David Mitchell’s Passion for Language

In this interview David Mitchell discusses his passion for language. Whatever the reason behind the change from Sony (a “fabricant” character named Sonmi) to Samsung in the Wachowskis’ film of Cloud Atlas (“You’d have to ask the directors if any money was involved.”), I enjoy Mitchell’s approval of that choice for semantic reasons.

It ends on a hard g, Samsunggg. That’s great. Sony – don’t know what I was thinking of, really. Y is about the weakest letter of all. Y can’t make up its mind if it’s a vowel or a consonant, can it?

You’ve highlighted something really at the heart of writing, I think. It’s all about decisions – you make a thousand decisions, at different levels. Structural ones, those are more macro decisions about plot, character, cliché avoidance, better still, cliché inversion, or cliché implosion. They’re wonderful. Also, micro decisions – about where the comma goes, words. You must have noticed sometimes, you know when to use maybe and when to use perhaps. There’s no way on earth you could codify that rule or how you know, but you know….

It sounds pretentious to say, but even though it sounds pretentious, I believe it. I think words operate like musical notes that the eyeball hears. That is at the root of why writers take these micro decisions about maybe and perhaps, which after all mean the same thing…. I think it’s because of this: You get to know the tastes or musical tastes of words themselves, and this informs your choice, whether you use them or not.

Cloud Atlas, structurally inspired by Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, is an interesting book. (His debut, Ghostwritten was a stunning first novel.) On this occasion I am curious to see the film. I’ve mixed feelings about the Wachowskis; the Matrix series was mildly amusing, though puerile, but I loved V for Vendetta.

Post a Comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s