The Real Question

This passage from Gabriel Josipovici’s introduction to his The Mirror of Criticism seems to me to pin down the most real but least well understood question and challenge of literature, any writing that aspires to be literary:

“. . . confirms Kafka in his feelings that the well-written work [Gerhard Hauptmann’s Anna], however well it is written, holds no interest for him. It makes him realise once more (the remark comes in a letter written towards the end of his life) that for him the real question has never been: How can I write as well as this? but: Why should I write this kind of thing at all? And, if not this, then what? The encounter with [Hans] Arp’s work reveals to [Wallace] Stevens, through what it lacks, that the greatest art is an affront as well as a pleasure; that there is an art which is good, intelligent, aesthetically pleasing, but which we will never feel to be really important because it never quite dares to be more than that, to recognise its dangerous power.”

— Gabriel Jospovici, The Mirror of Criticism

2 thoughts on “The Real Question

  1. This reminds me of Ariana Reines saying she appreciates when writers work against their virtuosity instead of rolling around in it like pigs in mud.

    It’s also really disheartening to writers who are interested in craft and work hard on it. The idea that craft isn’t enough, that no matter how hard you work, there is something else, something that can’t be achieved by improving the way you use language. Disheartening, yet so true!

    Also thinking of Guillaume Dustan saying that Marguerite Duras’s best books were her late ones, her books of the eighties and nineties, written in bad French, when she was liberated.

    Thanks, as always, Anthony!

    Liked by 2 people

    • My pleasure as always, Sofia.

      Many of the writers that help me to tear back the curtain are poor writers in a technical sense, at the level of the sentence, but judged by the sweep of their work, are thinkers of the first order. Yet so much contemporary criticism is obsessed by craft. It misses the point.

      Liked by 2 people

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