Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

In Conversation with Gail Jones1

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

In Conversation with Gail Jones1

Article excerpt

Gail Jones is one of the most prominent and sensitive contemporary Australian fiction writers. Her publications include a critical monograph, her two collections of short stories The House of Breathing (1992) and Fetish Lives (1997), and her five novels Black Mirror (2002), Sixty Lights (2004), Dreams of Speaking (2006), Sorry (2007) and Five Bells (2011). She has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award three times. In 2005, The Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) granted her its most prestigious prize, the ALS Gold Medal, for her second novel. A long list of other national awards should also be mentioned: the WA Premier's Award for Fiction, the Nita B. Kibble Award, the Steele Rudd Award, the Age Book of the Year Award, the Adelaide Festival Award. She is currently living in Sydney, where she combines her academic life as a Professor of Writing at the Writing and Research Centre of the University of Western Sydney with her passion for writing.

M. Pilar Royo I would like to start by congratulating and thanking you for the aesthetic pleasures you have provided us, your readers, with your two collections of short stories and five novels. Your fiction sparks offthe beauty of words. When reading your work, one can feel the joy of a writer who celebrates writing and playing with the sound and textuality of language. Could you please tell us a bit about how it feels to create and work with language?

Gail Jones I am attracted to poetry, and as a novelist I read a lot of poetry. What I love about poetry is its quality of intensification and condensation, and the fact that it gives a privilege to metaphor. When I write prose, I am not thinking so much about the forward movement of the story, about the unfolding of the plot. I am thinking more about the texture of language because it is a more complicated kind of aesthetic compulsion. So I am delighted that you have pleasure from my work. It is always gratifying for a writer to hear that. However, there is still a mystery in the texture of language, of words put together in a particular way. I suppose I'm aiming for a kind of prose poetics.

MPR Your comment on the texture of language and your interest in poetry makes me think of Mark Tredinnick's definition of poetry. I remember that, at the reading 'Poetry in Cathedral Cave', at the latest Sydney Writers' Festival, he defined poetry as 'a kind of architecture of utterance, a kind of sculpture we make with voice.' Could you please comment on that?

GJ That is interesting. I think, when I write, I am concerned with the physicality of language; that the word is partly productive breath from inside the body; that we express things with language that has effects from and in the body. Sartre says 'the writer's style is his metaphysics.' By that he means that style also determines relationships of space and time, and the way that one thinks about subjectivity, the nature of the subject. My interest in the poetic style is to create a metaphysics which is about these relations that we have with other people, with the world, a sort of inter-subjectivity. All of those things are implied by 'metaphysics'. Yes, language is physical, it is about bodies, and trying to render the physicality of the world, but for me style is also metaphysical. Sartre was not concerned with the idea that style is just a transparent way of getting information across. He was interested in foregrounding its capacity to create a world, a position in that world, and a position of seeing.

MPR Could writing be regarded not just as a representation but also as an action? In other words, do you feel that your novels do not only represent, but they also do something?

GJ I hope so. Representation is one aspect of language, but reading and writing are both quite mysterious. I have just come from a writers' festival and every time I meet an audience and people talk to me about my work, I am aware of how specific reception can be: those things we share, and those things that are utterly specific to an individual reading. …

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