In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with Stephen Alter.

 

We believe making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate those possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquettes, or norms or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what travelling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?

Not writing, for me, is like being stopped by a roadblock (a landslide, flash flood or political protest) somewhere between home and my desired destination.  Travel and storytelling are synonymous in my mind.  I often think of words as footprints setting off in new directions across the page.  Similarly, the treks I take in the mountains are wandering narratives, even before I jot them down in a journal and try to direct them in a semi-straight line.  At the end of the day, when one of my books gets published a large portion of the journey, as well as significant elements of the story, get eliminated through editing, not because of concerns about etiquette or convention but simply because I want to keep parts of the experience to myself, like the vast empty space between two words.

 

Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?

Being my children’s proud father.

 

In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?

Mobility shouldn’t be a prerequisite for writing or travel but it certainly helps to leave home, either on your own or with others, to see what lies beyond the view from your bedroom window. It’s interesting that Xavier de Maistre was confined because of his injuries following a duel. I wonder what happened to his opponent. Did he go off and conquer foreign lands? Or did de Maistre’s bullet (or rapier) buy him a ticket to hell?

 

Do respond to the following words:

“No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying.”— Richard Yates

Falsehood lies at the root of fiction and Yates, as a novelist and short story writer, obviously wants to suggest that his own narrations emerge out of a combination of memory and imagination. Non-fiction is a slipperier genre because it pretends to tell the truth, though travelogues, memoirs, biographies or histories often contain as many lies as facts. Being a writer doesn’t mean you must commit yourself to being honest, it simply means that you learn to convince others of your conceits.

 

Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?

I’ve always liked a line from one of Somerset Maugham’s novels, though I can’t remember which one, in which he describes a beautiful woman by saying: “She had the kind of hair you wouldn’t mind finding in your soup.”

 

What do you think of Coldnoon?

A noble effort!

 

Stephen Alter

Stephen Alter

Stephen Alter graduated from Woodstock School and subsequently from Wesleyan University. He has taught writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the American University in Cairo. He has been awarded Fulbright Program and Guggenheim Fellowship grants. His selected works include (1998), Amritsar to Lahore: A Journey Across the India-Pakistan Border (2000), Sacred Waters: A Pilgrimage Up the Ganges River to the Source of Hindu Culture (2001), Elephas Maximus: A Portrait of the Indian Elephant (2004), Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief (2007), Becoming a Mountain: Himalayan Journeys in Search of the Sacred and the Sublime (2014), Neglected Lives (1979), Silk and Steel (1980), The Godchild (1988), Renuka (1990), Aripan & Other Stories (2005), The Rataban Betrayal (2013), In the Jungles of the Night: A Novel about Jim Corbett (2016), and The Dalliance of Leopards (2017). He was also the editor of The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Short Stories (2001).

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