Friday, January 26, 2007

Fiction's Properties

from Zadie Smith in "Fail Better," The Guardian, Saturday, January 13, 2007 (an article about the writing of ideal novels):

[...]Writers have only one duty, as I see it: the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world. [...]Fictional truth is a question of perspective, not autobiography. It is what you can't help tell if you write well; it is the watermark of self that runs through everything you do. It is language as the revelation of a consciousness.[...]

[...]Bad writing does nothing, changes nothing, educates no emotions, rewires no inner circuitry—we close its covers with the same metaphysical confidence in the universality of our own interface as we did when we opened it.[...]

from Mary Gordon in "Bad Behavior," a talk originally presented at a 20th-Century Masters Tribute to Flannery O'Connor, sponsored by the PEN American Center and Lincoln Center:

Prose fiction was born Protestant. It is a child of the Enlightenment, and though it has some exotic forebears—romance most nearly, drama and poetry further back—it could only have seen the light of day because of its parent, journalism. [...]

[...]I dreamed that Flannery O’Connor and I were speaking together on a panel. Her hair was perfectly coifed; she was wearing a perfectly tailored suit, and a perfectly crisp white blouse, and perfectly shined penny loafers. My hair was filthy, my slip was showing, my stockings were ripped. In the dream she said to me, 'Your problem is that you don’t believe in perfection.' And I said to her, because it was my dream, 'I do believe in perfection, but you think perfection is flawlessness, and I think it’s completeness.'[...]

from the Christopher Isherwood Diaries (July, 1940):

Prayer for writers: 'Oh source of my inspiration, teach me to extend toward all living that fascinated, unsentimental, loving and all-pardoning interest which I feel for the characters I create. May I become identified with all humanity, as I identify myself with these imaginary persons. May my life become my art and my art my life.'

from Alibris:

On William Mills Todd III's The Familiar Letter as a Literary Genre in the Age of Pushkin (Princeton University Press, 1976):

In the field of Russian literary studies, there is surprisingly little comprehensive, high-quality discussion of independent genres and their effect on the creativity of an era. This important text on the quasi-public "friendly letter" of nineteenth-century Russia addresses this deficiency. In The Familiar Letter as a Literary Genre in the Age of Pushkin, Todd examines the tradition of familiar letter writing that developed in the early 1800s among the Arzamasians -- a literary circle that included such luminaries as Pushkin, Karamzin, and Turgenev -- and argues that these letters constitute a distinct literary genre. Such letter writing is not original with the Russian Romantics, but the fact that Russia of the 1820s and 1830s developed this genre so powerfully among its finest writers, and integrated French and German prototypes with such skill, makes their practice exemplary. Todd gives a thorough prehistory of the convention of "correspondence," both salon and scientific, in the eighteenth century, with marvelous citations. He then concentrates on the themes, strategies, and autobiographical functions of the letter for several master writers in Pushkin's time. By considering the writers' peculiar working out of semiprivate personae fashioned in public view, one can better understand certain later first-person works like Dostoevsky's Poor Folk and Notes from the Underground, Tolstoy's Confession, and works of Chekhov. This book's scholarship demonstrates that the real literary life and the genuine advance of literary thought in Russia occurred not in journalistic criticism but rather in this correspondence.

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