And if the king is a woman? And if what everyone says is false? And if we don’t really know what we think we know? Then the only truth is found in music and literature. The first because notes don’t lie. The second because liars don’t take the time to write literary fiction.
"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion."
"Every town has its own music. It changes throughout the day, hour by hour, but a certain sentiment remains, a theme. People in the town compose the music, unknowingly, by walking, talking, dragging their pets and children, making love. To the virgin, the amalgam of sounds may seem like noise, a brutal concoction served raw. But once the nuances are understood, once the delicacies of every whisper burr under your skin, there is no longer noise, but a music worthy of the gods." --The Lesser Violin
"Our minds are not opened or closed, like our eyes cannot be open or closed, nor our lives can be open or closed. It is all a matter of acceptance, of facing what the world places in front of us, of not running away from the unknown. Because even when we want to shut our eyes, fold inside our lives, or close our minds, we know the unknown is still there."
--The Striped Tunic
"A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images. And in a good novel, the whole of the philosophy has passed into the images. But if once the philosophy overflows the characters and action, and therefore looks like a label stuck on the work, the plot loses its authenticity and the novel its life.
Nevertheless, a work that is to last cannot dispense with profound ideas. And this secret fusion between experiences and ideas, between life and reflection on the meaning of life, is what makes the great novelist."
"But that’s the danger, to look into our nature, that’s the danger."
On a warm August afternoon, walking down La Promenade des Anglais, the rhythm of my steps approximating the basso continuo of my thought process, I open the floodgates.
There is plot, but I’m always more interested in situations. Situations change and that’s a kind of plot. Language is a plot, too, and so are mix-ups and nonsense. Really, any situation can be a plot because as it changes, time moves forward.
Forward, I walk.
And a writer meets another writer who’s ten years younger and has a keen eye for people on the street, but has a drowned mind. The writer sees a tennis player meeting another tennis player who is ten years younger, but has reached stardom. The writer meets his friend from childhood and wonders, What took you so long? All within a writer’s day.
I write the books I have yet to read. In essence, I jump over the edge of tradition and throw my words up in the air hoping for the wind to take them places no one else has reached.
Yes, I wrote and explored. I learned not to be harmless.
Everyday contains a moment when you think you will touch immortality. What follows next is the stuff of novels.
And when the rain comes down, my words are safe in my dry within. I flourish from inside my skull.
From that very skull the vision of meaning ascends.
Is meaning created through the interaction between person and text? It seems so. In many of his short stories, Borges implies the disturbing supposition that the meaning of literary works is entirely dependent on the varying historical and social contexts in which they are read. In other words, that literary meaning is constructed through mental processes irrevocably tied to location and period. Reading, then, is more central to a text’s intellectual “life” than its writing and, consequently, a reader is more important to a text than its writer.
We can see how influential Borges’s ideas were on contemporary writers. For example, in Hopscotch, Cortázar invites the reader to participate in his innovative project by letting the reader choose in what order to read the chapters. He writes: “For my part, I wonder whether someday I will ever succeed in making it felt that the true character and the only one that interests me is the reader, to the degree in which something of what I write ought to contribute to his mutation, displacement, alienation, transportation.”
I like his use of “alienation.”
If we are to have a high esteem for the reader, we have to invite her to the party. Not every sentence needs to be complete, not every plot needs a twist, nor does every flower need a color. Let the reader create alongside the text. Easy prose is akin to baby food. It is time to take the spoon out of the reader’s mouth.
I walk some more, never looking back.
In an effort to transcend traditional narrative, I strive to wield words under the constraints of the novel’s tremendous weight. Consequently, I discard many rules to bring forth this vision. In so doing, I may be creating an anti-democratic experience that leaves out the middle-class, or middle-reader, the populous group which has generated the traditional novel. Yes, I explore the inner world of my characters, experiment with nonlinear formats, employ multiple points of view, embrace philosophical constructs, use lyrical language, and make clear and not-so-clear allusions while not explaining everything in an expository way. I may be writing outside of the traditional mold but I am not the first, nor will I be the last one. My challenge, dear reader, is how to manage this difficult and complex task, how to pull off the high-wire act without crashing down to the floor. I invite you to watch.
I watch myself as I walk but I do not see me that well.
