Joyce Carol Oates on memory and personality: An interview – Los Angeles Times


Yet our tendency to forget the haunting brilliance displayed in the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” in the novel “Them,” the novella “Black Water,” the Marilyn Monroe novel “Blonde,” and to focus instead on her tweets or the sheer volume of her catalog seems fitting, because her latest novel, “The Man Without a Shadow” (Ecco: 384 pp., $27.99), is preoccupied with the act of forgetting. It tells the story of a charismatic amnesiac, Elihu Hoopes, whose short-term memory has been destroyed by encephalitis. Though Eli, his ailment and an image he can’t seem to shake — the disturbing anamnesis of a girl’s body floating just below the surface of a stream — are at its center, the book is as much the story of Margot Sharpe, a neuroscientist who enters Eli’s life as a graduate student but over time becomes much more entangled with her patient’s world. The novel wrestles with our complicated acts of remembrance and the various ways memory constructs and colors our emotions and ethics — our entire identity. After all, it’s memory that allows you to discern where you are going, where you have been.

Oates will appear at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Saturday, April 9. This phone interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What carries you from one book to the next? Does an image come to you or a character or an idea you want to explore?

In a long work like a novel, a number of elements have to come together. It’s like a river into which many tributaries are flowing. The river builds with different smaller streams. You have one idea and then another and then another. I always start with characters about whom I care. I like to work with characters who are representational. I am interested in the personal, but I also want to write something that has a larger significance in terms of society.

“The Man Without a Shadow” is not only a fascinating portrait of its two main characters, Margot and Eli, but an examination of memory as the very bedrock of the edifices of our identities, our personalities.

I’m interested in how we fashion our personalities out of somewhat selective memory. We forget much. It is both very natural and very normal to forget a good deal. Things that we remember may have a certain cast. As in a movie, there’s a certain tone, of lighting, of music, of sound, so with our memories some people have a natural tone of melancholy and others have a more optimistic or cheerful tone. We all know people who are determined to be upbeat and other people who seem to be looking over their shoulders all the time, wounded and complaining. Personality to me is the ultimate fascination — how we’re all so different, and yet we’re very much alike in many ways.

How did the function of memory determine the book’s structural and aesthetic choices?

The novel is constructed as if it were notes on an amnesiac. A neuroscientist is keeping a personal journal and part of that is the novel, but then we’re also in Eli’s memory and imagination too. We see what he’s remembering of his past. He’s haunted by his past. That’s true of many people. There are seminal incidents in people’s lives that they keep returning to and thinking about. He’s tormented by something that happened when he was very small and didn’t have any ability to comprehend. He’s trying to comprehend it with his art.

Author Joyce Carol Oates talks with Michael Silverblatt during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC on April 19, 2015.

Author Joyce Carol Oates talks with Michael Silverblatt during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC on April 19, 2015.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Are there similarities between comprehension through art and science? You write of Margot, “She has always asked questions for which there are not ready answers. To be a scientist, Margot thinks, is to know which questions to ask.” Is that also in some way the definition of a writer?

A scientist is someone who is really looking at the causality of things. If you were a political scientist, let’s say, you would look at the current political situation with Donald Trump and the others in a very analytical way, seeing it maybe as part of a cycle of American politics. A scientist is always looking at the context, whereas most people just read the newspaper and throw it out. “Does this thing have consequences?” “What does it mean?” “Is there a precedent in history?” These are questions that a scientist would ask, and a novelist asks these questions as well.

Malone is a writer and professor of English. He is the founder and editor in chief of the Scofield and a contributing editor for Literary Hub.




Nikole Hannah-Jones at center: Billie Jean King, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Barack Obama, Julie Andrews and Luis J. Rodriguez.

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Laughter is the best medicine

I always enjoyed looking at Maps since I was first shown an atlas when I was 8 years old

My brother who was 1 year older than me was also interested maps and we were interested in the the many roads crossing the industrial area of South Lancashire. And with the aid of the map we could see which times each road went to.

Some of the roads were then regarded as very big like the A6 which I believe went to London although I never went on that road as far as I know no as we have no car and there’s no buses going over there

Interesting difference between my brother and myself which is this :his main interest was exploring the towns that our roads led to

He was able to explore some of the towns on foot or by bicyclen i

My main interest was not the towns but the roads the connections you might say the geometry of the roadsM

But I’d like to see a road with the same name and number going through several different times like the main road at the bottom of our street which eventually went to Warrington although I have never been to warranton in my life

My brother’s main interest apart from that was in geomorphology. He went to a very good university history geography and geomorphology which I also liked.

