CBSE Class 12 English Flamingo Book Chapter 7 The Interview Summary, Explanation with Video and Question Answers
Class 12 English (Flamingo book) Chapter 7 – The Interview
By Christopher Silvester
The Interview Introduction
The Interview by Christopher Silvester is an excerpt taken from his Penguin Book of interviews. In this, he talks about various opinions of the celebrities regarding an interview; its functions, methods and merits. It also consists of an excerpt from an interview with the infamous writer Umberto Eco.
The Interview Summary
The lesson begins with the introduction to interview as a commonplace of journalism since its invention, which was a little over 130 years ago. According to the author, it is not very surprising that people have very distinct opinions about the usage of interview. Some think of it in its highest form whereas some people can’t stand being interviewed. An interview leaves a lasting impression and according to an old saying, when perceptions are made about a certain person, the original identity of his soul gets stolen. Famous celebrities, writers and artists have been heard criticising interviews. Rudyard Kipling’s wife wrote in her diary how their day in Boston was ruined by two reporters. Kipling considers interviewing an assault, a crime that should attract punishment. He believes that a respectable man would never ask or give an interview.
There is an excerpt from the interview between Mukund (from The Hindu newspaper) and Umberto Eco, a professor at the University of Bologna in Italy who had already acquired a formidable reputation as a scholar for his ideas on semiotics (the study of signs), literary interpretation, and medieval aesthetics before he turned to writing fiction. The interview revolves around the success of his novel, The Name of the Rose whose more than ten million copies were sold in the market. The interviewer begins by asking him how Umberto manages to do so many different things to which he replies by saying that he is doing the same thing. He further justifies and mentions that his books about children talk about peace and non-violence which in the end, reflect his interest in philosophy. Umberto identifies himself as an academic scholar who attends academic conferences during the week and writes novels on Sundays. It doesn’t bother him that he is identified by others as a novelist and not a scholar, because he knows that it is difficult to reach millions of people with scholarly work. He believes there are empty spaces in one’s life, just like there are empty spaces in atoms and the Universe. He calls them interstices and most of his productive work is done during that time. Talking about his novel, he mentions that it is not an easy-read. It has a detective aspect to it along with metaphysics, theology and medieval history. Also, he believes that had the novel been written ten years earlier or later, it would have not seen such a huge success. Thus, the reason for its success still remains a mystery.
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The Interview Lesson and Explanation
Since its invention a little over 130 years ago, the interview has become a commonplace of journalism. Today, almost everybody who is literate will have read an interview at some point in their lives, while from the other point of view, several thousand celebrities have been interviewed over the years, some of them repeatedly.
Commonplace- not unusual; ordinary
Interview, an inevitable part of journalism was discovered over 130 years ago. These days, it is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, people who are educated are believed to have read an interview at one or other point in their lives and on the other hand, almost every celebrity has been interviewed more than once.
So it is hardly surprising that opinions of the interview — of its functions, methods and merits — vary considerably. Some might make quite extravagant claims for it as being, in its highest form, a source of truth, and, in its practice, an art. Others, usually celebrities who see themselves as its victims, might despise the interview as an unwarranted intrusion into their lives, or feel that it somehow diminishes them, just as in some primitive cultures it is believed that if one takes a photographic portrait of somebody then one is stealing that person’s soul.
Extravagant- excessive or elaborate
Despise- hate, dislike
Unwarranted- not justified or authorised
Intrusion- the action of intruding; intervention
Primitive- ancient, olden
Since it is very commonly used, it is not unbelievable that many people have conflicting views about the usage and advantages of an interview. Some people have elaborative claims about it’s goodness as they believe it to be a path towards knowing complete truth and consider it’s practice to be an art. If looked at from the interviewee’s point of view, it may look like an unwanted intervention in their personal lives. It creates a picture in the minds of readers and viewers which according to an old saying, steals the original identity of the person.
