Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen

Books Made Me Survive

We visited Jonathan Franzen at his home, where he shared his approach to writing character-driven novels and his thoughts on being a writer in America: “I play for ‘Team Literature' and so I’m on the lookout for things that threaten the team.”

Franzen had a miserable time at junior high school and felt a need to dissociate, which reading books for hours on end made possible: “… that was how I survived.” Reading gave him a sense of a social life, which he didn’t have much of back then: “You have a community of real people and then you have a community that you form as a reader…”

“Pages are more interesting if you’re blowing something open.” Franzen considers himself to be a character-driven author, and compares creating fictional persons whom the reader will experience as real persons to a sort of drug: “There’s something deeply wonderful about setting out to create a character from scratch.” Moreover, he has come to realise that a writer’s abilities are “not a whole lot bigger than the sum of what you’ve lived, or what you’ve encountered, the people you’ve encountered, the situations you've been in, the emotions you’ve experienced.”

Technologically mediated relations are becoming a growing part of our lives, which essentially means that we have “increasing interactions with robots,” which Franzen finds problematic for literature: “I do worry that the power of technology is so strong that we will see fewer people able to find the private space in which to develop a relationship with books.”

Jonathan Franzen (b. 1959) is an American novelist and essayist. His novel ‘The Corrections’ (2001) received widespread critical acclaim and earned him a National Book Award, a James Tait Black Memorial Prize and placed in in the final for a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Franzen is also the author of the novels ‘The Twenty-Seventh City’ (1988), ‘Strong Motion’ (1992), ‘Freedom’ (2010) and 'Purity' (2015).

Jonathan Franzen was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at his home in Santa Cruz, California in January 2016.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

  • Joyce Pensato

    Advice to the Young

    Homer, Mickey, Batman! Joyce Pensato – known for her unique work inspired by cartoon and comic book characters – here advises young artists to keep at it, love what they’re doing and, most importantly, “show your work, get it out there!”

  • Ulay

    Advice to the Young

    “If you want and need inspiration – go behind the central station.” The iconic artist – and self-proclaimed anarchist – Ulay here advises young artists to avoid art institutions and to make works that meet their own needs rather than that of the audience.

  • George Condo

    The Artist at Work

    The mind of American artist George Condo has been referred to as a place where “Picasso meets Looney Tunes.” Watch him at work in his New York-studio where he draws and paints his take on a 19th century painting by Manet.

  • Ulay

    Under My Skin

    This is the story of legendary artist Ulay, famous for his collaboration with Marina Abramović. As a solo artist in search for his identity, Ulay’s radical works have pushed the limits of photography and performance using his own body as material.

  • Olga Tokarczuk

    I Absorb Stories

    Olga Tokarczuk – one of the most important Polish writers of her generation – here shares how she draws inspiration from others: “People tell amazing micro-stories or even bigger stories. I seize them, absorb them and transform them in my books.”

  • Marina Abramović & Ulay

    A Living Door of the Museum

    Standing naked in the main entrance of a museum, facing each other while the audience passes sideways through the small space. Legendary performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay share the story behind their poetic work ‘Imponderabilia’.

  • Bill Viola

    Cameras are Soul Keepers

    When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • Mika Rottenberg

    What is the Connection

    The exceptional video artist Mika Rottenberg here presents her intriguing video installation ‘Cosmic Generator.’ Set on the U.S.-Mexico border and in a huge Chinese market, the work explores the collapse – or reinforcement – of distance.