“If it’s possible to create a genre called ‘pulp philosophy,’ Montag (The Dichotomy, 2015, etc.) has done it. The plot of the author’s latest novel hews to the conventions of pulp fiction, with tough-guy dialogue; bruising, exquisitely detailed fights; world-weary men beaten down by fate; and world-weary women worn down by loving them.”
Tag Archives: literary criticism
I recently had occasion to re-read parts of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, and it reminded me that though the world moves ever onward, some things don’t change. That’s especially so for the artist. And that’s something to keep in mind as time continues its inexorable march forward.
“To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one’s work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs…so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on…every writer should be aware that he might be read by the desperate, by the people who might be persuaded toward life or death…
“It does not mean…that writers should lie. It means only that they should think, always, of what harm they might inadvertently do and not do it. If there is good to be said, the writer should remember to say it. If there is bad to be said, he should say it in a way that reflects the truth that, though we see the evil, we choose to continue among the living…The true artist chooses never to be a bad physician. He gets his sense of worth and honor from his conviction that art is powerful–even bad art.”
Though we lost Gardner before my time, his words ring through my mind with every word I write. (I’ve had occasion to write about Gardner’s fiction before–I’m hoping, this year, to write more on his philosophy of art, possibly as a sequel to a prior article I wrote a while back.)
And on that note, it’s time to reveal some details about my book McDougal; here’s the blurb:
My son. Forgive me.
I wanted those to be the first words exchanged between us. I have so much to be sorry for …I wanted to protect everything I held dear. I tried lying. I tried killing. But I should have tried trusting. I should have trusted you. I should have trusted your mother.
There’s magic in this world, Alec. And I’m not talking about some metaphorical garbage. Leave the metaphors to the poets, Alec. You and me, we’re not poets. We’re fighters…
I’m trusting you now. It’s the only way I can save you. I’m saving you now by trusting you, by giving you the tools you need to save yourself. To save this world. To avenge the lives the old man has stolen or ruined otherwise…
I’m defeated. But you shall be my redemption.
Trust me. And forgive me.
Forever your father, whose love for you is everlasting,
Stay tuned for more details about McDougal. And Happy New Year.
The current project is to try to codify, to some extent, a theory on the creation of fiction. Here I’m concerned with the foundations underlying the creative process. By “foundations,” I do not mean “style.” Sartre says, of style, that “[e]veryone invents his own, and one judges it afterward. It is true that subjects suggest the style, but they do not order it. There are no styles ranged a priori outside of the literary art” (Sartre 323); and I am inclined to agree with him. (The issue of style, like most things, shouldn’t go unquestioned — but we can can come back to this later.) What I’m concerned with now is authenticity.
I’ll start by laying bare my presupposition which is that there is in fact a telos to the creative process. There is an end to be achieved here; there is a reason why we write fiction. The telos is something I’ll have to leave somewhat vague for now (though we will come back to it in part two of this essay series). I do want to say something about telos now, however briefly. Sartre claims that “the function of the writer is to act in such a way that nobody can be ignorant of the world and that nobody may say that he is innocent of what it’s all about” (ibid. 321). Sartre here seems to be implying that there is some sort of truth which the author has access to which is conveyed to a reader through the medium of fiction. We can agree with this, provisionally. The question of which particular truth, if any, an author is supposed to reveal will have to wait until part two (there we might also encounter the question of whether “truth” has any value at all). With such questions, we’ll find ourselves in the most interesting of company…For now, we can content ourselves with telos broadly conceived as “truth.” So the current topic of discussion, then, is how one ought to go about conveying truth. Continue reading