V. S. Naipaul ‘feels that some people are wounded by interviews and lose a part of themselves,’ Lewis Carroll, the creator of Alice in Wonderland, was said to have had ‘a just horror of the interviewer’ and he never consented to be interviewed — It was his horror of being lionized which made him thus repel would be acquaintances, interviewers, and the persistent petitioners for his autograph and he would afterwards relate the stories of his success in silencing all such people with much satisfaction and amusement.
V. S. Naipaul- Known as a cosmopolitan writer. In his travel books and in his documentary works he presents his impressions of the country of his ancestors that is India. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.
Lionized- give a lot of public attention and approval
Repel- drive or force back
Persistent – continuous
Petitioners- a person who asks for something
Amusement- the provision or enjoyment of entertainment
Many famous personalities have a bad impression in their minds about interviews. The cosmopolitan writer, V. S. Naipaul feels that a bad interview has the tendency of leaving them wounded for life. The creator of Alice in Wonderland never consented to be interviewed as he was too scared of the interviewer. He feared that a lot of attention would be drawn towards him and thus, he remained away from those who knew him – those who wanted to either interview him or get an autograph of his. He would narrate tales of his success at avoiding such requests with satisfaction and enjoyment.
Rudyard Kipling expressed an even more condemnatory attitude towards the interviewer. His wife, Caroline, writes in her diary for 14 October 1892 that their day was ‘wrecked by two reporters from Boston’. She reports her husband as saying to the reporters, “Why do I refuse to be interviewed? Because it is immoral! It is a crime, just as much of a crime as an offence against my person, as an assault, and just as much merits punishment. It is cowardly and vile. No respectable man would ask it, much less give it,” Yet Kipling had himself perpetrated such an ‘assault’ on Mark Twain only a few years before.
Rudyard Kipling- A prolific writer who was known as the poet of the common soldier. Kipling’s Jungle Book which is a story of Kimball O’ Hara and his adventures in the Himalayas is considered as a children’s classic all over the world.
Condemnatory- expressing strong disapproval
Wrecked- destroyed or severely damaged
Assault- make a physical attack on
Vile- extremely unpleasant
Perpetrated- commited; performed
Rudyard Kipling was strongly against the idea of getting interviewed. His wife recorded one such incident in her diary when their day in Boston was ruined by two reporters. She also made an account of why her husband refused to appear for an interview. According to him, interviews are immortal and he calls interviewing a ‘crime’ which should attract punishment just as any other crime. It is an extremely unpleasant experience and no man with self-respect would ask or consent to it. Ironically, Kipling once carried on such ‘assault’ on Mark Twain some years earlier.
H. G. Wells in an interview in 1894 referred to ‘the interviewing ordeal’, but was a fairly frequent interviewee and forty years later found himself interviewing Joseph Stalin. Saul Bellow, who has consented to be interviewed on several occasions, nevertheless once described interviews as being like thumbprints on his windpipe. Yet despite the drawbacks of the interview, it is a supremely serviceable medium of communication. “These days, more than at any other time, our most vivid impressions of our contemporaries are through interviews,” Denis Brian has written. “Almost everything of moment reaches us through one man asking questions of another. Because of this, the interviewer holds a position of unprecedented power and influence.”
H. G. Wells- An English novelist, journalist, sociologist and historian he is known for his works of science fiction. Wells best known books are The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds.
Joseph Stalin- A great Russian revolutionary and an active political organiser.
Saul Bellow- A playwright as well as a novelist, Bellow’s works were influenced widely by World War II. Among his most famous characters are Augie March and Moses. He published short stories translated from Yiddish. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.
Ordeal- a very unpleasant and prolonged experience
Serviceable – fulfilling its function adequately; usable
Vivid- producing powerful feelings or strong, clear images in the mind.
Contemporaries- a person or thing living or existing at the same time as another.
