The vexed relationship between speech and writing has come sharply into focus in recent years. The linguist's or the anthropologist's tendency to see spoken language as primary and written language as derivative, a pale and parasitic reflection of "direct" communication going on in "actual" conversations carried on between "real" people, has come up against the literary critic's or the philosopher's tendency to see "inscribed discourse" of one sort or another as the heart of the matter and the flow of utterance as but the noisy background from which such discourse separates into its own sort of autonomy. Instead of words and things, talk and text.
Attempts to negotiate this uncertain boundary between language as a vocal performance and as an inscriptional object are nowadays quite common--discussions of code and design in conversation, of voice and dialogue in literature; and genres which seem to hover somehow between the two--letters, diaries, fieldnotes, and, the case at hand, interviews--are getting looked at with renewed interest. Printed interviews, especially, recounting as they do verbal exchanges in literary form, questions and answers arranged into essays, seem both to bring the speech and writing relationship plainly into view and to tackle its perplexities in a frontal way.
There are, of course, interviews, oral and printed, all around us these days: talk shows on television, call-in programs on radio, press briefings in newspapers, celebrity chats in magazines. But the sort of interviews reprinted from the Journal of, Advanced Composition in the pages of this collection and of its predecessor, (Inter) views--extended, detailed, and systematic efforts to expose at once a line of argument and the speech ways of the person advancing it--are still not all that common. European intellectuals are somewhat more given to publishing such interviews, often at book length and with a fair amount of second-thought revision which rather spoils the effect. But the form, with its capacity to connect the words of the scholar with the words of the work, is only beginning to flourish here.
This curious, in-between quality of the essay-interview as a form, at once free flowing on the respondent's side, where most of the talking occurs, and carefully constructed on the questioner's, where most of the text building does, encourages the appearance of subjects and concerns not normally prominent in scholarly work: the development of a particular individual's
thought against the pressure of that of other individuals, aligned or competing; the way in which ideas and standpoints react to changing circumstances, narrowly professional and broadly general; the play of the social, ropes-andpulleys dimensions of academic life on its substance; and the construction of a scholarly persona to fit a desired audience. When all this is supplemented, as it is here, with response essays, also personal and also free-ranging, by other players in the game (chers collĖgues, mais nČanmoins amis), the result is a vivid, n-dimensional view of contemporary intellectual life elsewhere presented in a warier, dressed-for-the-occasion form.
That so much of the impetus for this sort of talking-writing should come from composition studies is hardly surprising. The intense concern in such studies with how texts come into being, with how to build them, what they are built out of, and how, once built, they have their effects, naturally conduces to a realistic view of a process--"composition"--generally ignored, mystified or reduced to an ancillary matter. The cross-disciplinary character of such studies, trained as they are on how the thing is done or botched, wherever it is done or botched, makes of them a general inquiry into the practical task of, in the plain-man words of Paul Ricoeur, "saying something about something." In pursuing that inquiry wherever it leads, and to whomever, they are making of the interview a powerful tool.
Institute for Advanced Studies Princeton, New Jersey
Foreword, in: Olson, Gary A. (ed.): Philosophy, rhetoric, literary criticism: (inter)views. Carbondale/Il./USA 1994: Southern Illinois University Press, pp. XI-XII
online source: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=6238960
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