a.) “What the writer sees must be his own time and place, or else, as in the very best historical fiction, the past as we, with our special sensibility, (not better but new), would see it if we went back ...the noblest originality is not stylistic but visionary and intellectual; the writer’s accurate presentation of what he, himself, has seen, heard, thought and felt."
b.) "What counts in [the case of a novelist like Beckett or Nabokov] is not that we believe the private vision to be right but that we are so convinced by and interested in the person who does the seeing that we are willing to follow him around."
c.) "For another kind of novelist the accuracy required is, I think, of a higher order, infinitely more difficult to achieve. This is the novelist who moves like a daemon from one body -- one character -- to another. Rather than master the tics and oddities of his own being and learn how to present them in an appealing way -- and rather than capture other people in the manner of a cunning epigrammist or malicious gossip -- he must learn to step outside himself, see and feel things from every human -- and inhuman -- poing of view. He must be able to report, with convincing precision, how the world looks to a child, a young woman, an elderly murderer, or the governor of Utah. He must learn, by staring intently into the dream he dreams over his typewriter to distinguish the subtlest differences between the speech and feeling of his various characters, himself as impartial and detached as God, giving all human beings their due and acknowledging their frailties. In so far as he pretends not to private vision but to omniscience, he cannot as a rule, love some of his characters and despise others. [He must be as God, all loving, yet the ultimate judge.] .... The beginning novelist who has the gift for inhabiting other lives has perhaps the best chance for success. "
These spoonfuls of seriousness from John Gardner sound ponderous and ominous and they are. Make no mistake about it. To undertake a novel is an idiotic thing to do, an idiotic presumption where the idiot, the novelist, must inhabit successfully other lives in order to become sociable and socialized. Ironically, the idiot cum novelist -- or playwrite? Or poet? (I’m not sure these are the same) -- becomes socialized through solitude. How fucked up is that?
There are some writers who make it sound like utopia, or “doing it all”, is possible, writers like Michael Chabon, for one. I was seriously highly suspicious of this guy. The last time I heard the same sort of praise was when A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius came out. Yeah. I was heartbroken that I spent money on that book. I did not get past the “Copywright” section. SHUT UP! I thought within minutes of having to listen to that guy. However: haven’t you heard?! Michael Chabon is also a model citizen, officially "hot", and a father who does 50% of the child-raising. He might as well be the messiah.
Couldn't the second coming be a woman for once?
Saturday, September 22, 2007
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John Gardner had died in 1982 when I got to Binghamton in 1986. His death was rumored to be a suicide, but all who knew him -- and there were a guard of steadfast students and friends -- thought it to be an accident on his motorcycle that took him. I was surprised to see what you were quoting & trying to guess while I read it: Roth? Kundera? I had read all the Gardner on writing books, given to us in Woiwode's fiction workshops. Gardner didn't prefer "metafiction" and quirky takes on life, the too-narrow or limited first- or third-person p.o.v. To be at Houston after Barthelme's death: well, it didn't go the same way. It was an irony that at Gardner's school, my "experimental" stories were accepted, but at Barthleme's school -- Barthelme, who was so much more experimental -- even death wasn't accepted, and the rule was toward convention, more so. I just read an article abt. Carver, linked at Jilly Dybka's Poetry Hut. People are seeking "Gordon Lish and black wife" at my weblog. He's listed there on my bibliography. All these men knew each other in "real life." AMB
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