I know now why I saved it, and why I will save it again. She speaks my language and the language of so many creative people I know. That she feels the same way about art, writing and the sacred as I do, is an affirmation. That she expresses it in ways that inspire me anew is a gift.
I hope her words will inspire you as well.
Excerpts from “Waiting for Gilead,” an Interview with Marilynn Robinson by Sarah Ann Johnson
On what drives her to write
“I write for the same reasons other people dance or paint, I suppose. Any art is an intensifier of experience, an exploration of experience itself. The recruiting of one’s faculties in order to do something so difficult and, in the ordinary sense, unnecessary, is really very interesting, in part because so human. I feel that I am in the world in a particularly interesting way when I am writing, or doing anything that makes that kind of demand.
Of course there are things I wish to express, but it is truer to say that I find or understand them in the course of writing than it is to say that the writing simply serves as a way to express them”
On the power of metaphor?
“I share the Emersonian view that language is metaphorical in its origins and its fundamental character. The fossil poetry of single words is generally lost to familiarity, and we forget the potency of syntax, its amazing ability to capture meaning. Extended metaphors have syntax at a larger scale, and they exploit the fact that the mind moves through the likenesses in things.”
On what she admires about Melville, Faulkner, and the Old Testament
“Melville and Faulkner both write from a love of the splendors of consciousness, of the largest life of consciousness, including such things as knowledge and speculation, never to the exclusion—instead the enhancement—of immediate experience . . . . They explore conceptions of reality that are vast, generous, open and as ambitious as any metaphysics. The demands they make on language and the possibilities they open for it—these are the things that yield great prose. And, in the case of the Old Testament, great poetry.
The Old Testament is an entire, complex literature, which developed over a thousand years—a conservative estimate. It is dedicated to the proposition that human life and human history have very high meaning . . . and to the proposition that the cataclysmic world and obstreperous humankind are essentially holy and good. So it is a very this-worldly text in which metaphysical attention is brought to bear on sunlight and childbearing and warfare and greed and love and despair.
All its great beauty is earned by the directness with which it confronts , and laments and celebrates the world as it is . . . . The beauty of the literature is the character of its engagement, the lyrical or pained or astonished—but always imperfect—perception of the holy.”
On the sacred and secular
“I don’t really accept the distinction between sacred and secular. . . . Nothing is without meaning, [everything] has its truest meaning under the aspect of eternity. The fact that we have no name for the sacredness of most ordinary things does not by any means put them in a searate category.”
Advice for new or aspiring writers
“Write the book you want to read. Never calculate or condescend. Keep your eyes open. Listen for the music of the language. Enrich you own sense of things and then be loyal to it.”