Jeffrey Eugenides talks about 'The Marriage Plot' and pokes fun at literary theorists
Your new novel moves more towards realism than your previous work. Why the change in style?
I’ve always considered myself a realist at heart. I’ve never written a book that violated physical principles. My books often have an atmosphere of the fantastic or
the surreal, but actually nothing happens in them that couldn’t happen in reality, so I don’t know if this book is that much of a departure in terms of realism.
What is the reason for putting so much literary theory at the start of your new novel?
There was a lot of literary theory in my life when I was in college, and as soon as I graduated, it began to fade away, as it does in my novel. It was a very passionate time for reading, as I recall, and a time when what you were reading was influencing the person you thought you were, or becoming, so I couldn’t imagine these characters without all the books they were reading.
The French literary theorists you speak about in the book – Derrida, Foucault and Barthes – are they writers you return to, and do you respect their work?
Jacques Derrida is a very important thinker and philosopher who has made serious contributions to both philosophy and literary criticism. Roland Barthes is the
one I feel most affinity for, and Michel Foucault, well, his writing influenced my novel, “Middlesex.” They are important writers for me, but I resist some of their more dire conclusions: the end of the novel, the inability to convey meaning in a text, and the death of the author.
Are you also poking fun at these writers at the same time?
There is no question that the style of the semiotic writers was needlessly convoluted. It almost became ridiculous. I make a certain amount of fun in the book at that. There are easier ways to describe things.