The representative aspect of fiction is entirely valid, but there’s still the transgressive impulse. What if I want to be somebody else? What if I want to be a dog or an alien? What if I’m young, and I want to be old? For me, these voyeuristic, playful, self-transcending strands of human imagination are a huge part of what fiction is about.
— Mohsin Hamid, BOMB interview
This whole part of the interview takes on the conceit that autofiction—writing about one’s own experience—is the only ethically sound type of fiction. My own wrestling matches with this question have been interesting, though inconclusive. I continue to wrestle. And I appreciate Hamid’s own novels, the different examples he sets for how to write playfully, transgressively, ultimately creating real art. That said, I don’t know that anyone is arguing against writing as a dog or alien. Rather, I think people are explicitly saying don’t appropriate the experiences of people with less power than you. For me the bigger question might be, what does it mean to appropriate? Is “don’t appropriate this subject position” the same as “don’t write characters from this subject position”? I of course want and love transgressive fiction, but I don’t want it to transgress against people, and especially not against oppressed people. Hmm. It’s all food for thought. I like to believe these tensions and moral quandaries are productive and challenge us to write better, less lazily, more imaginatively, more ethically and experimentally.
Anyways the whole interview is jammed with rich and nutritious food for thought.