Unprecedented- never done or known before
The famous English novelist and journalist, H.G.Wells said that an interview was an unpleasant experience but forty years later, he interviewed the Russian revolutionary, Joseph Stalin. Another writer, Saul Bellow commented that an interview seemed to be like fingertips on his windpipe which means that he felt choked and suffocated when he sat for one. Despite the drawbacks, an interview seemed to fulfil its purpose of communicating with the audience.According to Denis Brian, an interview gives us the most clear impression of the people of our times. The set up of one man, the interviewer asking questions from the other, the interviewee gives him power and influence.
“I am a professor who writes novels on Sundays” – Umberto Eco
The following is an extract from an interview of Umberto Eco. The interviewer is Mukund Padmanabhan from The Hindu. Umberto Eco, a professor at the University of Bologna in Italy had already acquired a formidable reputation as a scholar for his ideas on semiotics (the study of signs), literary interpretation, and medieval aesthetics before he turned to writing fiction. Literary fiction, academic texts, essays, children’s books, newspaper articles— his written output is staggeringly large and wide-ranging, In 1980, he acquired the equivalent of intellectual superstardom with the publication of The Name of the Rose, which sold more than 10 million copies.
Formidable- inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense or capable
Medieval- relating to the Middle Ages
Aesthetics- a branch of philosophy that deals with nature and appreciation of beauty
Staggeringly- to an astonishing or shocking degree
The following is a part of an interview of the Italian novelist named, Umberto Eco. He said that he wrote novels on Sundays. Mukund Padmanabhan from The Hindu newspaper interviewed him. Umberto Eco was a professor at the University of Bologna, Italy at that time. He was famous for his thoughts on semiotics, interpretation of writings and the beauty of the middle ages. Later, he turned to write fiction. He wrote a variety of literature – fiction, academic texts, essays, books for children and articles for newspapers. He rose to fame in the year 1980 when his book titled ‘The Name of the Rose’ became a bestseller.
Mukund: The English novelist and academic David Lodge once remarked, “I can’t understand how one man can do all the things he [Eco] does.”
The interviewer begins by praising Umberto Eco and quoting the words of David Lodge where he mentioned that it is out of his capacity to understand how one person (here, Umberto Eco) could be good at so many things.
Umberto Eco: Maybe I give the impression of doing many things. But in the end, I am convinced I am always doing the same thing.
Umberto replied by specifying that maybe it looked like he did a multiple distinct tasks, but according to him, he was always doing the same thing.
Mukund: Which is?
Mukund curiously asked him about the ‘same thing’ that Eco found himself doing.
Umberto Eco: Aah, now that is more difficult to explain. I have some philosophical interests and I pursue them through my academic work and my novels. Even my books for children are about non-violence and peace…you see, the same bunch of ethical, philosophical interests. And then I have a secret. Did you know what will happen if you eliminate the empty spaces from the universe, eliminate the empty spaces in all the atoms? The universe will become as big as my fist. Similarly, we have a lot of empty spaces in our lives. I call them interstices. Say you are coming over to my place. You are in an elevator and while you are coming up, I am waiting for you. This is an interstice, an empty space. I work in empty spaces. While waiting for your elevator to come up from the first to the third floor, I have already written an article! (Laughs).
Philosophical- relating or devoted to the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.
Pursue – follow
Ethical – relating to moral principles
Eliminate – remove
Fist – a person’s hand when the fingers are bent in towards the palm and held there tightly, typically in order to strike a blow or grasp something.
Interstices – space, gap
Elevator – a lift
He found it difficult to put it into words but began by saying that he had specific philosophical interests that he continually sought to pursue through his academic works and novels. Talking about his books for children, they all talked about non-violence and peace, which were again based on ethics. Then, he talked about his secret – that he worked in empty spaces of time. He called them interstices. According to him, these empty spaces were very crucial. If you removed the empty spaces from the atoms or from the universe, the universe would be very compact, just as big as his fist. So, if he was expecting someone over, that is, someone was coming to his house and the guest took the elevator from the ground floor to his flat on the third floor, as Umberto waited for the guest – that time was an interstice and he used that interstice to write an article. That is how he worked in such empty spaces of time which many people waste by sitting idle and waiting!
