George Saunders

Which Capitalism It's Going To Be

George Saunders in conversation with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm, Jan. 31, 2013: 

Photo of George Saunders by Damon Winter for The New York TimesI think [these are hard times], but also they've probably always been, in the sense that we aren't really born very well equipped [for] the struggles that we're gonna go through. We're kind of born with this idea that we're permanent and we're central and we're enduring and we're the most interesting person in the room, and then, especially in times like these. 

When I was growing up, the sort of things was that capitalism was in a battle with socialism and communism and anarchy was sort of the crazy uncle over there on the side. And now, in our time, I think capitalism has just won. There's no question. It's just overwhelming victory for capitalism.

But I think we're in an interesting time, in that maybe capitalism is trying to decide which  capitalism it's going to be. And it seems to me that just in my lifetime, it's kind of been decided that the form of capitalism we're going to embrace is the one that says, "If you got it, you deserve it. No guilt. Don't worry about it. And anybody who doesn't like that is whining."

Whereas, the one I like is sort of a Emersonian-Whitmanesque form which says, "There's no point in any of thisdemocracy and capitalism—if we're not simply making more citizens—making brighter citizens, making the lives of the least among us better. 

So I think it's some kind of weird diffuse way, fiction can remind us that even those people are on a continuum with us and that remembering that actually enobles us. 

See also:

Steadily Better

“There’s no rule that says you get steadily better.”

~ Margaret Atwood, from Bad Writing

George Saunders, from the documentary: My sense is that it has a lot more to do with the ways that someone is naturally charming. You know, so if you fall in love with somebody and they’re leaving town and you have two days to somehow change their mind, in that kind of life or death situation you bring forth certain traits of your personality. In my case, I would be telling jokes and I would be talking fast and I would be trying real hard to anticipate her reason for leaving and undercut them in a real energetic way. Those are all things that I would do in prose as well. I would definitely try to anticipate the reader’s objection to the story and build in a defense. I would try to be funny; I would try to be fast. So for me, the big breakthrough moment for me, was when I said to myself, ‘The reader is a person who you need to charm. You better bring your good shit. Because they don’t have time to wait around for you to work through your Hemingway phase.’