Most books today land on the reader’s lap, defanged, tamed by the weight of tradition, ready for easy consumption. I prefer when the book doesn’t offer itself to the reader like a shelled pistachio. Better to compel readers to do the work of shelling through words, rhythms in prose, and the unconscious in order to savor the book. And it is the alliance between the reader’s effort and the author’s meditations that conjures the best literature.
Un-conscious, uncon-scious, unconsc-ious…
The author who tries to expand the frontiers of the human experience can fail. On the other hand, authors of conventional literary products never fail, they take no risks, they use the same proven formula, a comfortable formula, a formula of concealment. Using language for the mere purpose of obtaining an effect, without going beyond what’s expected, is essentially immoral. The ethical approach is found in the search for new formulas.
I slow down and start to walk in a diagonal down to the old port of Nice.
The relationship between an artist and reality is always an oblique one, and indeed there is no good art that is not consciously oblique. If you respect the reality of the world, you know that you can only approach that reality by indirect means. My path is a diagonal one.
Creativity on the part of the author involves structural innovation, the ability to generate an, in principle, infinite number of different structures. But the reader’s creativity is expressed by functional innovation: the ability to imagine what a text could mean. A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.
This is where a cup of coffee is completely necessary. But I chose red wine instead.
According to Foucault, “Literature is a form of language that breaks with the whole definition of genres as forms adapted to an order of representations, and becomes merely a manifestation of a language which has no other law than that of affirming in opposition to all other forms of discourse its own precipitous existence.” It then follows that in literature, questions of fact or truth are subordinated to the primary literary aims of producing a structure of words for its own sake, and the sign-values of symbols are subordinated to their importance as a structure of interconnected motifs. So, can we finally do away with literary genres?
According to Ezra Pound, [we live] “in a country in love with amateurs, in a country where the incompetent have such beautiful manners and personalities so fragile and charming that one cannot bear to injure their feelings by the introduction of competent criticism.”
That is the USA for you.
So how, then, do we identify good writing? It is now plain that any debate over who is, or is not, a better writer, or what is, or is not, a more legitimate writing is, for the most part, a surrogate social struggle. The more pertinent questions are what is the community being addressed in the writing, how does the writing participate in the constitution of this audience, and is it effective in doing so. The state of our literary nation is fractured.
And I think of her…
A woman thinks thoughts that barely make sense. A man thinks thoughts that make no sense to anyone. A woman knows not to reveal she knows you’re after her thoughts, that you want to devour her. A man tells you nothing but lays a suspicious look on you. A woman knows not to trust you. This man thinks you are all mighty. You know you’re not but he doesn’t know that. A woman keeps on thinking thoughts that barely make sense to her.
And as I walk through the cities whose people still believe in libraries and bookstores, I feel as if I am walking through Paradise. And for as long as I can, I will suspend my disbelief. I will go on dreaming.
Nice, please, don’t close them down. The temples of the book.
It is not about religion, that is the easy way out. It is not about idiocy, for you would need to be almost mentally retarded. It may be about the very essence of the human condition, a malleable mush, a fertile ground. We are children of our time, of our town, and of our ignorance. So how do we transcend hate? With books, naturally.
Another glass of wine…
The relationship between a reader and a narrator is as intense and emotionally complex as any relationship between that reader and another human being. The slow manifestation of the soul of the other, a satisfying human need, occurs in the turning of pages and the deciphering of life as rendered by prose. The novel offers an intercourse with selves, albeit imagined, but just as real. And as the contemporary self is being obliterated by the continuous fragmentation of attention and time, we need the novel more than ever.
Breathing now. Wary of the day.
I would like to know what the ultimate purpose of writing fiction is. What are the best approaches to producing innovative prose? What is the real value of reality in fiction? Should the novel be clear and open to all? Who are the readers? And in a more existential vein, does it matter to the universe whether I write a novel or take a piss in the river?
Please, don’t answer.
