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 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 the making of the  authors, leaders, business people, film stars and celebrities.

·       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 imparts due credit to the interviews for the popularity of many famous personalities and celebrities. Thousands of famous people and celebrities have been interviewed over the years. Despite many drawbacks and displeasure of many famous people interview is credited to be an effective medium of getting clear impression of people and personalities. The interviewer holds a position of great power and influence.

§   The chapter explores the multifaceted nature of interviews, highlighting the divergent opinions about their functions and impact. Some view interviews as 'a valuable source of truth'. The practice of interviews is an art. The questions asked and the answers given reach us the readers in the simplest form. 

     Many celebrities hate being interviewed as they see the interview as 'unwanted intrusion in their lives' and 'soul-stealing'. Various historical figures like Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling express disdain for interviews, considering them immoral and an offense against person. Other celebrities such as V, S. Naipaul feels that 'during an interview people lose a part of themselves', H. G. Wells calls it 'an ordeal' and Saul Bellow considered it as unpleasant and offensive calling it 'thumbprints on his windpipe'.

§     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 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 such as novels and children's books. Umberto tells a secret about him that we have lot of empty spaces and he utilises those spaces for doing his work. For an example he had written an article in the interval while he was waiting for him for that interview.

§  The interview discusses Eco's narrative style, characterised by a personal and playful quality. Eco tells the interviewer that he became a novelist by accident. Being a university professor he writes novels on Sunday. 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. 

     The interview discusses 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 his novels provide him with a broader audience. He considers himself among academic community, and not the writers'. He talks about his transition to fiction having started to write in his fifties, dispelling any frustration about not starting earlier, unlike his friend Roland Barthes. He wrote 40 scholarly works of non fiction and only 5 novels.

§  The interview also discusses the reasons behind huge success of his novel 'The Name of the Rose' with sale of upto 10 to 15 million copies and 2 to 3 million copies were sold in the U.S. alone. The writer thinks, perhaps it was due to its medieval historical background. 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 though his American publisher didn't hope to sell more than 3000 copies. If he had written it 10 years before or after, it would have not been that popular. 

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


Themes involved in 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 the celebrities' views about them as intrusive and diminishing. It also highlights that despite drawbacks, interviews remain a crucial and powerful medium of communication holding unprecedented power and influence and shaping public perceptions of contemporaries. 

 'The Interview' amazingly 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. Through Eco's insights, the interview emphasises the intersection of his academic pursuits, personal philosophy, and the unpredictable dynamics of literary success.

Important Question Answers

Q1. ‘Several thousand celebrities have been interviewed over the years, some of them repeatedly’, still many of them ‘despise the interview as an unwarranted intrusion in their lives'. Describe the 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 on the interview. Some consider it a source of truth. Some 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.


Q2. What picture of Umberto Eco do you form after reading the extract of the interview of Eco that was taken by Mukund Padmanabhan?

Ans. We get an opportunity to draw a picture of Umberto Eco from an interview of the writer. 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 as well as writing 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 by writing in the spaces he gets in between.

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. Mr. 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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