TEV: How important is plot to you?
Joseph O’Neill: Not important at all, really.
TEV: Neither as a reader nor as a writer?
Joseph O’Neill: Certainly not as a reader. I mean, you know, if the plot is good then I am grateful for it. But I am a terrible reader of novels. I only read a few and I re-read what I read. And then I re-read them like books of poems and sort of dip into pages 12-17 and I look at words and sentences. The whole suspenseful element is not really something that particularly interests me. Possibly because I lack concentration. Possibly because my brain has turned into macaroni cheese.
TEV: And one can have the sense of continually re-stating and re-stating and re-stating what has gone before you.
Joseph O’Neill: It’s really hard. You certainly want your writing to be smarter than you are. You want your text to generate ideas and feelings which you, yourself, are not capable of generating.
TEV: It’s quite a paradox.
Joseph O’Neill: Yes, it is a paradox. And you have to unleash it in some way. That’s why people like Wallace Stevens and, more recently, Paul Muldoon are really good poets. Because their poems have this almost impenetrable mystery behind them. And it’s a mystery which arises from how they allow the language, the form, to conduct an exploration which they, themselves, need not conduct on a conscious level.
TEV: Let’s talk about the American sense of possibility, with which Netherland is imbued. It seems to me that it’s more strongly felt by people who come here from somewhere else. Perhaps that Americans, natural born, may tend to take for granted.
Joseph O’Neill: Immigrants naturally feel enriched by new possibilities, since almost by definition these didn’t exist in their country of origin. As for the natives, America is a notoriously rigid society. I mean, my understanding is that your grandfather’s occupation is a much more reliable predictor of your occupation in the US than it would be in England, say, or in Ireland. So, the local sense of possibility is largely a phenomenon of brainwashing. People are indoctrinated.