David: Do you think when you write narrative, or when you read great narrative, is there some discovering of something rather than just completely creating it?
BO: Yes, I think it's a wonderful image and idea, and I think you do discover it. It emerges through the rigor of, for want of a better word, the mathematics of your story. Sometimes a narrative or a poem goes somewhere you did not entirely intend it to go because of its own inner logic. And this could be also the emergence of the theme – not just where the story goes – actually what it is about. You discover it in the process of doing it. It's quite terrifying; quite wonderful.
Ard: So is it that sometimes the narrative surprises you? Does it do something you didn't expect?
BO: Yes, it surprises you because the narrative is not an external thing: narrative is what emerges. I think it's two things really: it's what emerges from you, because every story you tell is drawing upon the deeper, as well as the superficial, aspects of your mind, your psyche, all of what makes you.
So you might start very deliberately, but because you've started, all sorts of unsuspected lower, deeper, subterranean elements come into play. People who write can't get over that fact that you start with something quite simple and something turns up that you hadn’t… There's no way you could've dreamt that it'll emerge, and then you have to shape that.
Ard: You use that word ‘emerge’, and I thought that was interesting. Scientists talk about ‘emergent phenomena’. So you put a lot of things together, a lot of individual little units, and sometimes, from the collective, something emerges that was a surprise.
BO: That sounds like a lot of story-tellers.
Ard: Okay, yeah.
David: But the scientists are very, very nervous about it. They're really not sure whether it's true, and they're not sure if they even want it to be true.
Ard: Some scientists love it.
David: Some do, but there's a great nervousness about this emergent idea in science.
BO: Well, there's a great nervousness with poets and novelists about this emergent idea. I mean, a lot of writers want to be in control of their material. They want to say, ‘I shaped this. This came from me. This was a deliberate act.’
They don't want to be surprised by Anna Karenina. That's the last thing. I like to be. I work to be surprised wide awake. And I can see why the emergent idea you speak of is worrying to scientists, because it has to do with the element of control and the element of objectivity, the element of truth. But I think it's part of the wonder of what we do.