'Rilke anticipated the postmodern insight that there is no personality, there are just these various intersecting fields: that personality is socially constructed, genetically constructed, linguistically constructed, constructed by upbringing. Where the postmoderns go wrong is in positing a nullity behind all that. It’s not a nullity, it’s something raw and frightening and bottomless. It’s what Murakami goes looking for in the well in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. To ignore it is to deny your humanity.'There are four German books – Malte, Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Magic Mountain and above all The Trial – that Franzen describes as ‘primal’.
‘In each of these books the fundamental story is the same. There are these superficial arrangements; there is the life we think we have, this very much socially constructed life that is comfortable or uncomfortable but nonetheless what we think of as “our life”. And there’s something else underneath it, which was represented by all those German-language writers as Death. There’s this awful truth, this maskless self, underlying everything. And what was striking about all four of those great books was that each of them found the drama in blowing the cover off a life. You start with an individual who is in some way defended, and you strip away or just explode the surface and force that character into confrontation with what’s underneath.’What I found particularly interesting in this is the recognition that this is exactly what my WiP has been trying to (literally) pull off, although I hadn’t been thinking of in terms of a mask. I was aiming to reveal something ‘true’ about my principal character by metaphorically stripping him bare, but it doesn’t quite work. Perhaps that’s because nakedness isn’t enough. I need to go deeper than that, and strip him of his mask too.