The Sound on the Page

Ben Vagoda

I started in with this in the Diary section. The material warrants continuing. I loved this quote from Gish Gen:
“Some things are constant in my voice, and in the way I see things. There’s an alertness to discrepancy, to irony. In Monda in the Promised Land, the number of words that can be put into quotation marks is astounding. I tend to stand outside events and language. Irony is my middle name. It can turn into humor, but it doesn’t always. People say that I’m funny. But as a person, I’m not a barel of laughts. What I’m really interested in [is] incongruity, the huge discrepancies between what we are and what we are supposed to be…
“When I started writing, in 1986, it was before multiculturalism. There was only one Asian-American novelist, Maxine Hong Kingston. It was wifely recognized that someone like me could only write artifact, not artifice. Once a day, someone would say to me “You must be writing an immigrant autobiography.” (When it comes to Asian-Americans, people have no compunctions about expressing prejudice.) This was actually helpful to me. It was what Philip Roth calls an “amiable irritant.” n my first book, Native American, you hear the big No. No, I am writing fiction. I am an American writing a novel. I will not be pigeonholed. The first word of the novel is No — the first word you see is actually the second word. There’s the voice; already I am myself.”

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