Tuesday, June 26, 2007


From Steve Mitchelmore:
Long ago VS Naipaul said it would be absurd for, say, a Papua New Guinean writer to produce novels like Middlemarch, and recently Jeanette Winterson said "We should read Victorian novels, but we shouldn't write them". Will the reasons for these statements ever trickle down or is nostalgia for a brief aberration in the history of the novel going to dominate English fiction for yet another generation?
From Myles na gCopaleen, aka Flann O'Brien, in his At War collection (quoted at Anecdotal Evidence):
One should remember that the great artistic feats accomplished in medieval times were carried out by people who conceived themselves to be decent workmen, people who simply did not know how to do a bad job. On Sundays they put on their best clothes and went to Church. Nowadays your 'artist' is a neurotic imbecile; he has the cheek to discern in his own dementia the pattern of a universal chaos and it is no coincidence that most of his books are dirty and have to be banned. Beware of 'culture,' reader; of 'art' and 'artists' be careful and apprehensive. Such things were very fine when they came out first, they were part of the commonplace shape of life and nobody could possibly take exception to them. But when isolated in our own day to become merely a self-conscious social cult, and excuse for all sorts of bad behaviour, a pretext for preciosity and worse – know then that words like 'culture' and 'art' do not mean what they meant.
From The Room Lit By Roses, by Carole Maso:
With every major decision there is regret, for the very act involves choosing one thing over another. I have always experienced a certain sorrow when any project I am working on begins to take a shape and becomes a stable, definitive text--because it excludes the thousand books it might have been. No matter how spacious, no matter how suggestive or fluid, I cannot help but feel the death of possibility all over again--the books that now would never be. I have never felt completely reconciled to that fact. This and not that.
From The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald:
Janine had taken an intense personal interest in the scruples which dogged Flaubert's writing, that fear of the false which, she said, sometimes kept him confined to his couch for weeks or months on end in the dread that he would never be able to write another word without compromising himself in the most grievous of ways. Moreover, Janine says, he was convinced that everything he had written hitherto consisted solely in a string of the most abysmal errors and lies, the consequences of which were immeasurable. Janine maintained that the source of Flaubert's scruples was to be found in the relentless spread of stupidity which he had observed everywhere, and which he believed had already invaded his own head.

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Anonymous Mark Thwaite said...

A nice list of quotes Richard. Thanks for them.

Flaubert's convinction "that everything he had written hitherto consisted solely in a string of the most abysmal errors and lies, the consequences of which were immeasurable" is moving, true and discomfiting.

If only more writers realised that there needs to be a very good reason to break the silence ...

June 27, 2007 2:31 AM  

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