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Mukund: Not everyone can do that of course. Your non-fictional writing, your scholarly work has a certain playful and personal quality about it. It is a marked departure from a regular academic style — which is invariably depersonalised and often dry and boring. Have you consciously adopted an informal approach or is it something that just came naturally to you?
Mukund mentioned that what he did was undoubtedly unique. His scholarly articles were very different from the usual academic style. The usual academic style lacked personal touch and was dry and boring. On the other hand, Umberto’s writings had a certain playful and personal touch. He asked Eco that did he intentionally adopt an informal way of writing or was he being natural.
Umberto Eco: When I presented my first Doctoral dissertation in Italy, one of the Professors said, “Scholars learn a lot of a certain subject, then they make a lot of false hypotheses, then they correct them and at the end, they put the conclusions. You, on the contrary, told the story of your research. Even including your trials and errors.” At the same time, he recognised I was right and went on to publish my dissertation as a book, which meant he appreciated it. At that point, at the age of 22, I understood scholarly books should be written the way I had done — by telling the story of the research. This is why my essays always have a narrative aspect. And this is why probably I started writing narratives [novels] so late — at the age of 50, more or less. I remember that my dear friend Roland Barthes was always frustrated that he was an essayist and not a novelist. He wanted to do creative writing one day or another but he died before he could do so. I never felt this kind of frustration. I started writing novels by accident. I had nothing to do one day and so I started. Novels probably satisfied my taste for narration.
Dissertation- a long essay on a particular subject, especially one written for a university degree or diploma
Hypotheses – theory
Frustration – the feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something
Narration – the action or process of narrating a story
Umberto narrated his story from his time in Italy where a Professor told that his thesis was way different from others. He had told his story along with including the trials and errors that happened during his research. Others, on the other hand made false assumptions, corrected them and put conclusions. This was the reason why the professor even published his thesis as a book. At the age of 22, he realised that his way of writing was the correct way and that his why his essays were always in the narrative tone. Probably, this was also the reason why he started writing novels at the age of 50. On the contrary, his friend Roland Barthes always wanted to be a novelist along with being an essayist.
Unfortunately, he died before he could do it. While for Eco, it happened by accident but novel writing satisfied his hunger for narration.
Mukund: Talking about novels, from being a famous academic you went on to becoming spectacularly famous after the publication of The Name of the Rose. You’ve written five novels against many more scholarly works of non-fiction, at least more than 20 of them…
Pointing out his novels, Mukund mentioned that he became astoundingly famous after the publication of The Name of the Rose. From a famous academic, he went on to become a famous novelist though he had written many more scholarly works (20) than novels (5).
Umberto Eco: Over 40.
Umberto Eco corrected that he had written over 40 non-fiction pieces.
Mukund: Over 40! Among them a seminal piece of work on semiotics. But ask most people about Umberto Eco and they will say, “Oh, he’s the novelist.” Does that bother you?
Amazed at hearing about Eco’s over 40 scholarly articles, one of which was on the study of signs (semiotics), he asked if he was at all bothered when people remembered him as the famous novelist.
Umberto Eco: Yes. Because I consider myself a university professor who writes novels on Sundays. It’s not a joke. I participate in academic conferences and not meetings of Pen Clubs and writers. I identify myself with the academic community. But okay, if they [most people] have read only the novels… (laughs and shrugs). I know that by writing novels, I reach a larger audience. I cannot expect to have one million readers with stuff on semiotics.
Umberto Eco replied to Mukund by accepting that yes, it did bother him being identified as a novelist. Umberto, on the other hand, identified himself with the academic community because he considered himself a university professor who wrote novels only on Sundays. He also attended academic conferences as opposed to Pen clubs and writer’s meetings. But on the other hand, Eco accepted that he was well-aware that by writing novels, he was reaching a wider audience because one million people would not obviously be interested in stuff on semiotics.
