Sunday, May 2, 2010


“Anyone who attacks individual charity,” I began, “attacks human nature and casts contempt on personal dignity. But the organization of ‘public charity’ and the problem of individual freedom are two distinct questions, and not mutually exclusive. Individual kindness will always remain, because it is an individual impulse, the living impulse of one personality to exert a direct influence upon another…. How can you tell, Bahmutov, what significance such and association of one personality with another may have on the destiny of those associated?”

“Can you imagine any of our own major novelists allowing a character to say stuff like this (not, mind you, just a hypocritical bombast so that some ironic hero can stick a pin in it, but as part of a ten page monologue by somebody trying to decide whether to commit suicide)? The reason you can’t is the reason he wouldn’t: such a novelist would be, by our lights, pretentious and overwrought and silly. The straight presentation of such a speech in a Serious Novel today would provoke not outrage or invective, but worse—one raised eyebrow and a very cool smile. Maybe, if the novelist was really major, a dry bit of mockery in The New Yorker. The novelist would be (and this is our own age’s truest vision of hell) laughed out of town.
“So he — we, fiction writers — won’t (can’t) dare try to use serious art to advance ideologies. The project would be like Menard’s Quixote. People would either laugh or be embarrassed for us. Given this (and it is a given), who is to blame for the unseriousness of our serious fiction? The culture, the laughers? But they wouldn’t (could not) laugh if a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction. But how to make it that? How — for a writer today, even a talented writer today — to get up the guts to even try? There are no formulas or guarantees. There are, however, models….”
— David Foster Wallace from “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” in Consider the Lobster. Above quote in text from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

I don't know if I even want to try. Steinbeck said a writer would have to be crazy to attempt to articulate the Truth of humanity. Add to that DFW's accurate portrayal of that person's reception, and I just can't quite find it in me today to hope that it's possible. To write Beauty. To be removed from the chains of a cultural smugness dictating what's acceptable to believe. To embrace the spaces between the words — between the beats of a heart — between the breaths of an infant.... Who can attempt it? Who is crazy enough?

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