Paul Vangelisti: In Last Exit to Brooklyn you see there’s sometimes incredibly complex writing that was really worked, you know what I mean? Not aimed toward naturalism at all, but aimed toward musical effects and—
Hubert Selby, Jr.: That’s right, I write by ear.
HSJ: Yeah, Beethoven was my only conscious influence in writing that book.
PV: What got you to write “Landsend”? “Landsend,” to people who haven’t read the book, is a thing at the end. There’s one parallel in world literature that really comes close, and that’s Verga’s House by the Medlar Tree. That’s the English title. It’s about the deterioration of a family… A family of fishermen. And there are parts of the book, chapters within chapters that are written in the choral effect, where the society talks, literally. When you don’t know exactly who’s speaking. But it’s just voices. Anyway, in your book, you have a whole section like that called “Landsend” where you’re moving around within this housing project. What—why did you write that? Why did you write it that way? How did you get to write it that way?
HSJ: Well, first of all I guess get back to my basis of how I write anything. I believe that each and every piece of work makes its own demands. In other words, I don’t believe that you should develop a style and impose that on everything, that’s acting. That’s not writing. Each and everything makes its own demands and it’s up to the writer to find out exactly what the demands are and to fulfill those demands. And as that thing came to me, that was the structure it took in my head, and if I remember correctly it took me a couple of weeks just to work on the outline of what was going to go where. Because I realized, what I did was I tried to select certain attitudes that I felt would reflect the entire establishment of, not only a housing project, but this whole insane idea of a classless society. The whole idea is—that’s the whole American image, façade. Cosmetology is the thing that’s going to cure all the evils and ills of the world. And it’s absurd. So we have this myth of a classless society where we’re all the same. Look: solid, red brick. And I try to select attitudes that show what not only goes on behind the walls, but why it’s a fallacy, why it’s not a classless society, and why it fails. You see? But, you know, what are the things that keep it in balance? As I say, my only conscious influence was Beethoven. Now, what will keep this thing in balance? How will we balance the women’s chorus, with Ada, with Lucy, with Irene? What are the things that are making these people go around and do what—why do people do what they do?
To read both lost interviews with Hubert Selby, Jr., purchase Music & Literature no. 1...