I HAVE LONG UNDERSTOOD THIS TO BE TRUE…

July 17th, 2013

In response to the question: What is the future of the novel? Craig Nova said:

Now, in the modern age, the novel is the way we discover what we really believe. If we tell a story, and it seems true and the characters seem real, and the resolution is correct, we are able to say that we are certain, or more certain than before about what we think is true. The novel in the modern age is the answer or the response to a line in Camus’ notebook, which is, “That wild human longing for clarity….” It is this wild longing that the novel satisfies, and as long as it does that, and as along as a novelist is honest about what it is like to be human, it will not only survive, but thrive. It will become the method by which we judge our morality.

Nova continues:

I believe, and I really do, that a novelist is that last line of defense against bullshit. In the modern age, we are up to our necks in this substance, and so, as described above, the novelist’s job is to discover what he or she thinks is true and to have the courage to stick to it. Orwell says someplace that all we really ask of a writer is to say what he or she really thinks. Mostly, in the modern age, writers are afraid. They can be so easily accused. But it is this fear that a writer has to stand up to. It is the moral imperative of being a novelist: What do I really believe, how do I know it to be true, and what are the implications. And how can I tell this as a compelling story. For a novelist the story is not everything. It is the only thing.

Nova’s citation of Camus reminds me of one of the earliest bits of writing advice that I found in Ernest Hemmingway’s A Movable Feast:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

My goal is always that true sentence. I often write great reams of garbage that, like black bile, must be purged from my system, but in the end, that which remains is true to the extent that I understand the reality I experience.

I have read Camus’ The Stranger, of course, but nothing else of his work. That ought to be corrected. So many books, so little time.

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