Some Notes on Conducting Interviews – Research Blog 1

Reflections on the pleasure of unpredictable interviewees.
Some Notes on Conducting Interviews – Research Blog 1

 

  1. My favourite interview to read was published in The Gunnery News, a school newspaper, in December 1969.1 The interviewee is Andy Warhol, and he is being interviewed over the telephone by two high school juniors, Roger Netzer and Curtis Roberts. Warhol’s answers to their questions about his life and work are often clipped, frequently monosyllabic: ‘No,’ ‘Yeah,’ ‘What?’ ‘Yes.’2 This is, in many regards, a hopeless interview – the output provides no real insight into his work, and his answers to their questions rarely make for gripping reading. The highlight of the interview is a nearly page-long exchange about whether Warhol likes chives:

 

Do you like chives?

 

What?

 

Do you like chives?

  

Huh?

 

Do you like chives?

 

Chives?

 

Yes.

 

Chives?

 

Yes.

 

What are chives?3

 

  1. This interview with Andy Warhol seems, at least initially, to have gone horribly wrong for the young interviewers conducting it. Yet somehow, in the tangle of confusion and brevity, a portrait of Warhol emerges – more through what he doesn’t say than through the small amount of information he does share.

 

  1. On the other end of the spectrum from Warhol, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg frequently gave interviews with answers which would run over several pages of print. One such answer in his 1966 Paris Review interview runs across seven pages in the Harper edition of his Selected Interviews.4

 

  1. Edmund White describes Allen Ginsberg’s attitude to interviews as a ‘creative act,’ one in which he:

 

chewed over his thoughts and more often than not was listening to his own mind at work. We overhear him actually thinking, which is rare enough, and he wanted to preserve the integrity of his complete thought. He relished rather than dreaded long interviews and once reprimanded an interviewer for cutting his answers. He didn’t mind eliminating whole responses, but within a given answer he didn’t want any editing.5

 

  1. As part of my research project, I am conducting interviews with poets. In some ways both Warhol and Ginsberg’s approaches to interviews scare me: how am I to deal with an interviewee who is not forthcoming in answering my questions, or indeed is so forthcoming that we run out of time after only half of my questions are answered? I have considered different ways of shaping my questions and my interview style in an attempt to encourage answers which fit between the two extremes of Warhol and Ginsberg, with responses which are neither 'too short' nor 'too long' but 'just right.' (I become Goldilocks.)

  1. Rather than inventing the ideal interview subject, I hope through my interviews to represent the genuine conversations; to show as far as is possible on the written page a ‘real’ image of each poet as they presented themselves in our conversations. In the interviews of Warhol and Ginsberg, these two titans of twentieth-century art and literature demonstrate their individual personalities and styles. Warhol's interviewers might have wished for slightly more elaboration, and Ginsberg's interviewers may have hoped for slightly shorter responses (if for no other reason than ease of transcription and to fit into the limited print-space of their publications). Yet what the interviewees provided was the expression of their own thoughts in the form which was most fitting to themselves. An interview should, after all, be a representation of the interviewee, not of the interviewer's idea of the interviewee. Rather than seeking an imagined sweet spot between Warholian laconicism and Ginsbergian loquacity, I seek reality wherever the chives may fall.

Flowering chives with a bee sat on the purple flower.
Image by Jaye Haych, provided under Unsplash License

Notes:

Roger Netzer and Curtis Roberts, "Interview 21," in I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, ed. Kenneth Goldsmith (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers), 170-81. 

2 – Ibid, 174, 180, 174, 179.

– Ibid, 179.

4 – Allen Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996 (New York: Harper Collins Perennial, 2002), 17-53.

5 – Edmund White, "Introduction," in Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind, xi. 

Images:

Flowering chives (cover image) by Rob Pumphrey, provided under Unsplash License. 

Chives with bee image by Jaye Haych, provided under Unsplash License.