Serious Fiction’s Purpose

Quote

‘DFW: I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.’

From the Dalkey Archive interview with David Foster Wallace.

It is worth reading the whole interview for DFW’s trenchant diagnosis not only of his own weaknesses as a writer, but those at the centre of American, and to a lesser extent English language culture, that its lack of seriousness stems from a need to be liked: “like me because I’m clever” or the lesser (very English) “like me because I’m funny”.

‘I strongly suspect a big part of real art fiction’s job is to aggravate this sense of entrapment and loneliness and death in people, to move people to countenance it, since any possible human redemption requires us first to face what’s dreadful, what we want to deny.’

‘For our generation, the entire world seems to present itself as “familiar,” but since that’s of course an illusion in terms of anything really important about people, maybe any “realistic” fiction’s job is opposite what it used to be—no longer making the strange familiar but making the familiar strange again. It seems important to find ways of reminding ourselves that most “familiarity” is meditated and delusive.’

There’s so much good in this interview. I might have to explore DFW’s work again, to look beyond the irritating humour. The essays, maybe, or that last unfinished work?

‘DFW: Well, but metafiction is more valuable than that. It helps reveal fiction as a meditated experience. Plus it reminds us that there’s always a recursive component to utterance. This was important, because language’s self-consciousness had always been there, but neither writers nor critics nor readers wanted to be reminded of it. ‘

Reality

Quote

‘[…] that famous thing called reality, to which one can get closer and closer, but never close enough, because reality knows how to slip away behind an infinite series of footsteps, levels of perception, false soundings. In the long run, reality turns out to be inextinguishable, unreachable. One can find out more and more about it, but never everything. But even so it’s advisable to try to find out a little more, because in certain investigations surprises can occasionally occur.’

Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque (trans. Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean)

True World

Quote

‘My true world is what I try to find, though to tell the truth I would prefer not to find it, because then my literature would be dried out, finished. I do not, in reality, want to know who I am, nor to find my world — though I seek it, or seem to seek it, always knowing that I will not find it. It can be that living in this tangle might indicate how awful it is to live in my ideal world, which is not ideal; but as long I do not encounter another, this one looks good to me.‘

Enrique Vila-Matas, from this interview

(Re)constructing a personality

Quote

‘[…] ‘he could turn into John Vincent Moon, one of Borges’ heroes, for example, or into an accumulation of literary quotations; he could become a mental enclave where several personalities could shelter and coexist, and thus, perhaps without even any real effort, manage to shape a strictly individual voice, the ambitious base for a nomadic heteronymous profile . . .’

Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque (trans. Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean)

It’s a highly literary novel, which I like, excessively ironic but the voice, always the voice.

Time is not a subjective form . . .

Quote

‘You feel that you bid farewell, and perhaps soon—and the evening blush of this feeling shines within your happiness. Pay heed to this testimony: it means that you love life, and yourself with it, indeed, that you love the life that you have lived until now, and that has shaped you [. . .] But know this!—that transience is always singing you its brief song, and that, hearing its first lines, one can die of longing, at the thought that all of this can pass way forever.’

This is, I think, Krzysztof Michalski’s own translation of Nietzsche, quoted in his The Flame of Eternity: An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Thought from, I think, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe.

So this is how it is

Quote

‘So this is how it is. Stars fall from the sky like shot baby sparrows in Mao’s China. Books are imperishable only because burning them to ash takes so little (it’s not like blowing up buildings); they are imperishable only because they are so ready to survive, dispersed across the world, as trails of dust, kernels, memories, shreds. As to us, me and you, oh it’s simple. We are the broken vessels containing, spilling all over the place, those who came before us.’

Axiomatic, Maria Tumarkin

I should trust more, Fitzcarraldo Editions, to lead me to unexpected places, books that I wouldn’t have thought to read, but that end up moving me greatly, that insinuate themselves inside and linger on late into the night. Some books, even fine ones, end up passing through the cognitive system without harming the animal, others less so.

My consciousness

Quote

‘My consciousness is at certain times far too roomy, far too general. While usually it can contract convulsively (and feelingly) around each of my thoughts, just now it is so huge, hanging so loose about me that it would suffice for several of us.

30 August 39 II A 549′

Papers and Journals, Søren Kierkegaard