In the act of reading, we are to undergo a kind of transformation, such as W. Booth has described in connection with fiction in general: "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."
Filtering by Category: On writing
Julio Cortázar boasted in his later years that he was writing "worse all the time." He meant that in order to express what he longed to express in his stories and novels he was increasingly obliged to search out forms of expression further and further from classic forms, to defy the flow of language and try to impose upon it rhythms, patterns, vocabularies, and distortions in such a way that his prose might more convincingly represent the characters or occurrences he invented. And we are all the better for it.
I wish I had the wisdom of my characters. I wish I could source words out of thin air, I wish I could chew on grass and distil wisdom, I wish I could compose a fragrance and die by it, I wish I could speak like a bird, I wish my body could vibrate and sing eternal songs, I wish I could get naked and offer my robe to the hateful, I wish I could walk the nights and talk to the cats, I wish I could paint the face of everyman.
But no, that is not happening.
On a mountain path the Fat Poet posts a dictum. His mules chew on the surrounding pasture and agree with him wholeheartedly.
"Literature is the question minus the answer." –Roland Barthes
“Life itself is a quotation.” –Borges
“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." –Foucault
"Art is the placing of your attention on the periphery of knowing." –Robert Irwin
“Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.” –Borges
“Love is by definition an unmerited gift; being loved without meriting it is the very proof of real love.” –Kundera
“Writers are the exorcists of their own demons.” –Vargas Llosa
“But what is memory if not the language of feeling, a dictionary of faces and days and smells which repeat themselves like the verbs and adjectives in a speech, sneaking in behind the thing itself,into the pure present, making us sad or teaching us vicariously...” –Cortázar
“All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.” –Woolf
“The pen is the tongue of the mind.” –Cervantes
"True art can only spring from the intimate linking of the serious and the playful" –Goethe
“The solitude of writing is a solitude without which writing could not be produced, or would crumble, drained bloodless by the search for something else to write.” –Duras
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. And as the contemporary self is being obliterated by the continuous fragmentation of attention and time, we need the novel more than ever.
According to Robert Olen Butler, "the nonartist knows exactly the effect they wish to have on the reader before they write a single word." Of the artist he says: “[T]he artist does not know. She doesn’t know what she knows about the world until she creates the object. For the artist, the writing of a work of art is as much an act of exploration as it is expression, an exploration of images, of moment-to-moment sensual experience. And this exploration comes from the nature of the artistic process.”
Shouldn't we all write that way, from the white center inside?
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.
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.
The relationship between an artist and reality is always an oblique one, and indeed there is no good art which 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 an oblique one.
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?
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.
From my interview with Thalia Field in Gargoyle Magazine, Issue #61:
ARMENTEROS: A plot is a plot is a plot, or is it not?
FIELD: 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.
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 does not offer itself to the reader like a shelled pistachio. But when the reader has 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.
Cortázar called Hopscotch “a book of questions which continually asks why something is this way and not another way, why people accept that something is given in this form when it could be given in another.” When he wrote Hopscotch, he wanted a revolution to escape from the “prison of language,” the syntaxes that obliges us to say certain things. The philosophy of that book, if there is one, is that one should constantly undermine what seems certain. “Once one denies something, it is possible to continue a chain of negations.” So the imperative of our time is to lay the rules of the game outside the canons of literature. Happy birthday Julio!
In an effort to transcend traditional narrative, I need to wield words under the constraints of the novel’s tremendous weight. Consequently, I need to 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.
More than thirty years ago Kundera wrote: "The novel's spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: 'Things are not as simple as you think.' That is the novel's eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off." Kundera thought the spirit of mass media was contrary to the spirit of the novel. The novel requires continuity, but the spirit of our time "is firmly focused on a present that is so expansive and profuse that it shoves the past off our horizon and reduces time to the present moment only." Within this system what is a novelist to do? I say nothing but to write on...
“The fantastic breaks the crust of appearance … something grabs us by the shoulders to throw us outside ourselves. I have always known that the big surprises await us where we have learned to be surprised by nothing, that is, where we are not shocked by ruptures in the order.”
According to Milan Kundera, "If the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but because it exists in a world grown alien to it. The novel's spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: 'Things are not as simple as you think.' That is the novel's eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off."
It’s possible that the fact that literature has been commercialized now in a way it never was before has had an influence. That is, the fact that people now talk about “bestsellers,” that fashion has an influence (something that didn’t use to happen). I remember that when I began to write, we never thought about the success or failure of a book. What’s called “success” now didn’t exist at that time. And what’s called “failure” was taken for granted. One wrote for oneself and, maybe, as Stevenson used to say, for a small group of friends. On the other hand, one now thinks of sales. I know there are writers who publicly announce they’ve had their fifth, sixth, or seventh edition released and that they’ve earned such and such an amount of money. All that would have appeared totally ridiculous when I was a young man; it would have appeared incredible. People would have thought that a writer who talks about what he earns on his books is implying: “I know what I write is bad but I do it for financial reasons or because I have to support my family.” So I view that attitude almost as a form of modesty. Or of plain foolishness.
--Jorge Luis Borges