Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mohsin Hamid

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mohsin Hamid

Article excerpt

Your new book addresses the reader in the second person. Is it partly an attempt to break the isolation of the author and reach out?

The process is private but the desire is to share. Writing is one of the few times that people get to take somebody else's thoughts into the space where they contain their own thoughts. That permeability and access is an unusual state of affairs. But it's as if we feel that because it's such a personal thing, it's best not to make ourselves self-conscious about it. The question becomes, without compromising that intimacy, can you talk about it?

How did you go about channelling the politics of a continent into the mind of an individual?

I think the personal is political and the political is personal. In Sufi terms, there are two very interesting notions of transcendence. One is to gaze out at the universe and to comprehend that what you see out there reflects what you are. The other one is to look inside yourself and recognise that the universe is present there.

The book plays with the self-help genre, which is typically more about "I" than it is about "you", isn't it?

Its all I! For both writer and reader. It's an incredibly narcissistic genre. Though I'm interested in self-help, it's more about self-mitigation and self-transcendence. The fundamental problem is mortality - the stronger your sense of self, the more frightening the ending becomes. It's only various approaches - whether asceticism or mysticism or love - that we have evolved as human beings for millennia and that render the selfless central, which make the end of the selfless horrifying.

Do you think the communication of sell is more prevalent than ever before?

The market works by reinforcing the self, so the most effective market actor is the most self-centred, to understand precisely what your needs and wants are. So as the market gets stronger it reinforces the self, but that troubles us, it makes us anxious. What's interesting is what can the novel do, because in the novel there is a natural blurring of the self. …

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