–In our society what we tried to do was use electricity to jolt people back into some simulacrum of normality, and if that failed, we were willing to cut part of their brains out; that surely says something about the kind of society we were. – Patrick Evans.
Prof. Patrick Evans is the Programme Director of English at the University of Canterbury, and has been writing about Janet Frame since the 1970′s. This interview, conducted by AHD, covers his latest book, Gifted (VUP, 2010), Janet Frame, Modernity, New Zealand in the 1950′s and art and creative writing generally.
This interview is made up of six main questions, each of which Patrick answers and then expands upon. His readings of the major concerns in Frame are fascinating, covering her general concern with Modernity and its impact upon the subject. He also goes where no scholar now dares to tread: the issue of her hospitalization, and how it affected her fiction.
In his characteristic style, he mixes insight with irreverence: in Part 5, which is split into two parts, he suggests that if ‘somebody is worried about [the factual basis of Gifted], then they should stop reading fiction’, and follows this up by suggesting that there are jobs for people like that — bus drivers and tram ticket stampers.
I hope you enjoy this interview. It should provide an entry point into Patrick’s novel as well as Frame’s fiction more generally. My thanks to Patrick for agreeing to this interview, especially given that the next day he would be discussing his work again, this time on National Radio with Kim Hill.
A description of Gifted is available here, on the Victoria University Press site, where you can also buy an electronic copy of the book for $15 or order a hard-copy for $30. Bruce Harding’s very positive review of Gifted is also available on this site. — AHD
Question 1: You are the author of the excellent novel, Gifted, which is reviewed on this blog. Can you give a little preliminary introduction into the genesis and background of this book? What are its major concerns?
Question 2: You suggest that Frame’s view of language is at the centre of your novel, in that language makes the world. Can you give a little background into exactly what this means? How does this relate to Rilke in particular?
Question 3: You have spent much of your career writing about Janet Frame. What is it that draws you to her in particular? How do you feel she fits into a larger cultural nationalist project?
Question 4: Language, memory and subjectivity seem to be some of your major themes in your work on Frame. How do you feel the mental hospital experience shaped her writing, and our reading of her work?
Question 5: How do you respond to positivists who suggest that your recent book is irresponsible with the facts? Do you have a duty to facts?
Question 6: Finally, in releasing a novel that deals fictionally with authors, is it ok to call your novel a work of fictional literary criticism? Why not deal with these issues in a standard lit-crit mode? What shortcomings does formalized lit-crit have that your novel manages to escape?