The way I think about fiction is that it tries to get people to ideas through an emotional attachment to characters. Jane Austen's basic idea — that people have to figure out their own crap to have a happy ending together — really only resonates as an emotional experience for the reader when it's personified by Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I took your turn toward fiction to be your way of saying, "Well, I want to do serious emotional work as well, and not just be a brilliant brainy cultural commentator." You know, it's weird; it would be a weird thing to deny that. To say like I don't want to be emotional —
I have a feeling you're about to deny it — — but what you've described, like with the Jane Austen example, I'm very aware that is how most fiction is done, particularly most great fiction. But I don't really work that way. In this book, the main character is this sort of unlikable, arrogant person who is extremely confident despite the fact that he has an incorrect view of how the world really works. Because for me, in order for that character to seem real, to do the things that he does, that's how he would have to be. That's not a character someone's going to relate to, necessarily, or if they do, they will do so begrudgingly because they will see negative things in these characters that they see in themselves. As a result, I don't think people are going to have this kind of emotional relationship that's usually present in most fiction.
But no one would say, "Oh, Humbert Humbert, I really identify with his illicit love for this 12-year-old-girl." The reason people adore Lolita is because we all have illicit desires and we all have a raging id that's making us feel and do things we shouldn't constantly. In other words, literature is the place where we get to encounter people as they really are as opposed to these constructed identities you've written about elsewhere. I wonder what you think about online identity; people who are basically alone in front of a screen, but also creating this persona. It's a new and very interesting thing. For example, if somebody in my neighborhood decided they wanted to become a goth person and they started dressing differently and they took on a different posture, they started carrying around, like, Edgar Allen Poe books — and people saw this person and laughed, did not take it seriously, it would be a very unsuccessful conversion. But online, because you can literally create a persona out of the ether, you don't have to reconcile it with who you really are.
Right, and you don't have as much emotional responsibility, because you don't have to face another human being. You can say things that are far more cruel and dismissive. That's true, although I also wonder if part of that is a product of the fact that criticisms always seem more true than compliments. And they not only seem more true, because everyone has this degree of insecurity, but they're also the ones that other people notice more, so they become amplified. I mean, that's become the way you get attention online.