Sally Rooney Interview: Writing with Marxism

there's a scene in the second novel where a Connell one of the protagonists goes to a literary reading and he feels incredibly alienated from what he sees he feels that writers turn up to events full of people from a particular class with a particular educational background and essentially the writer sells them the product which is culture and existence in the form of a commodity and the commodity is a book and people can purchase this book and therefore purchase their way into a seemingly cultured class and that all of the money that changes hands in the book industry is actually just people people paying to belong to a class of people who read books and yeah and that is something that I that I definitely worry about and feel and implicated in because I do think a huge amount of the cultural world first of all that there is a large extent to which it involves sealing off the appointed cultural producers from normal life by saying like by you know festivals and events and like dinner parties and book launches and that this that this world that the economic and cultural backing of this world as a way of taking riders from their background whatever it may be and and making them part of a special class which is somewhat fenced off from like normal life as it proceeds it's in the outside world and I don't I am I'm very skeptical of that process and I'm very skeptical of the way in which books are marketed as commodities like almost like accessories which people can fill their homes with like beautiful items that you can fill your shelves with and therefore become a sort of book person and I guess the reason that I feel skeptical of all that is because it makes me feel that books have no potential to speak truth to power they have no they have no potential as political because of the role they play in the in the culture economy that's already predetermined to how people are going to read them so even if the book is full of Marxist propaganda it's still sealed off from any real political potential because of its position as a commodity in this in this market in my own life and the way that I think about the world that we live in is probably through mostly through a sort of Marxist framework and and I'm never quite sure how to make that way of thinking sit alongside the fiction that I write I don't know what it means to write a Marxist novel I don't know and I would love to know and so even though that is the that's the sort of analytical structure that helps me to make sense of the world around me I can't necessarily always accommodate that structure in the form of a novel and so it's kind of something that I that I struggle with and that I think about a lot when I'm writing and one way that it um that it influences my work which obviously you know is that I writes a lot about social class and but I don't think there's a straightforward way of doing that I mean I guess you could say that that the idea of a Marxist novel probably has to do with writing about you know working-class characters and certainly that is one approach to the true socialist novel and I think it's it's it's obviously it's obviously very important but it also raises important questions about what do we understand the working-class to mean the people that I write about and tend to be kind of precariously situated in the economy and like they're usually college educated like I am and but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are financially stable or secure and and again I mean that just goes back to writing about the world that I encountered when I came out of college when I had enough of a developed brain to notice what I was seeing around me those were the only tools the only material that I could drawn to make sense of and to use in a in a book so it's difficult for me to try and to try and make sense of the way that I approach social class in my books and the way that I try to approach it in my in my life like in my critical or analytical life um but it is something that's very important to me and I think what's what's really important and sort of the best I can do is to try and observe how class as a very broad social structure impacts our personal and intimate lives like how do we carry material realities and economic realities into our interpersonal relationships and one way is through commodities I mean how important commodities and items physical objects become to us a sense of ownership over objects a sense of possession also and the transactional nature of relationships how it's so difficult to escape the transactional framework of capitalism which dominates you know our our whole existence how difficult it is to escape that framework when it comes to our personal lives how difficult it is to get outside a transactional way of thinking and try and build intimacy with other people that isn't dependent on sort of a notion of buying and selling I came to politics as I as I think a lot of young women do through feminism sort of I'm seeing myself at the center of the political world and believing everything revolved around me and therefore noticing that because I was a woman gender was a very important political phenomenon and I think and I still think that it is and but through that kind of shallow understanding of feminism that I'm still very much working on trying to deepen in some way and seeing independence as sort of the be-all and end-all see seeing em female independence as being a very important goal of the feminist movement and and just on critically accepting that idea and the female individual the independent woman as being the sort of political unit that we should strive to emancipate in some sense and and now I just don't believe that anymore I don't I don't believe in the idea of an independent people I don't I don't believe that anyone is independent from anyone because um the more that I think about how our world is structured we all rely on each other's labor all the time I mean for the food we eat for the clothes that we wear somebody has to make them somebody has to farm the food somebody has to you know pick the crops and all of that is happening so that we can have the lives that we have so part of it is happening for me on that structural level that it's understanding that my life is sustained by the work of other people all the time so to to believe in myself as an individual or as as an independent person it just seems like delusional like I'm not independent just independent from wash I mean I my life is only sustained by my position within all these networks that I belong to you know whether I like it or not and that's human life it's not sustainable otherwise we all rely on each other so so I guess that that's happening on one level which is the very big general level and then to try and make that work in a microscopic sense like it works in novels is to try and observe just how much one person can change one person and to try and show that even on that level the individual is never really the individual it's always you're always a culmination of the influence of others and then I guess that's part of what a novel can do is take an idea like that which people might say okay sure yeah people can change each other I mean maybe I have no objection to is but illustrating it and dramatizing is and making it real so that at the end of the book the person is saying oh okay yeah this makes sense in a new way maybe and it's not just that I know that it's technically true or it's intellectually true is I feel it to be like emotionally true I've seen it happen because if from the beginning of the book if you believe that these people are real and at the end of the book you still believe in their reality whatever kind of reality that is then you you've been made to go with that idea in a different way and to watch it actually happening and playing out and so your belief in it has changed by the end of the book I guess that's kind of I don't know and I and that isn't to say that I think the point of a novel is to illustrate an idea or to hammer home an idea certainly not in my case an ideological idea because that's not really what I do but I suppose I do want to to allow people to see an idea that maybe everyone believes to be true anyway I mean everyone probably believes we can change each other but to play it out so that it doesn't just seem real it actually feels real you

15 thoughts on “Sally Rooney Interview: Writing with Marxism

  1. And you will never know what it is to write a marxist novel, because it really is a hoax. Don't confuse yourself. You write a book, go to a publisher get the book printed, the books get sold, people buy the book for money, they take it home and read it and put it up on their bookshelf, the book store makes money, the publisher makes money, and you make money. It's that simple. That's capitalism. No need to strain your brain.

  2. I'm no Marxist, but even when I disagree with her, I find her brilliant.

  3. So much real insight on writing and marxism packed into one video. I love listening to her brain at work. So articulate.

  4. Why can't we just enjoy books because they're nice and interesting. Not everything has to be a political statement. Fiction should primarily be about entertainment (and if the story is good, socio-political commentary will be woven in).

  5. Six things that every child should be told:
    1) You are loved.
    2) You make me proud.
    3) You can always count on me.
    4) I’m paying attention.
    5) I forgive you.
    6) Marxism in all its forms (communism, socialism, cultural Marxism) always failed and always brought about destruction.

  6. it appears to me there is no such thing as «building an intimacy with other people that isn't dependent on a sort of notion of buying and selling» – exchange is a pretty basic definition of relationship.

  7. This interview about the relationship between literature and marxism is very interesting. I've read her first novel and I understand what she means. There are scenes of female intimacy that the "traditional-high" literature wouldn't have accepted. There is a philosopher, Fredric Jameson (a marxist literary critic) that says that in every novel there is a class struggle, al so in the most stupid novel on the market. Every novel has in a spontaneous way a marxist structure. Anyway I like this writer and I find shameful that ignorant people write offensive comments. Maybe those people should read more books.

  8. The more money she makes from her books, the more she will speak about Marxism as a way of expiating her guilt (and giving her a rationale to keep the cash while telling herself she's changing the world etc.)

  9. We all know, we just don't talk about it and it's high time people stopped using books that way.

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