middle-class; Caryl says that it’s true that as a form it has always taken time and money to make–and to read. But “vicars and middle class people fall in love, too; they get betrayed and let down…a gamut of emotion that’s as wide as anybody else.” He remains drawn to writers haunted by the past: Eliot, W.G. Sebald, the huge influence of Faulkner trying to stitch the past to the present.

And his treat? Caryl treasures his ability to stop writing; he turned down a Guardian column because he hopes to have the good manners to shut up when he has no thought pressing to get out. But when the writing itself stops being a treat?

Mentioned in the Episode

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image credit:
Satirdan kahraman (beer glass) Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0
Pierre-Yves Beaudouin (soccer match: Ligue 2 – Créteil-Châteauroux) Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Published by plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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