Mukund: Which brings me to my next question. The Name of the Rose is a very serious novel. It’s a detective yarn at one level but it also delves into metaphysics, theology, and medieval history. Yet it enjoyed a huge mass audience. Were you puzzled at all by this?
Mukund changed the topic and mentioned that The Name of the Rose was a very serious novel and still it managed to attract a large audience. It dealt with detective stuff and also metaphysics, theology and medieval history. He asked Umberto if he was at all surprised by his success.
Umberto Eco: No. Journalists are puzzled. And sometimes publishers. And this is because journalists and publishers believe that people like trash and don’t like difficult reading experiences. Consider there are six billion people on this planet. The Name of the Rose sold between 10 and 15 million copies. So in a way I reached only a small percentage of readers. But it is exactly these kinds of readers who don’t want easy experiences. Or at least don’t always want this. I myself, at 9 pm after dinner, watch television and want to see either ‘Miami Vice’ or ‘Emergency Room’. I enjoy it and I need it. But not all day.
Umberto replied that he was not at all surprised. The only people who were surprised were journalists and publishers. This was because it was commonly believed that people liked easy-reading experiences and trash while the truth was that through his novel, he reached that small percentage of the population who liked challenging reading experiences. He understood this because he himself yearned to watch shows like ‘Miami Vice’ or ‘Emergency Room’ after dinner but not all day long.
Mukund: Could the huge success of the novel have anything to do with the fact that it dealt with a period of medieval history that…
He asked Umberto about the possibility of success of the novel having to do something with its association with medieval history.
Umberto Eco: That’s possible. But let me tell you another story, because I often tell stories like a Chinese wise man. My American publisher said while she loved my book, she didn’t expect to sell more than 3,000 copies in a country where nobody has seen a cathedral or studies Latin. So I was given an advance for 3,000 copies, but in the end it sold two or three million in the U.S. A lot of books have been written about the medieval past far before mine. I think the success of the book is a mystery. Nobody can predict it. I think if I had written The Name of the Rose ten years earlier or ten years later, it wouldn’t have been the same. Why it worked at that time is a mystery.
Umberto did not negate the possibility as he began to tell a story, which he thought that he did like a Chinese wise old man. He mentioned that his American publisher expected not to sell more than 3,000 copies as in a country like hers, no one had ever seen a cathedral or studied Latin language. To their surprise, they ended up selling around two or three million copies. Umberto considered the success of his book a mystery. Had it been written ten years earlier or later, the situation would have been different.
The Interview Question and Answers
1. How does Eco find the time to write so much?
A. Eco is a university professor who attends academic conferences all week. He finds so much time to write in the empty spaces that we all have in our lives, just like the structure of atoms and Universe. He terms these empty spaces as ‘interstices’. If he is waiting for someone coming to his house via the escalator, he would use that time to write an essay rather than sit idle. Therefore, he considers himself a scholar who writes novels on Sundays.
2. What was distinctive about Eco’s academic writing style?
A. Generally, academic scholars write false hypothesis, rectify them and then give conclusions. On the other hand, Umberto takes the readers through the journey of his research, quoting all the trials and errors to reach the conclusion. His narrative style of writing made him distinctive.
3. Did Umberto Eco consider himself a novelist first or an academic scholar?
A. Umberto Eco identifies himself with the academic community. According to him, he is a university professor who attends academic conferences all week and writes novels on Sundays.
4. What is the reason for the huge success of the novel, The Name of the Rose?
A. The novel, The Name of the Rose is a hard-read, differentiating it from other novels. It is a detective narrative that contains metaphysics, theology and medieval history. Thus, it targeted the audience that is not interested in an easy reading experience, probably not all the time. However, the success of the novel still remains a mystery. According to Umberto, had the novel been written ten years earlier or later, it would have not attracted the same proportion of audience.
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