Unfortunately computer were just coming into use and he ended up finding most of his life studying distance information systems.

I was never quiet sure what it was and what it was used for

But I do know it wasn’t one of his loves when he went into his studies.

So even people with similar genetic inheritance and growing up in the same place always find the interest in very different aspects of the world around them. Well I went to university I studied mathematics of which geometry was obviously apart

I would like going to into largest towns because I wanted to find the book shops and that’s what I saw was in Manchester when I was about 17 years old before that all I seen was a rack of penguin books in a stationary shop

Naturally there was in those days a very large public library well stocked in the town centre and quite good small libraries in the various suburbs.

One of these was near our house and when our dad was very ill he sent us to this library nearly every day in the summer holidays and while we were there we enjoyed for example large bound volume with the readers digest which included

Laughter is the best medicine

At 8 years old I was very interested in this but it did nothing for my father. He died on the Sunday before the schools reopen in September and I never went to that library ever again. Though I knew a lot of routes to get to the library should I ever need to. Should anyone asked me for directions

In the doldrums yet again who do you think should take the blame?

Here we have Ms Lizzie Truss

We don’t need no ancient albatross

The Tories ruined althe British state

Helped along by Madame Fate

In the doldrums, can’t get out

Does this introduce some doubt?

Where’s the lifeboat shall we go?

Some said yes and some said no

The Titan of the British State

Has no captain has no mate.

Now the lifeboat’s sprung a leak

The British future looks quite bleak

Love’s victory

Turn back, live again, he asked of me
Do not wander in this darkness anymore
One false step might give death victory

We are each connected to that tree
The sunlit top, the roots hid in earth’s floor
Come back, live again, he asked of me

While we live, we’ll live with dignity
Not scrabbling for the gold in blood and gore
One false step will give deatg5 victory

The kindness of the golden light was clear
And left an image in my mind’s deep core
Come back, live your life, he then soothed me

Do not wonder now why you are here
We’re here to live and living shall restore
What our suffering self has found so dear

I had never seen the Light before
Only Christ the Tyger with his roar
Come back, live through pain, he asked of me
One right step will give love victory

Love will need no trick

In my despair I felt that I was stuck
Paralysed by  grief and guilt I failed
By the end I had tried every trick

From prayer unthought to deeps of logic black
My  life, my engine ,juddered off the  rails
I hated God and of “his” Church was  sick

Starving  and alone I was in shock
The death of one I loved   had made me frail
By the end I had tried every trick

I felt  Love’s arms around me,  death to block
I knew   this goodness,  why else would I wail?
I   thought I hated God  but Love had struck

Warm and golden light  that  did me hold
Where are you now when Evil has grown bold?
Kind despair  that  made me long time sit
By the end I learned Love needs no trick

Looks like candlelight

At the very edge of human sight
Places we don’t go till in despair
Love is waiting like a golden light

The world in panic, will the virus bite
Noone ever said this world is fair
At the very edge of human sight

Is there really danger of such might,
Where our hidden fears emerged dark ,bare
Love is fading where’s the sun, the light?

 Panic like a virus can  ignite
Responses that are worse than germs out there
At the very rim of human sight

Our defences that are usually adroit
Now lie like dead young soldiers unrepaired
Love is fading  to a  weaker light

The still,small voice is quieter than a bird
The storm is passing by, will it be heard?
At the very edge of human sight
Love is  dying,looks like candlelight




Tips To Help You Through The Grieving Process – ActiveBeat

While not all people shed tears from grief, “Crying is an important part of the grieving process for many people,” notes the Mayo Clinic. If you feel tears trying to fight their way out, you don’t have to hold back. If you do feel like crying but can’t seem to let yourself achieve this, perhaps a visit to a grief counselor is in order.

On the flipside, don’t worry if you don’t feel the need to cry, adds the clinic. Every person grieves in his or her own way, and that may not include tears. Just remember that keeping it all in may lead to mental health troubles down the road.

What I needed was a rest break on the Island of Grieving and Useless Folks – Los Angeles Times

Let’s go back to anticipatory grief. Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety, and that’s the feeling you’re talking about. Our mind begins to show us images. My parents getting sick. We see the worst scenarios. That’s our minds being protective. Our goal is not to ignore those images or to try to make them go away — your mind won’t let you do that and it can be painful to try and force it. The goal is to find

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

Let’s go back to anticipatory grief. Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety, and that’s the feeling you’re talking about. Our mind begins to show us images. My parents getting sick. We see the worst scenarios. That’s our minds being protective. Our goal is not to ignore those images or to try to make them go away — your mind won’t let you do that and it can be painful to try and force it. The goal is to find