Saturday 2 December 2023

The Interview

The Interview

                                  By Christopher Silvester


·       The chapter ‘The Interview’ is taken from ‘The Penguin Book of Interviews’ edited by Christopher Silvester.  The Penguin Book of Interviews is an anthology from 1859 to the Present Day.

·       Christopher Silvester was a student of history at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was a reporter for Private Eye for ten years and has written features for Vanity Fair.

·       The chapter ‘The Interview’ offers the rich history and multifaceted nature of interviews highlighting the divergent functions, different opinions and their impact on the popularity of celebrities.

·       The narrative blends observation, tribute, appreciation, admiration, awe and reflection to offer readers the divergent role of interview in making of the renowned authors, poets, leaders and celebrities.

·       The chapter ‘The Interview’ the author celebrates the interview as a vivid and accountable feature of journalism through Penguin Book of Interviews. The lesson explores the complex nature of interviews and their impact on individuals and society.


Summary  /  Synopsis

Part I

§  In the chapter ‘The Interview’ the author describes interview as a vivid and accountable feature of journalism through Penguin Book of Interviews. The chapter offers the credit of interviews for the popularity of many famous personalities and celebrities. Thousands of famous people or celebrities have been interviewed over the years. Despite of many drawbacks and displeasure of many famous people interview is described as an effective medium of getting clear impression of celebrities.

§   ‘The Interview’ explores the multifaceted nature of interviews, highlighting the divergent opinions surrounding their functions and impact. The author admits that while some view interviews as a valuable source of truth and an art form, others, particularly celebrities, may see them as intrusive and soul-stealing. Various historical figures like Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling express disdain for interviews, considering them immoral and criminal acts. Other celebrities such as V, S. Naipaul, H. G. Wells and Saul Bellow considered it as unpleasant and offensive.

§  Despite these negative perceptions, the text argues that interviews remain a powerful medium of communication, shaping our impressions of contemporaries and endowing interviewers with unprecedented power and influence.


Part II

§  The second part of the lesson shifts its focus to an actual interview with Umberto Eco, a renowned professor and novelist. The interviewer, Mukund Padmanabhan, engages Umberto Eco in a conversation about his prolific career that spans academic scholarship and fiction writing. Eco, known for his work on semiotics and his bestselling novel "The Name of the Rose," discusses the interplay between his diverse interests. He reveals a philosophical approach to his work, emphasising a continuity of ethical and philosophical themes across various genres.

§  The discussion delves into Eco's narrative style, characterised by a personal and playful quality. Eco explains how his early recognition of the narrative aspect in scholarly books influenced his approach, leading him to write essays with a storytelling element. He describes his transition to novel writing in his fifties, dispelling any frustration about not starting earlier, unlike his friend Roland Barthes.

§  The interview also touches upon the challenges of being primarily recognised as a novelist despite Eco's identification with the academic community. Eco expresses a degree of discomfort with this perception but acknowledges that novels provide him with a broader audience. The conversation concludes with reflections on the unexpected success of "The Name of the Rose," attributing its popularity to the mysterious preferences of readers and the timing of its release. 

Overall, the interview provides insights into Umberto Eco's intellectual journey, his writing philosophy, and the intriguing dynamics of his literary success.


Theme of the chapter

The chapter presents a historical perspective on interviews, emphasising their commonplace status in journalism over the past 130 years. The ubiquity of interviews is highlighted, suggesting that virtually everyone who is literate has encountered them. The author acknowledges the diverse opinions surrounding interviews, ranging from extravagant claims of their status as a source of truth and an art form to celebrities viewing them as intrusive and diminishing. It also highlights that despite drawbacks, interviews remain a crucial and powerful medium of communication. The interviewer is portrayed to be holding unprecedented power and influence, shaping public perceptions of contemporaries. 

 "The Interview" masterfully combines historical context with a           contemporary interview to explore the multifaceted nature of interviews. It delves into the perceptions, controversies, and significance of interviews while seamlessly transitioning to a specific case study with Umberto Eco. The juxtaposition of broader reflections on interviews with a detailed interview provides a comprehensive and engaging analysis of the subject matter. Through Eco's insights, the text emphasises the intersection of academic pursuits, personal philosophy, and the unpredictable dynamics of literary success.

Important Question Answers

Q. 1. ‘Several thousand celebrities have been interviewed over the years, some of them repeatedly’. But still many of them ‘despise the interview as an unwarranted intrusion in their lives'. Describe opinions for and against the interview as mentioned in

the lesson.

Ans. The interview has become an indispensable feature of journalism today. Several thousand celebrities have been interviewed over the years. Some of them have been interviewed repeatedly. Opinions vary. Some consider it a source of truth. They call it a great art. It is the most effective and powerful medium of knowing important persons or celebrities.

Usually celebrities despise being interviewed. They consider it as an 'unwarranted intrusion' into their lives. They somehow feel that it diminishes them. Naipaul feels that people are 'wounded' by interviews. They lose a part of themselves. Lewis Carrol never consented to be interviewed. Rudyard Kipling considered it immoral and an offence against his person. H.G. Wells interviewed Joseph Stalin. But he also considered it as 'an ordeal'. Saul Bellow considered interviews as 'thumbprints on his windpipe'.

In spite of some of these drawbacks, the interview remains 'a supremely serviceable medium of communication.' Because of this, the interviewer holds a position of great power and influence.


Q. 2. What picture of Umberto Eco do you form after reading the extract of the interview of Eco that was taken by Mukund Padmanabhan?

Ans. "The Interview' is an extract from an interview of Umberto Eco. The interviewer Padmanabhan unfolds many aspects of Eco's writings, style and ideas. Eco emerges as a many sided genius.

The interviewer asks Umberto Eco "how can he do all things he does". Eco answers it very modestly. He only gives the impression of doing many things. Actually, he is always doing the same thing. He pursues his philosophical interests through his academic writings and novels. Eco himself tells the secret of his success. He feels there are a lot of 'empty spaces' in our lives. He calls them 'interstices'. He utilises them to his advantage.

Umberto Eco prefers himself to be called an academician rather than a novelist. He wrote more than 40 philosophical writings against just five novels. He started writing novels just by accident and that too at a late age of 50. Modesty and honesty are the signs of a great writer like Eco. Mukund Padmanabhan asks the reason behind the huge success of "The Name of the Rose'. Umberto honestly replies that the success of this novel is a mystery even to him. Perhaps he wrote it at an appropriate time.

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