Joan Silber on the Dangers of Parochialism
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On traveling through Asia:
When I first started traveling in Asia, great distinctions were made between tourists and travelers. Travelers stayed longer and knew more. And now I think that’s not so crucial. I’m not writing a travel guide, so it’s not up to me to be complete about it. But you want some accuracy of observation, and for fiction you want some observation about what’s most important for them. After traveling all these years, I’m not an expert on Asia by any means, but I’m an enemy of what I’d call parochialism. Parochialism is the idea that the way you do it is the way it’s done. That’s very dangerous as a policy and as a human response to things.
On incorporating Buddhism into her life and work:
Buddhist ideas have been so important to me that I wanted them to be in the book, but not to be heavy-handed in the way they were handled. I became interested in Buddhism 25 years ago and made my own way through it, because it’s not the religion I was born into. I’m Jewish. I had to make my own usages of it and adaptations of it. I’m not a big meditator, and for many American Buddhists that’s the most important part. For me the ideas are most important, particularly the idea of impermanence. “Don’t worry, it won’t last. Nothing does.” And also the idea of get over yourself. … The idea of how you control your wants and what you do with them is central to the idea of the book, and I’d say greed is the sin of people like Gil and Kirk, in wanting more than they can hold onto and more than is good for them.
Joan Silber is the author of nine books of fiction. Her last book, Improvement, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her previous book, Fools, was long-listed for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She lives in New York, has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA program.