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Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Michigan State University

Saturday, March 30, 2019

James Salter: A Sport and a Pastime (documentary)





The documentary James Salter: A Sport and a Pastime is now available free to Amazon Prime subscribers.
This 54-minute documentary traces the writer James Salter's lifelong love affair with France, unforgettably expressed in his 1967 masterpiece, A Sport and a Pastime. The film captures the great purity of Salter's prose and the essence of his power to evoke the erotic. Salter's own reflections on his writing and life offer rich insights for reader and writer alike.
If you enjoy it you may also like this history of The Paris Review, also free on Prime video.

See also James Salter, James Salter (1925-2015), and The Life of this World.

The excerpt below is from his 1993 interview for Paris Review's The Art of Fiction.
INTERVIEWER

When A Sport and a Pastime came out you were hailed as “celebrating the rites of erotic innovation” and yet also criticized for portraying such “vigorous ‘love’ scenes.” What did you think of all that?

SALTER

The eroticism is the heart and substance of the book. That seems obvious. I meant it to be, to use a word of Lorca’s, “lubricious” but pure, to describe things that were unspeakable in one sense, but at the same time, irresistible. Having traveled, I also was aware that voyages are, in a large sense, a search for, a journey toward love. A voyage without that is rather sterile. Perhaps this is a masculine view, but I think not entirely. The idea is of a life that combines sex and architecture—I suppose that’s what the book is, but that doesn’t explain it. It’s more or less a guide to what life might be, an ideal.

INTERVIEWER

People seem to have different opinions of what the book is about.

SALTER

I listen occasionally to people explaining the book to me. Every few years there’s an inquiry from a producer who would like to make a movie of it. I’ve turned the offers down because it seems to me ridiculous to try and film it. To my mind the book is obvious. I don’t see the ambiguity, but there again, you don’t know precisely what you are writing. Besides, how can you explain your own work? It’s vanity. To me it seems you can understand the book, if there’s been any doubt, by reading the final paragraph:

As for Anne-Marie, she lives in Troyes now, or did. She is married. I suppose there are children. They walk together on Sundays, the sunlight falling upon them. They visit friends, talk, go home in the evening, deep in the life we all agree is so greatly to be desired.

That paragraph, the final sentence, is written in irony, but perhaps not read that way. If you don’t see the irony, then the book is naturally going to have a different meaning for you.

INTERVIEWER

It has been said that Dean’s desire for Anne-Marie is also a desire for the “real” France. It’s a linked passion.

SALTER

France is beautiful, but his desire is definitely for the girl herself. Of course she is an embodiment. Even when you recognize what she is, she evokes things. But she would be desirable to him even if she didn’t.

INTERVIEWER

There’s a postmodern side to the book. The narrator indicates that he’s inventing Dean and Anne-Marie out of his own inadequacies.

SALTER

That’s just camouflage.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean?

SALTER

This book would have been difficult to write in the first person—that is to say if it were Dean’s voice. It would be quite interesting written from Anne-Marie’s voice, but I wouldn’t know how to attempt that. On the other hand, if it were in the third person, the historic third, so to speak, it would be a little disturbing because of the explicitness, the sexual descriptions. The question was how to paint this, more or less. I don’t recall how it came to me, but the idea of having a third person describe it, somebody who is really not an important part of the book but merely serving as an intermediary between the book and the reader, was perhaps the thing that was going to make it possible; and consequently, I did that. I don’t know who this narrator is. You could say it’s me; well, possibly. But truly, there is no such person. He’s a device. He’s like the figure in black that moves the furniture in a play, so to speak, essential, but not part of the action.

...

INTERVIEWER

What do you think is the ultimate impulse to write?

SALTER

To write? Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down. Man was very fortunate to have invented the book. Without it the past would completely vanish, and we would be left with nothing, we would be naked on earth.

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