PJ: Do you still have the ambition to write Flaubert’s quintessential “book about nothing”?
EC: That’s quite an abstract notion, almost incomprehensible the more I think about it… but I do have to keep busy somehow. Perhaps what I’m really drawn to is a book about everything. What breaks my heart, in any case, is the novelist who knows his subject to the letter, who discusses it without ever surpassing it (except the tip of his tongue visible between his lips as he labors over his coloring book), who keeps piously to the topic at hand and never allows himself go astray. It’s a narrow and, frankly, miserly view of literature. It’s calling in quantity surveyors and weights-and-measures specialists and the police and the army to maintain order in a space where the whole point is the fertile chaos of disorder, where everything can be made up, especially that which doesn’t make sense, so long as the sentences hold together. To write is to take hold of oneself and to take hold of the things that make up the world.
PJ: What is it about clichés that’s so interesting to you?
EC: Our representations of the world are fixed within them, encased as in cement. But you point a finger at them and your fingernail makes them shatter. A cliché isn’t much different from its proverbial formulation: it’s just words clumped together, held in place by some kind of glue. And it’s possible to melt that glue, to disassemble the proverb, to emancipate the thought from its detainment by these readymade sentences. Literature, being a great purveyor of clichés, needs to pillory itself from time to time—and to keep the snake from biting its tail or the scorpion from stinging itself, we pit the snake and the scorpion against one another.