... you write because you do not know what you want to say. Writing reveals to you what you wanted to say in the first place. In fact, it sometimes constructs what you want or wanted to say. What it reveals (or asserts) may be quite different from what you thought (or half-thought) you wanted to say in the first place. That is the sense in which one can say that writing writes us. Writing shows or creates (and we are not always sure we can tell one from the other) what our desire was, a moment ago.
[on his early years] ... as I remember those days, it was with a continual feeling of self-betrayal that I did not write. Was it paralysis? Paralysis is not quite the word. It was more like nausea: the nausea of facing the empty page, the nausea of writing without conviction, without desire. I think I knew what beginning would be like, and balked at it. I knew that once I had truly begun, I would have to go through with the thing to the end. Like an execution: one cannot walk away, leaving the victim dangling at the end of a rope, kicking and choking, still alive. One has to go all the way.
I do believe in sparseness [...] Spare prose and a spare, thrifty world: it's an unattractive part of my makeup that has exasperated people who have to share their lives with me.
I should add that Beckett's later short fictions have never really held my attention. They are, quite literally, disembodied. Molloy was still a very embodied work. Beckett's first after-death book was The Unnamable. But the after-death voice there still has body, and in that sense was only halfway to what he must have been feeling his way toward. The late pieces speak in post-mortem voices. I am not there yet. I am still interested in how the voice moves the body, moves in the body.
[Nabokov] was proud of his family and his family history. His childhood in Russia was clearly a time of unforgettable happiness. His love and his longing for that departed world are plain in his work; they are what is most engaging in him. But I am not sure he approached the reality that took Russia away from him in a responsible way, in a way that did justice to his native gifts [...] That is why, I think, I have lost interest in Nabokov: because he balked at facing the nature of his loss in its historical fullness.
[On the influence of film and photography on The Heart of the Country:] There was a moment in the course of high modernism when first poets, then novelists, realised how rapidly narration should be carried out: films that used montage effectively were connecting short narrative sequences into longer narratives much more swiftly and deftly than the nineteenth century novelist had thought possible, and they were educating their younger audience too into following rapid transitions, an audience that then carried this skill back into reading texts.
... like children shut in the playroom, the room of textual play, looking out wistfully through the bars at the enticing world of the grownups, one that we have been instructed to think of as the mere phantasmal world of realism but that we stubbornly can't help thinking of as the real.
Writing is not free expression. There is a true sense in which writing is dialogic: a matter of awakening the countervoices in oneself and embarking upon speech with them. It is some measure of a writer's seriousness whether he does evoke/invoke those countervoices in himself, that is, step down from the position of what Lacan calls 'the subject supposed to know'.
... contemporary criticism has become very much a variety of philosophizing.
Stories are defined by their irresponsibility: they are, in in the judgement of Swift's Hoynhnhms, 'that which is not'. The feel of writing fiction is one of freedom, of irresponsibility, or, better, of responsibility toward something that has not yet emergeed, that lies somewhere at the end of the road.
[On Foe:] Friday is mute, but Friday does not disappear, because Friday is body. If I look back over my own fiction, I see a simple (simple-minded?) standard erected. That standard is the body. Whatever else, the body is not 'that which is not', and the proof that it is is the pain in feels. The body with its pain becomes a counter to the endless trials of doubt.
... it is not that one grants the authority of the suffering body: the suffering body takes this authority: that is its power. To use other words: its power is undeniable.
Violence, as soon as I sense its presence within me, becomes introverted as violence against myself: I cannot project it outward. I am unable to, or refuse to, conceive of a liberating violence[....] I understand the crucifixion as a refusal and an introversion of retributive violence, a refusal so deliberate, so conscious, and so powerful that it overwhelms any reinterpretation, Freudian, Marxian, or whatever, that we can give it.
... as Flaubert observed, popular literature tends to be the most literary of all.
Coetzee in dialogue with David Atwell