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Facing the Deep An Interview with Thomas Farber SAMUEL OTTER University of California, Berkeley T he author of six books of fiction and six books of creative nonfiction, Thomas Farber has a sustained interest in the ocean, the literary Pacific, Pacific island writers, and Herman Melville. In On Water (1994), which begins with the line “Call me Queequeg,” Farber brings together his own stays in Hawai’i and Fiji, his passion for surfing and diving, and extensive reading in literature, history, natural history, philosophy, and fluid mechanics, presenting a series of meditations on water and writing. In The Face of the Deep (1998), he continues the effort, describing his experiences in Costa Rica, Hawai’i, California, and Samoa. Throughout these two books there runs a skein of allusions to Melville, in particular to Typee, Mardi, MobyDick , and The Confidence-Man, and other writers (among them, Shakespeare, Keats, Whitman, Arnold, London, Conrad, Woolf, and science-fiction novelist Stanislaw Lem). Farber’s Melville ties are not only literary but, as became clear during my interview with him, personal. His mother, Norma Farber, titled one of her last books of poetry Something Further . . . (1979). We reprint the opening and closing poems on pages 75-79: “Lagan,” which centers on a Melvillean image of treasure buried at sea, tethered to memory, waiting to be found; and “Something Further May Follow of This Masquerade,” a critique of social performance —“The strenuous pretense, / so practiced as to seem / conviction”—inspired by The Confidence-Man. Thomas Farber has published essays, novels, short stories, and epigrams. His poetic prose has been widely reviewed and praised in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Nation. He has held fellowships in fiction, non-fiction, and the study of colonial and post-colonial Pacific Island literature from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Fulbright foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts. Farber spends much of his time in the Pacific: at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, the East-West Center in Honolulu, the University of Hawai’i, and especially in the waters off Diamond Head. Currently a senior lecturer in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches creative writing and courses on the environment in fiction and non-fiction, he is also the publisher for El Léon C  2006 The Authors Journal compilation C  2006 The Melville Society and Blackwell Publishing Inc L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 55 S A M U E L O T T E R Literary Arts, a non-profit that has brought out poetry, drama, photographs, and drawings. In two collaborations, Through A Liquid Mirror (1997) and Other Oceans (2001), Farber wrote introductions to the photographer Wayne Levin’s luminous images of the world beneath the surface of the ocean and the border between ocean and air. Levin’s pictures form the covers of both On Water and The Face of the Deep. Two of Levin’s images are reproduced with this interview. The interview was conducted in Berkeley, California, in October 2003. I began by asking Farber about his fascination with water, the phase of his career marked by these four books, and his work with Levin.1 Thomas Farber: In the late 1980’s, I already knew that I was going to try to write about water. But what did that mean, really, how was I going to do it? What was the genre? I had no idea at all. I had finished the stories in Learning to Love It [1993], including the novella “Public Anatomy,” which is about the death of a writer’s mother. Completing the book, I left everything on the table there, in terms of fiction. I had used up all my tricks. I knew I wasn’t capable of going back to fiction anytime soon, if ever, particularly with what I thought I had achieved in “Public Anatomy” and in the title story “Learning to Love It.” So, I took a rest, as usual. And the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 55-73
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
N
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