Prof. Galia Yanoshevsky (French) Publishes Book on The Literary Interview

The literary interview, which refers to an in-depth discussion between an author and the media, is the topic of a comprehensive new book published in French by Prof. Galia Yanoshevsky, of Bar-Ilan University’s Department of French Studies.

In the book, entitled L'Entretien littéraire. Anatomie d'un Genre (The Literary Interview: Anatomy of a Genre), Prof. Yanoshevsky traces the evolution of this genre in France, in different media including newspapers, journals, television and interview books.  She then brings forth the discussion surrounding its legitimacy as a literary genre of its own.  The book was published by Classiques Garnier.

The idea for Yanoshevsky’s book stemmed from her doctoral research which she began in 1998.  She studied the French Nouveau Roman school through the essays, interviews and literary debates published about it in print media in the 1950s through the 1970s.  “Soon enough, the author interview struck me as an independent genre worthy of an individual study, a true crossroads between ‘the basic unit’ of the literature - the writer - and the media,” says Yanoshevsky. "I was fascinated by the way the author has managed to pave his way back to the center of literary life, after Structuralists like Roland Barthes or Michel Foucault declared him dead at the end of the 1960's."

Introduced in France in 1884 as a new journalistic genre of the field reporting recently invented in America, it was at first designed to collect live information from laypersons and inform the general public about topics of human interest. In late-nineteenth-century France, the vogue of interviewing not only laypersons but also celebrities who were not specialists about the topic at hand soon gave rise to heated debates about the interview’s unreliability. The interview was also criticized for its failure to faithfully reproduce the content of the interaction. Even Émile Zola, the most interviewed author of the period, denied all character of authenticity to any interview of himself, whatever it may be.

In parallel to this debate – we soon see that author interviews can be viewed as serious matter, a great source of information on the making of literature. "A good example," says Yanoshevsky, "is the late Philip Roth's Shop Talk (2001), a series of handpicked conversations he held over the years with the finest novelists of his time, which are real discussions on the processes of writing." Such a positive view of the literary interview relies on the emphasis Yanoshevsky puts on what is born in the process of the conversation. Comparing it in some cases to Socratic dialogues, Yanoshevsky sees the interviewer as a midwife, whose task consists of delivering ideas from the author. New ideas stem from the interaction, ideas that would have never seen light had there not been an interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee.

But the interview is more than a piece of written dialogue that once took place between an interviewer and an interviewee, says Yanoshevsky. The interview is performance: the author plays out a part in the theater of the media. Everyone knows nowadays that to be a famous or best-selling author involves media exposure. So authors usually agree to take part in such media rituals: they will go and get interviewed, even on mid and low-brow talk shows. In turn, every word and gesture on their part in the interview space is interpreted.

Performance involves everything the recorder and the camera select and capture: a voice and its timbre, the flow of speech, hesitations, gestures, eyes and facial expressions. The writer's body participates in the construction of his own image, and by doing so extends his literary image (that which emerges from its texts). In the media context, literature is not the work of a single individual and involves other actors like the director (who stages the interview), the interviewer (by his way of commanding the interview or reacting to the interviewee's answers), and the audience. All this must be taken into account, says Yanoshevsky, when speaking of the literary interview as performance.

In what way are literary interviews different from other forms of media interviews? "Literary interviews never die," chuckles Yanoshevsky. They sometimes enjoy a longer life because they are recycled. Some of them -- especially those with famous authors – find their way from dusty old newspapers to an interview book. "It's like a co-written biography, if you will." But that's where real trouble starts… who is the real author of the interview book? The battle for authorship, which is sometimes ignored by the general public, can be quickly spotted by the professional eye through a simple clue: whose name appears on the book cover? That of the famous author or of his or her interviewer?

Even if at times interviewers are denied the authorship to their rightly owned single author interview books, they can still enjoy real impact on literary life. In fact, there is this other form of interview book – collections of various authors -- where the interviewer plays a fundamental role in selecting and assembling authors, according to certain principles. These can go from writers representing a certain era (for example: Twentieth century novelists), a geographical zone (American or French Novelists), a literary genre (poets), or a certain culture and language (like Jean Royer's French Canadian Authors and Poets interview collections, published in Québec in the early 1990s). In the last case, Royer's collections have contributed to the formation of a French Canadian literary canon and history.

In the ongoing relationship between media and literature, neither of the parties is willing to give up the desire to have the last word. "In fact," says Yanoshevsky, "the interview is a great obsession of late twentieth and twenty-first century literature, at least in France." It appears in quite a few novels, some of which carry revealing titles such as "Interview" (Christine Angot, 1997) or "The interviewer" (Alain Veinstein, 2002). Interview situations are minutely dissected by novelists who seek to show the workings of an interaction which can quickly deteriorate into something like a torturous cross investigation.

Belgian born Amélie Nothomb, one of today's most prolific authors in French, debuted her literary career by publishing a novel on an interview with an author turned into a murder case criminal investigation (Amélie Nothomb 1992). When tempted to write fiction, famous interviewers like Bernard Pivot (who literally invented the literary talk-show as we know it today) and France Culture's Alain Veinstein express the interviewer's inner thoughts and feelings, some of which are certainly off-limits in situations of real-life author interviews. "Even if the interview in fiction is a way for the parties involved to get back at each other, one thing is for sure:" says Yanoshevsky "It is another way yet to expose the mechanisms of the literary interview, sometimes hidden from the public eye."

Prof. Galia Yanoshevsky is associate professor in the Department of French Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Aside from her new book she also authored Les Discours du Nouveau Roman: Essais, Entretiens, Débats " [The discourse of the New Novel: Essays, Interviews, Debates], and edited Éthique du discours et responsabilité - Mélanges offerts à Roselyne Koren [Ethics of Discourse and Responsibility -- In honor of Roselyne Koren]. She has also authored numerous articles on the theoretical writings of Nathalie Sarraute and of Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Prof. Yanoshevsky's research interests include the relationship between the press and twentieth-century literature and the question of the audience as expressed in journalistic genres. In recent years, she has worked extensively on visual argumentation and its articulation with the verbal. Her latest research focuses on representations of collective memory in tourist guidebooks. In 2014-2016 she led, together with Prof. Silvia Adler, a community engagement project (financed by the Israel Council for Higher Education) involving the improvement of French language skills through work with French-speaking elderly people.


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