"A multitude of minds had no other purpose but to imagine. And imagination had the power to render the world anew, to uncover the unseen. And in the process of uncovering, risks would be taken, maybe language would be forged. And the forging of new language meant we had a future, in the words, in the inventiveness of the minds that write, and think... in words." --Viator
"In order to write a single line, one must see a great many cities, people and things, have an understanding of animals, sense how it is to be a bird in flight, and know the manner in which the little flowers open every morning. In one’s mind there must be regions unknown, meetings unexpected and long-anticipated partings, to which one can cast back one’s thoughts…" --The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
"Every author that creates is a liar; literature is a lie, but from that lie, a recreation of reality is born. Therefore, recreating reality is one of the fundaments of creation." --Juan Rulfo
“I'm afraid to write. It's so dangerous. Anyone who's tried, knows. The danger of stirring up hidden things - and the world is not on the surface, it's hidden in its roots submerged in the depths of the sea. In order to write I must place myself in the void. In this void is where I exist intuitively. But it's a terribly dangerous void: it's where I wring out blood. I'm a writer who fears the snare of words: the words I say hide others - Which? maybe I'll say them. Writing is a stone cast down a deep well.”
Fiction does not lie because it does not represent things as they are but as they should be. Our current government lies because it represents things as they are not, but pretends they are really this way. I prefer fiction.
The relationship between a reader and a narrator is as intense and emotionally complex as any relationship between that reader and another human being. The slow accumulation of the soul of the other, a satisfying human need, occurs in the turning of pages and the deciphering of life as rendered by prose. The novel provides an intercourse with selves, albeit imagined, but just as real. The author creates, in short, an image of himself and another image of his reader; he makes his reader, as he makes his second self, and the most successful reading is one in which the created selves, author and reader, can find complete agreement. The convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence. Thus, reading causes the literary work to unfold its inherently dynamic character. The literary work is something like an arena in which reader and author participate in a game of the imagination.
"Text of pleasure: the text that contents, fills, grants euphoria; the text the that comes from culture and does not break with it, is linked to a comfortable practice of reading."
"Text of bliss: the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of certain boredom), unsettles the reader's historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language."
I'm going for bliss...
According to Robbe-Grillet, “the genuine writer has nothing to say. He has only a way of speaking.” And I feel calm in anticipation of those words. Words mean the world when the world means little to me, which is all I can say.
According to Umberto Eco, “contemporary culture is a culture of avant-gardes. ... because every avant-garde is the negation of a previous avant-garde.”
Thus, it used sometimes to be argued that the next stage in the history of the novel was always an anti-novel, which in turn became the novel that had to be countered with another anti-novel. But this seems not to be true. There is a long history of avant-garde fiction, which never ceases, as it should on this theory, to be avant-garde.
Therefore, what kind of cultural work is a novel doing? is a question that should be more frequently, and more complexly, asked of writers and critics of avant-garde novels.
According to Nathan Hamilton, there are two general modes in UK & US [fiction] ... one is a product-focused aesthetic, the other is a process-based approach. The product-focused aesthetic relies on clarity of context, presenting self-contained, more or less complete thoughts and evincing a concern for descriptive accuracy when considering the external world. It is, to caricature slightly, occupied with realizing recalled events, sometimes through memory's distorting effects, while keeping failings of language under discursive control. This is often also called 'mainstream.’ Its weakness is that it can rely too heavily on rhetorical commonplaces, or conceits, and can easily feel naively decorative to the more philosophically concerned, or sentimental or even redundant in its efforts to describe the outside world convincingly. The process-led approach ... is concerned with [fiction] as a way of speaking about the world that simultaneously presents the difficulties of doing so. To the young contemporary ear, being too 'product' in approach can end up sounding pompous or over-wrought; old hat. Too experimental or 'process' focused can seem solipsistic and, again, but differently, over-wrought ... So, we have a popularizing neo-surrealist ironic school in evidence, growing out of a collision between the 'product' and 'process' approaches outlined; a [fiction] of the absurd, ironizing, meaning-making, which in fact one can find moving and meaningful, allegorically.
When Pablo Neruda wrote, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming,” he was not thinking about our current problems. He was thinking in universal terms. So we must transcend the idiocy of the moment and trust the inevitability of hope as well. Let the light of hope bring us our Spring.
He wrote lies, mainly, not because he wanted to deceive anyone, far from the truth, but because he thought that reality was as much a lie as any good fiction. He absorbed reality as it undressed in front of him. He took it all deep inside his mind and body. But somehow he found it questionable, not entirely truth-worthy, even when reality screamed and flapped its arms. He was suspicious of the way life needed to convince us of its gravitas. And with certain disdain for anything real, he wrote prose that took flight, a flight as real as any presumptive reality.