Most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.
Words and a book and a belief that the world is words…
Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.
Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.
Death looks different when you see it in a parent or somebody of your parents’ age than when you see it in a contemporary or a dear friend who’s even a couple years younger. It was a limited closeness, but it was a very intense closeness we had as writer buddies, and it was played out mostly in biweekly telephone calls. And I had the sense that I could pick up the phone, call him, and anything I was feeling, however strange, that had to do with the writing life, or negotiating some position for one’s self in the culture, all I had to do was start a sentence and he would finish the sentence and say, yep. And I would do the same for him.
[W]e live in an era of terrible preoccupation with presentation and interpretation, one in which relations between who someone is and what he believes and how he “expresses himself” have been thrown into big time flux. The horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle: That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.
We’re existentially alone on the planet. I can’t know what you’re thinking and feeling and you can’t know what I’m thinking and feeling. And the very best works construct a bridge across that abyss of human loneliness.
I go through a loop in which I notice all the ways I am […] self-centered and careerist and not true to standards and values that transcend my own petty interests, and feel like I’m not one of the good ones; but then I countenance the fact that here at least here I am worrying about it, noticing all the ways I fall short of integrity, and I imagine that maybe people without any integrity at all don’t notice or worry about it; so then I feel better about myself (I mean, at least this stuff is on my mind, at least I’m dissatisfied with my level of integrity and commitment); but this soon becomes a vehicle for feeling superior to (imagined) Others…