Unreal Nature

October 18, 2014

Withering Into Truth

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… For secret meaning it must have, to involve you during so many days, so many months, so many years, in this nearly exact balance of the wish by the fear, which makes you spend your time considering your inability to do just what you most wish to do.

This is from Journal of the Fictive Life by Howard Nemerov (1965):

… One thing the ‘novel’ did, quietly, offhandedly, maybe by accident: It gave readers the possibility of believing in the past, in their own past, as substantially existing behind them (even though examination would have proved their memory of this past projected by means of novelistic fictions, hence absurdly at variance with what happened).

‘The novel,’ then, was a way of constructing a certain feeling of reality, rather than a reality, by means of formal presuppositions about life, especially the one which claimed that life was a story (with all the following propositions about purpose, identity, history, God). This idea the novel inherited rather casually from drama, from magical poetizing.

But the special technique which ‘the novel’ added to the tradition was what one might broadly call realism, meaning by this word only one aspect of what is usually meant; that aspect is detail.

A. Life is like a story, life is a story.
B. Detail.

The question of the existence of ‘the novel’ could not come up while B was regarded, was able to be regarded, as the intensifying means to doing A. But as soon as the amount of detail began to be perceived as possibly unlimited, as possibly photographic in essence — and a photography, so to say, of all the five senses, plus memory, imagination, and thought — the relation of A and B had to become one of antagonism. The crucial, or balancing example of this process was Ulysses, with its equal (and opposite) allegiance to mythos and chaos.

*****

… One is divided between the desire to keep on working, to be working, which is a condition usually of happiness and difficulty at once, and a desire to do only significant work, only work which is necessary.

… you say wearily, and with a superiority not entirely earned, ‘To do all that again, describe the furniture, provide those people with different noses …’ And to a certain extent this attitude of boredom is essential if one is to be an artist at all: to have a keen nose for what has even barely begun to stink.

… There comes a time in life — or there may come several such times — at which it appears necessary to ask yourself what you are doing. The question has to be put in a number of its aspects, for example, How did you get into this? What did it mean to you when you began? Does it still mean the same? Above all, perhaps, What is the secret meaning of ‘writing’? For secret meaning it must have, to involve you during so many days, so many months, so many years, in this nearly exact balance of the wish by the fear, which makes you spend your time considering your inability to do just what you most wish to do.

… Yeats speaks of the desolation of reality, and this is for him a religious condition; it may be like what is intended by another splendid phrase of his, about withering into truth. But there is perhaps a prosier desolation of reality than that: In middle life, you perceive as though suddenly what was always there to be perceived, that all the stories are only stories. Beyond the stories, beneath them, outside the area taken account of by stories, there are the sickbed, the suffering, the hopeless struggle, the grave.

-Julie

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