So I finished Proust’s “Swann’s Way.” It was tedious sometimes but also brilliant, like a lot of great novels. I will say that he uses the word “obliquely” more than any other writer I have encountered.
Art is not reality. And it never will be. That’s what makes it so great. Few people have ever listened to a piece of music and said to themselves, “This isn’t realistic enough.” Why do we expect utter realism from literature?
While I love Gustave Flaubert and what he accomplished, his theories are not the last word in literature. Artists working with the artificial qualities of art have led to the creation of some of the greatest works of humanity.
For myself, I strive for the reality of the soul. Literature can be styled, there can be conceits, deus ex machina, plot holes – but as long as the human soul is depicted accurately, it doesn’t matter if the sky is blue or green or if spaceships fit into pockets.
“Realism,” has dominated literature for a long time, and still doesn’t completely duplicate existence exactly. That’s not important. What’s important is that, somehow, one soul touches another.
Like it or not, white male writers are still put on a pedestal above all other writers. And, like it or not, male readers generally don’t read books by women. They often say they’re
“not interested in women’s issues,” – as though “men’s issues,” are more important and more universal. When women complain about exclusion, these same men claim that female writers just need to “git good.” They seem to have forgotten the thousands of years women have been excluded from literature.
When I read, I alternate between male and female writers. I’m also in the process of adding other genders to my reading list. No sex has a monopoly on great writing. This fallacy makes people incorrectly judge Philip Roth greater than Toni Morrison; Hemingway above Alice Munro; Jonathan Franzen greater than Rachel Kushner; and on and on.
Now, this isn’t restricted to sex – whites generally don’t read stories by people of color, while people of color read stories by whites and people of color. But it’s sex that we are concerned with here.
In the past decade as though, the publishing has become more inclusive for women. This isn’t surprising considering more women read than men. There are more female literary stars than female directors in Hollywood, for sure. But when “greatness” is discussed, especially by male readers, it always defaults to the white male titans – Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace – when there are female writers out there as good if not better.
I am white and male. As someone who has inherited the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the stereotypical color and sex of literature, I feel it is my duty to fight for more inclusion and pluralism – not just for women, but for any kind of sex, and for people of any kind of color, background, and nationality.
Men who complain about female writers generally haven’t read of them, or if they have, went into it with contempt. These people are stupid.
The next time you choose a book to read, choose something different. Read outside your comfort zone. Read marginalized voices.
Keep an open mind.
Look – we all know there are some horrible books out there. Serious crap. We’ve all read them. I’ve read them. In fact, I’ve written some of them. There is some serious ripe shit.
But, I believe, as Jorge Luis Borges said, that “all books are divine.” Even the crappiest by-the-numbers thriller or fantasy novel have a divine spark – maybe just a sliver – but it’s there. A real person’s thoughts are contained in those pages, and when a reader encounters that book, something magical always happens.
Some critics and writers complain that fiction can’t completely express the human condition. That may be true in a way, but the fact is, unlike most storytelling, with literature the reader brings their own imagination into the deal, and that imagination and thought process bridges the gap between what’s possible and what’s eternal. A novel or a short story is a symbiosis between the writer and reader. While a film or TV show might cast light in a room despite no one watching it, a book must be read.
The reader fills in the empty spaces in a writer’s work with their own creations. When we are told, “a person walks into a room,” that reader brings their own conception of what a person is to that sentence. The writer might explain that person further, describing their hair and clothes and movements. But it’s the reader who imbues that character with life.
That is divinity. That is the Holy Fire.