Granta has launched a website redesign. Part of the relaunch is exclusive online material including this interview with Junot Diaz:
‘I think that at best our sense of what a human is is fragmentary. When I try to translate the human onto a simplistic axis like a book, I can do one of two things: I can pretend that I’m really giving you a full person, or I can accept the fact that you are getting nothing more than the most shattered transmission from across the galaxy of what is human.’ Díaz says that ‘accepting these limitations and saying, “hey, but isn’t that what is human”’ is something he believes in, and seems to be ‘the way we really deal with each other’. Human expression, he says, is like ‘short bursts of messages of who we are, a lot of it gets lost in the ether; most of us are asleep at the radio set when the transmission comes in.’Also interesting is Diaz on his new novel, Tokyo Rose:
Díaz doesn’t buy ‘entirely full and rich characters’ in other people’s fiction, even though he succumbs to creating them himself. But he does believe that these characters fail to show how ‘fragmentary our sense of the world is and how the world resists giving us fully rounded narratives. The world tends to give us pieces, and then in our imagination, because of our desire and because of our need, we make them whole’.
I ask him whether obsessive narrative disorder is just a New York thing. He’s vehement that it’s not. ‘The world is not interested in consoling anyone with narrative,’ Díaz says. ‘The world is like, oh, you’re going to get married, well, your car just got blown up. We’re the ones who say, “It’s for the best, God loves us, we’re going to put a spin on what in some ways makes no fucking sense”.’
‘I want to write a book where I get to blow up the planet and kill off the whole human species,’ he says. ‘I’ve basically been obsessed with apocalyptic narrative, movies and books and TV shows. I always had this obsession with the end of the world, and part of it came from mysterious places inside of myself and part of it came from growing up in the 1980s, which was the most apocalyptic period you could ever live under.’
With this novel he is not trying to break out of genre – it’s a science fiction book. Although the novel is called Tokyo Rose it doesn’t take place in Tokyo – ‘that’s just the project designator, that has very little to do with it,’ he says. ‘It’s a novel that springs from my apocalyptic anxieties and I’m trying to write about the end of the world in a very specific sense. We watch X-Men and these movies. They play with certain things but they don’t follow them to their supreme and ultimate logic. For example, they have this idea of humans and other species in competition with each other. They raise the competition but then diffuse it. They kind of hassle and wrastle with each other and then everything returns to status quo. Well, I’m sort of imagining there are two human species: one of them ours, and the other slightly different.’
I interrupt to say that it seems ethnic politics will be a theme in this book, too. He shoots back, smiling, ‘I feel like, what else could it be about? You have two races trying to eliminate each other…but yeah, it’s a genre book, you have these two races who do crazy things to each other and outlandish and terrible things happen. I’m trying to blow up about four or five cities.’
I ask whether Tokyo Rose is representative not so much of Díaz’s evolution as a writer but of his devolution.
‘I actually don’t know,’ he says. ‘I come from an area of the world that has been blown up so many times, that has suffered so many damn apocalypses, where literally all sorts of weird science-fiction stuff happens, from the breeding of human beings to the first contact with aliens. There are all these things inscribed over the Caribbean, and I think the only way for me to get at them is to re-imagine them among genre lines. It’s a way to have fun with these historical movements while simultaneously bringing a reader in to a deeper debate or exploration without triggering their defences. If you’re like, “I’m going to talk about slavery”, you automatically lock out ninety percent of the readership because everyone’s defences are so high around these issues – it’s like historical fatigue or historical trauma fatigue – but if you couch the historical trauma in genre terms, then people will read that shit till the cows come home’.