On Toni Morrison
From William Gass’ interview with R.M. Kinder, published in Pleiades in 2001:
Int: I wonder about Toni Morrison, because there are so many different views of her writing, among them that she’s repetitious and hammers her point until she turns readers off, and an opposing stance that by these very methods she’s identifying contemporary issues and explaining the perspective that’s required in order to survive those problems.
Gass: I think that both sides are right in a way. I tried to find a word that would describe her mode of operation once and sprang it on her. She seemed to like it.
Int: What was it?
Gass: Operatic realism. It’s because what she does is both melodrama and realism—a fusion. Now operatic realism is the kind of thing that you get in an opera, even, let’s say a verismo kind of opera, which is supposed to be like Pagliacci. Operas don’t really do reality, but are infused with it. The curtain doesn’t just come up on everybody sitting around reading a book, doing nothing. Something has to be happening.
That’s what Beckett was so marvelous at; nothing happened on his stage because that’s the way the real world is. Ninety percent of the time, externally, nothing happens.
And, so, when you get this kind of superrealism, with this powerful emotion—well, I always read Toni’s books that way, as operas. Then, I don’t feel the criticism that’s often made of repetition in her work. Indeed, in opera, you can sing the chorus again and again.