Interview: Wallace Shawn on Reading, Writing and Avoiding the TV

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09/02/2009 4:00 AM |

I certainly know that Louise Glück can write. I’m currently reading her book of poems A Village Life. I am not really one of those people who could do what my father could do, which was, you could independently present him with 100 pieces of writing and he could line them up. He could say this is the best and this is the least good… but in a funny way, at the New Yorker they were rather sincere in saying this is not for us. But yes, he definitely could read a piece of fiction and say that didn’t work. My tendency would be to say it didn’t work for me, I didn’t enjoy it.

I can read a piece of writing and think this is a bit fake, because this is not like life, this is an imitation of some other play or book—but somehow I do think that it’s more what a person needs when they pick up the book.

With the magic of the computer, I have had the experience of listening to fifteen different singers sing the same song. They all hit the right notes. They all worked hard on their interpretation. What would be the point of saying who was the best and the worst? Clearly there were some I felt that move me; that say something to me. There were others that I thought, ‘Well, it’s not for me, particularly.’

So do you read reviews, do you care about critical appraisals? I talk to a lot of theatre people who won’t read them.
I care a lot! I get quite obsessed about reviews. I do read them, unfortunately. I grew up in a journalistic family. I always read the newspaper. I don’t like people knowing things about me that I don’t know. I don’t like the idea that everybody else has read the horrible review and they’re looking at me in a certain way and I don’t what it said, so I do read them.

You seem almost to predict the internet in your 1985 essay “Morality,” where you describe society as a “network of brains.” Do you own a computer, and do you use it to network? I read that you don’t own a television, is that true?
I do own a computer. I don’t own a television. Everybody else seems to have 24 hours in a day, I seem to have two hours. I have a fantasy that it would be absolutely fascinating to get involved in social networking and chatting with people I don’t know, but I really have no time. In the last couple of years, I have really hardly had time to go to the corner and buy a tube of toothpaste. That’s the truth.

What’s next for you, now that the collection is out?
I’m hoping that Grasses of a Thousand Colours might be able to be produced in New York. That is I hope in my future.