The Paris Review: Do you, like Joyce, play to the reader subliminally through symbolism, or do you make fairly overt statements by demonstrating what certain values can lead to?
John Gardner: I try to be as overt as possible. Plot, character, and action first. I try to say everything with absolute directness so that the reader see the characters moving around, sees the house they're moving through, the landscape, the weather, and so on. I try to be absolutely direct about moral values and dilemmas. Read it to the charwoman, Richardson said. I say, make it plain to her dog. But when you write fiction such as mine, fantastic or quasi-realistic fiction, it happens inevitably that as you're going over it, thinking about it, you recognize unconscious symbols bubbling up to the surface, and you being to revise to give them room, sort of nudge them into sight. Through ideally the reader should never catch you shaking a symbol at him. (Intellect is the chief distracter of the mind.) The process of writing becomes more and more mysterious as you go over the draft more and more times, finally everything is symbolic. Even then you keep pushing it, making sure that it's as coherent and self-contained as a grapefruit. Frequently, when you write a novel you start out feeling pretty clear about your position, what side you're on; as you revise, you find your unconscious pushing up associations that modify that position, force you to reconsider.
- Novelist John Gardner, in interview with The Paris Review in 1979. Read the whole thing here.