Jonathan Franzen, Masks, Remediation, and Family

The interview that I chose to read was with Jonathan Franzen. I selected this interview mostly because although I had not read any of his work I had actually heard of him before unlike most of the people. I thought the little snippet that was posted on the main page was interesting as well:

“When I was younger, the main struggle was to be a ‘good writer.’ Now I more or less take my writing abilities for granted, although this doesn’t mean I always write well.”

This appealed to me because I know that I am personally still struggling with this first aspect. I am still struggling with, worrying about, and hoping that I am a ‘good writer’ at this point in my life. I guess it was interesting (and maybe comforting) to see that at least for him this had lessened over time.

A couple of different themes and topics from his discussion stood out to me and these include most significantly the three themes listed below.

In the interview one of the things that he discusses is the aspect of ‘masks’ in relation to writing and life in general. He talks about how writers are so preoccupied with the idea of using their own life experiences and emotions in their writing but doing so in a concealed way. Most of his progress as a writer he believes is due to him progressing on to wearing different masks as an author. As a young writer he thought that he could only wear certain masks to deal with his experiences through writing but as he has progressed he has been able to don different masks and deal with these experiences in different ways.

Also prevalent in his interview is the idea of remediation. He discusses how he is still dealing with similar themes as some of his earlier work but is just doing it in different (and according to him better) ways than he did before. His progression as an author doesn’t mean that he has moved on from discussing the same things that interested him early on just that he approaches them in a different way.

Finally one more thing that interested me about his interview was his discussion of how growing up in a house where art wasn’t appreciated very much influenced his growth as a writer. His parents were not very supportive of his wish to go into the arts and pushed both him and his brother towards the sciences as opposed to the arts. I kind of connected to this as my parents have always been very outspoken about focusing on getting a degree in something which offers concrete job opportunities. To them this doesn’t include careers in the arts and I think if they hadn’t been as outspoken with me I may not be majoring in the same things as I am now.


4 thoughts to “Jonathan Franzen, Masks, Remediation, and Family”

  1. Hey Tyler — I love the quote that you took from the Franzen interview. I think that many of us can relate to the worries of being a “good writer.” I, too, am still struggling to find the “good” in my writing and when I finally find it, I have gone through countless revisions of whatever I may be working on. I also like how Franzen uses the idea of wearing a “mask” to talk about his writing. I can see where he is coming from in the way that writers seem to wear a “mask” when they are writing about their emotions. He thinks about his writing differently then most would, and I admire that.

  2. Hey Tyler!
    I haven’t actually heard of Jonathan Franzen but I just googled him and now I really want to read “Purity.” So, thank you for that. I understand what you mean about struggling to see yourself as a “good” writer. I think Franzen has it down when it comes to the lack of constancy in your own view of your writing quality. It doesn’t necessarily even have to apply to different pieces of writing–looking back on the first draft of my “Why I Write” piece, I find so many issues and parts that I now hate. But when I finished writing it, I was in love with it. I’ve realized that it’s all about perspective.
    Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all think that we suck.

  3. Tyler,
    I’m so glad you chose this interview, because everyone struggles with what it means to be a good writer. It’s just that it’s so subjective– one person might love your writing and another might now. It always just seems like such a big disappointment when someone doesn’t like my writing, even if it’s just one person. I also really like how you included something about his personal life, since that can really affect people’s writing. I also liked that you talked about emotions, since emotions, too, drive writing.

  4. Hi Tyler! It sounds like you found a very relatable author! I agree that as one progresses through life as a reader, they wear different masks. I think that this is also true with anything else; as the material becomes more comfortable, it is easier to view it through different lenses, and is actually necessary to continue progressing in whatever that field is. I also related to your point about your parents not considering the arts to offer concrete jobs. I think society in general does not consider arts to be “concrete jobs.” I wonder what started this way of thinking.

Leave a Reply