This attempt to blur the line between the literary and the non-fictional is what interests me now, and frees my hand.
SL: RR: I suppose “surprise” enters the writing process for me when I revise and revise and revise. In each case, the possibilities for my prose depend on remembering my audience.
Latin connected me with the Church universal, and also with generations long dead.
Colloquial English by contract “only” connected me with the living.
Latin separated me from Walt Disney and Elvis Presley, but it connected me with ancient Rome.
SL: You cover an enormous expanse of material in a single essay.And, because (since September 11th) religion is now the largest issue of our time, I find myself writing about religion—its madness, its glory, its dangers and possibilities.SL: Many writers think of nonfiction as a stultifying genre, one constrained by facts.The only experience I would compare with what you are saying is my experience as a schoolboy and an altar boy with Latin.The Latin mass was the great joy of my young life, not newfound American English.SL: In one of your interviews you spoke about summoning writing – that it feels as if you’re a conduit, as if the words come to you as if they had been waiting in the ether for you to put them to paper. The writer waits until the graces (or grace) flows through him. The writing which Monday was so sluggish is suddenly free on Tuesday. SL: RR: Basically, the narrative that interests me is the narrative of our thinking lives. I want to indicate to the reader the process of thinking, even more than I am interested in the conclusion of my thinking.Thought is always moving—changing, deepening, contradicting itself, etc.That is the process I want to describe in my prose. SL: Hunger of Memory has passages in which you vividly describe your memories of how the mumbled, undecipherable sounds of English slowly gained meaning. There remains in us a nostalgia for the time in our lives when words were sounds.It is astounding to be able to, within those pages, witness your acquisition of language. RR: I think the movement of sound to word is the great journey of our thinking lives. So we turn to poetry often to remind us of how words often sound more than they mean.For instance the first few pages of your essay “Late Victorians” covers gay pride parades, the relationship between the geography of San Francisco and the different meanings people attach to the city, Victorian architecture in the context of the socio-economic history of San Francisco, and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.In the first few pages of your essay “Peter’s Avocado,” you travel from the moralistic underpinnings of vegetarianism, to hate crimes, to American history.