An Interview With The Author Of Luminous Airplanes, by Paul La Farge

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

Me: I get Luminous Airplanes, the novel. What can you tell me about Luminous Airplanes, the hypertext?

The Author: The immersive text,” you mean? Well, on the one hand, it’s a kind of sequel to the novel, which continues the narrator’s story up to the present day. And on the other hand it’s a commentary on the novel, in which the narrator reflects on what he wrote, and, you know, comments on it. He writes about things the story makes him think of. He tells stories that there wasn’t room for in the book, about the characters, and what happens to them before and after the book takes place. And he thinks about himself, and the whole process of what he’s doing, the act of writing something like this.

Me: How long have you been working on this thing?

The Author: On and off, since late 1999.

Me: So your narrator must have a lot of thoughts.

The Author: He does.

Me: What is Luminous Airplanes about?

The Author: It’s about failure. It’s about hope. It’s about big worlds and little ones. It’s about San Francisco in the 1990s. It’s about dance music. It’s about phrenology. It’s about anthropology in the Southwestern United States. It’s about the search for Atlantis, and the hollow-earth theory. It’s about caves. It’s…

Me: So, um, how big is Luminous Airplanes?

The Author: I think if you took all the passages and put them end to end, they would reach from New York City to Stamford, Connecticut. In addition to the comments and stories I mentioned, about half of the text of Luminous Airplanes the book is in the immersive text at this point, as is the first half of another novel.

Me: Why do you say at this point?

The Author: Because it’s still growing. I keep adding to it. Evenutally the whole text of the book will be online, and also quite a few stories which I’m still writing. And probably some that I haven’t thought of yet. Stay tuned for updates.

Me: But if you keep writing new things, how will anyone ever finish reading it?

The Author: I don’t expect anyone to finish Luminous Airplanes. At least, not in the sense that they will read the whole thing. Some persistent readers may get to the end—there is an end, and you can reach it, but that’s not the same thing as reading all of it. I’m hoping that people will read as much as they are interested in reading.

Me: Hm.

The Author: Maybe the best way to think about it is as a cave system—that’s really what it is, a collection of passages which cross and loop around. Some of them are long passages and others are just kind of blind alleys or cul-de-sacs. Some passages lead to other passages, and other passages don’t. And the whole thing is subterranean—there’s no birds-eye view from which you can see its total structure. The only real way to figure out what’s in Luminous Airplanes (apart from the search and index features) is to poke around.

Me: Why isn’t it, you know, socially networked? It feels really old-fashioned.

The Author: It is old-fashioned. A lot of it is about the 1990s, you know, the dot-com boom and so on. It made sense to me that it should look and feel a little old-time-y. As for social networking, though, I think maybe what I hope is that it will create some actual human interaction.

Me: How so?

The Author: What I imagine are teams of intrepid readers, who explore to the farthest limits of a passage and then return. Each team should consist of no more than three people, preferably friends; the first or “lead” reader should be one of those people who reads quickly, assembles a sense of what is happening, and pushes on. Then, in the middle of the party, bring with you the kind of reader who purchases annotated editions of classic books, and reads the annotations: a reader who enjoys tracking down references, detecting allusions, noting symmetries, etc.. And then, at the back of the group—a long way back, maybe, because this kind of reader is very slow—take one of those people who have to think for a long time about what they are reading, a very dull reader to whom the words are at first a jumble, but who, slowly, as if she had never read a book before, makes sense out of the jumble, in a way that no one, or almost no one, only other readers of her same kind, have made sense of it before. Make sure to keep him or her in sight, or at least in shouting distance.

When your team has gone to the limits of its endurance, make your way back out of Luminous Airplanes—no need to go out the way you came in—and meet somewhere outside the story to discuss what you’ve found. A bar is a good place to talk about this kind of thing. If you are in or near New Haven, Connecticut, may I suggest the Anchor Bar, at 272 College Street? Vodka-tonics are only $2.75 if you arrive before 8 p.m. There are comfortable booths in the back. I’ll be there, and if you don’t mind I might listen in.

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