samedi 14 septembre 2013

Wright Morris, EARTHLY DELIGHTS, UNEARTHLY ADORNMENTS, New York, Harper & Row, 1978, 193 pages

As Hemingway said, it was plain to see this boy had never seen a real war. It is all writing. Images of his non-fevered imagination. He had read a few books. As Balboa had gazed at the Pacific, Crane had looked into the Civil War photographs of Brady. A real war would not have suited his talents so well, being a soldier's war rather than an author's. Since he was only twenty-two years of age, he needed the perspective provided by history. He perceives the confusions of his own war clearly, with the irony and the pathos of a survivor. A real war, as he discovered later, would never have resulted in The Red Badge of Courage. For all of his obsession with the "facts" of real life, he intuited the primacy of the imagination. As his imagination cools, the facts will prove to mean less and less.

p. 52

jeudi 5 septembre 2013

Wright Morris, ABOUT FICTION, New York, Harper & Row, 1975, 182 pages

Because of the scarcity of novels in the past, the earlier writers of fiction read from the book of life. The modern writer first reads about life in books, and it is fiction that makes him a writer. If he chooses to read all the books that he should, he may well be depressed by their achievement, and shaped to eds that exceed his talents: if he fails to read them he does so at the risk of being ignorant of his calling. The Waste Land has been written, Gatsby has been written, scores of great minor writers have sounded the note appropriate to their age and their talent, and on the evidence a state of innocence  is of limited use to the writer of novels. He needs must know, even if what he knows is more that he can bear.

p. 12

When the elusive truth appears to be cornered, the game loses interest.
In what measure does our need to possess what is new transform it, on the instant, into what is old? There is a loss - and the writer is the first to sense it - when he labors to explicitly clarify what is better left implicit. When we give what is vague in order to be clear, we may have given up the motive for writing.

p. 69

The ideal reader of fiction is hard to determine, as teachers of literature have long known. We have no true way of appraising what a reader gets from a book. Good fiction, especially, would seem to be at the mercy of the reader's vulnerability. If he is en garde he is off target. He must be open to fiction at precisely those points where he has been closed to life. To ask all of that is too much, of course, and readers and writers are both losers. To the extent a work of fiction can mean se much, it is dismaying to find it can mean very little. The novel and the reader wait on the chance that will bring them together, like lovers. No two readers, if the fiction is good, can be said to have read the same novel. Non-fiction can be appraised in regard to its content, and sensibly discussed in regard to its message, but the good story or the great novel is possessed, if at all, on individual levels that are unique. The work of fiction that unlocks the soul of one reader is, by its nature, closed to many others. Readers of Hemingway are seldom readers of D. H. Lawrence. These two writers alone contradict the notion that a single reality waits to be captured.

p. 92-93

It is sometimes easy [...] for the writer to persuade himself that he is flirting with vaguely extrasensory perceptions, but these perceptions, where they prove to exist, are merely the function of his talent. The way he shapes a line, the way he fashions a scene, the way he is impllicit of explicit, bears in mind the reader he might be himself, if he were not a writer, and the fiction he would like to read if he were not obligated to write it.
What we choose to call "style" is the presence in the fiction of the power to choose and mold its reader. The sought-for reader, in this view, is the first of the fictions the writer must create, and it is why, for such a writer, the opening lines of a work are so important. There is the voice that seeks to hold one reader enthralled, turn another away. From a vast surround of indifferent readers this reader has been shaped to be the true believer, or so the writer hopes. To this end he both bends and shapes his talent. In this knowledge the writer is empowered to write with more assurance than he otherwise might, and the reader is vested with more than his customary talents to read. Writer and reader are part of a single imaginative act. Most writers would like to mount such readers as trophies, forgetting, in their need, that they are fictions. To these ideal, built-in, nonexistent readers they dedicate their books.

p. 104-105    

mardi 3 septembre 2013

Wright Morris, A CLOAK OF LIGHT, New York, Harper & Row, 1985, 306 pages.

How did the writer think of anything but writing? The voice, for example, that mystifying clue to what was as yet unspoken. How think of anything else? And if that eased off, and you had found this voice, and spoke in it as naturally as your own, there were the words and the characters, and the details to think about, and what, as you sat there, you found yourself reading. For the writer - the true fiction writer - does not write to say what he thinks or feels, but to discover what it is. What I discover I am thinking and feeling takes all the time and thought I am able to muster, and it is seldom enough.

(p. 121)


In my own experience, the written and spoken "cliché" would often embody the history of the American language and, unavoidably, the history of our people, and speak in one breath from many sources. Gertrude Stein testifies to this in The Making of Americans, and I believe my own practice, at its best, confronts this truth in its deep reliance on what is heard and felt when the language is spoken. I speak it to myself, as I write it, in order to better estimate its heft and rightness. In the vernacular it is the cliché that testifies to the burden of meaning that words and phrases from the past bear to us at the moment we speak in the present, where we hear, wherever the language is well spoken, the echoes of the writers who first shaped it. In the vernacular they speak with a familiar accent.

(p. 184)


In interviews with the press the following day, I was frequently asked to what I attributed my memory of details of the past. What details? A few were quickly mentioned. Take, for example, the way the front wheel of a bike will continue to spin when the rider spills it on its side in the yard. Or take the way keys for tightening up skate clamps were invariably bent. It pleased me to be thought so clever, but there was nothing unusual in a bent skate key. Nor would any small, frozen-fingered boy soon forget the battle he had to tighten the clamps. As for that twirling bike wheel, I saw it clearly enough, but I would not say I remembered it, then wrote it. More than memory was at work in what I remembered. The effort and act of memory enabled me to see what I had often both observed, and ignored, until that moment when I actually described it. Thanks to the questions I was asked, I began to ask myself what I actually remembered, and what seemed to appear at the moment of writing - like the voices and actions in a séance.
"Reading your book brought it alll back!" one reader said, as if he saw it captured like the fly in amber, embalmed in time until someone's memory brought it back.

(p. 243)


Since 1942 I had published ten novels, two books of photo-text, and one volume of criticism. What was it - in the absence of readers and, up until that spring, in the absence of money - that egged me on? Had I made myself into this creature that found both food and pleasure in the act of writing? Was it through writing that I made sense out of the non-sense outside my study window, and perceptibly diminished the quiet desperation common to those who were not writers? I accepted my calling as a form of living necessary to my own nature, requiring no more reason or persuasion than the flowers on bushes, or the leaves on trees. It did take some doing, but what I was doing came naturally. To cease to do it seemed an unnatural, destructive act. In May 1958 I saw that I was one of those determined to persist in this folly.

(p. 251)