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Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 84-109

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A Conversation with Melvin Dixon

Jerome de Romanet

Part 1: In the Family

The following interview was conducted in New York City, on Sunday January 6, 1992.

ROMANET: Melvin, you are an established creative writer, a fiction author as well as a critic and a scholar. How do you think of yourself, at this point in your career?

DIXON: I think of myself primarily as a creative writer. But I must say that sometimes it's difficult, when you write in different genres, to have a sense of what you are in that way. You know, it's funny, sometimes we are forced to define ourselves very narrowly; you're either a poet, or you're a fiction writer, or a scholar and a critic, and if you do all three of them, then people don't know how to deal with you, you know, no one knows what to call you, and sometimes, you don't know what to call yourself. Sometimes I regret having worked in those different genres, because it appears as though one's work is very scattered, rather than coherent, even though I see the coherence of my work; but for other people, it's difficult to . . .You know, how do you talk about someone who's written criticism, and scholarship, and fiction? So sometimes I say to myself, well, wouldn't it have been better had I not written in those genres at all, because it just doesn't seem to register that one could be productive in a couple of genres ? . . . I go through a lot of self-questioning, that comes up a lot, because I've produced work in those different forms.

ROMANET. Earlier today, you said that you did, at one point, deliberately privilege the creative . . .

DIXON: Oh yes! I don't think I would ever do another book of criticism, or scholarship--I think I've stopped. What happened for me, I think, was my disappointment with . . . I think what really did it was when people became so theoretical, and literary theory became so, you know, it was like a fire storm, and it was so boring to me, where scholars felt they had to make some connection between Derrida and Faulkner, and all the discussions began with an assessment of critical theory, and everyone had to become theoretical. And it was such an easy way of getting out of the responsibility of reading literature and talking about technique. So, I guess that the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the fact that literary theorists were building a reputation by engaging in a dialogue with other theorists, and forgetting all about the fact that there is a text somewhere. So, I became more and more disillusioned with the way in which academic work was progressing, and I thought that the academic work, you know, academics were just less interesting for me, and it wasn't challenging, and I told some people. I said, "I would much rather have written a good poem of twenty lines than twenty books of scholarship which would not, for me, have any kind of lasting impact." [End Page 84]

ROMANET: And of course, you started very much as someone for whom the text and words are central . . .

DIXON: It is still very central; so that's why I find myself alone in a sense, because people are more interested today in ideas and theory rather then the aesthetic experience of reading a good poem, or writing, or talking about a good poem. No one even talks about what makes this poem pleasurable, aesthetically. No one talks about that: you have to talk about the issue of gender, the issues of stuff, stuff, stuff . . . You never talk about how the poem achieves its beauty as a poem. I'm not trying to justify my deliberate choice by blaming the theorists, but what I'm saying is that I have found writing criticism and scholarship far less satisfying, and far less meaningful to me than writing fiction and poetry...


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