New York Times, November 13, 1988


When you finish writing a novel, you may feel brilliant and triumphant, an unsung master of your craft. But when you begin that next book, as I am now, the rock rolls down the hill. Experience fails you. Suddenly you feel inept and confused – often downright stupid.

In the first instance, that of the book successfully written, there is often a tendency in the afterglow to portray yourself as having been wiser and more certain than ever you were during the confusion of composition. This is why it’s best to take an artist’s statements with a grain of salt, much as if Columbus claimed that in sailing to the Orient, he had really been searching for America all along.

In my own case, I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of writing a novel based on the life of the modern philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. At that time, eight years ago, my writing had fallen into a bad slump. I was beyond confused. The truth was, I was stuck.

Ever since college, I had written fiction and poetry, but this bilingual approach was leaving me increasingly tongue-tied. Like a man who speaks in one language and thinks in another, I was forever translating, shunting from poetry to prose, then from prose to poetry, and finding in neither quite the right measure. I wanted to take one deep, abiding breath, as it were, wanted a poetry with the substance and heft of fiction, and a fiction with the effortless clarity – and punch – of poetry. Was that a contradiction? No bookshop or library had what I was after, and if I had no program, none drew me either.

Entire article is here.