The humanities can do anything but humanize these school children in JR. And your view of art has not changed since The Recognitions, as evidenced by figures like Bast, the composer, Eigen, the novelist, and Gibbs, the encyclopedist. What makes you place art at the center of fraud and counterfeit in the modern world?
Let me start off with this observation, touching perhaps on my earlier ones on the crushing abuses of capitalism. Frequently enough, careless or predisposed readers, John Gardner for instance, see these books as chronicles of the dedicated artist crushed by commerce, which is, of course, to miss, or misread, or simply disregard all the evidence of their own appetite for destruction, their frequently eager embrace of the forces to be blamed for their failure to pursue the difficult task for which their talents have equipped them, failure to pursue their destiny if you like, taking art at the center, as you say, as redemption in, and of and from, a world of material values, overwhelmed by the material demands it imposes. The embittered character in JR, for instance, who is Eigen, is obviously based in part on my own experience with The Recognitions, that it was not a success when it was published and I was obliged to go and work in a pharmaceutical company, which I did not like, but I had a family and had to make a living. Next, Gibbs, who is very much a persona; obviously his name is from Willard Gibbs of the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy. Gibbs is the man who has all of the feelings and the competency but is overcome, overwhelmed by a sense of the futility of doing anything and the consequent question of what is worth doing, which he cannot respond to. And so even though he could’ve done this, he could’ve done this, he could’ve done this, he doesn’t finish anything because he just thinks it’s not worth it, whatever it is. So that finally, when he has been quite a negative figure all the way through, and meets a woman who has great confidence and faith and love for him, and wants him to complete his own work, he tries to go back, but it’s too late. Bast starts with great confidence, the sort I mentioned earlier, that confidence of youth. He’s going to write grand opera. And gradually, if you noticed— because of pressures of reality on him and money and so forth—his ambitions shrink. The grand opera becomes a cantata where we have the orchestra and the voices. Then it becomes a piece for orchestra, then a piece for small orchestra, and finally at the end he’s writing a piece for unaccompanied cello, his own that is to say, one small voice trying to rescue it all and say,Yes, there is hope. Again, like Wyatt, living it through, and in his adventure with JR having lived through all the nonsense, he will rescue this one small, hard, gem-like flame, if you like. Because it is that real note of hope in JR that is very important. It’s the kind of thing that someone like John Gardner totally missed. Finally, it’s the artist as “inner-directed” confronting a materialistic world—brokers, bankers, salesmen, factory workers, most politicians, the lot—that JR himself represents, and which is “outer-directed,” if you want it in sociological terms.