Thursday, January 1, 2015
In her writing about Rachel Cusk in this week's The New Yorker (January 5, 2015), Elaine Blair explores Cusk's own growing uneasiness about the literary enterprise:
Since the early nineties, she has reliably published a novel or a memoir every few years. But in an interview with the Guardian last August, Cusk said that she had recently come to a dead end with the modes of storytelling that she had relied on in her earlier novels. She had trouble reading and writing, and found fiction "fake and embarrassing." The creation of plot and character, "making up John and Jane and having them do things together," had come to seem "utterly ridiculous."
Blair goes on to write of the novelists who today speak of "trying to expand the possibilities of the novel" by "incorporating the techniques of memoir and essay, of hewing closer to the author's subjective experience, of effacing the difference between fiction and their own personal nonfictions." Blair then asks: "Haven't novelists always put autobiographical material to use in novels? Haven't we been reading about a character called 'Philip Roth' for years?"
I am easily accused of personalizing my fiction—doesn't matter where (Berlin, Seville, Florence, Juarez, a mental institution, a cortijo) or when (1876, 1871, 1983) the story takes place. I've never known whether that makes my stories more or less ridiculous, never imagined myself trying (in that way) to expand the possibilities of the novel; these personalized fictions are just the only stories I've held within, or been capable of writing through.
But I wonder how it is for you. How much of you is inside your fiction. How you protect yourself from drawing the conclusion that the conjuring of story lines is finally ridiculous?