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Even in a stream-of-consciousness novel about loneliness, in a bad, arty novel where its hard to find the characters, something about fiction makes itself into a story. It contains itself. In life people drift more, theres less closure, theres less follow-up, theres even more murkiness -- which is a lot of murkiness. Novels have a terrible intimacy no matter what -- because of whats exposed when you write one. Because of what happens when you read one. There are all these people, real and imaginary, breathing against our faces in any novel, not just accidentally jostling us like people in a crowded bar, but knowing us, or making us know them. In a novel, writing it, reading it, buying it, selling it, we cant escape each other. A novel stays there. In life I think that people can actually forget about each other, one-sidedly, even. In life we can move on.
Does anything good ever come out of novelists carping at each other? Hemingway is a great writer, but his reputation has been lastingly tainted, and less by the fascinating and tormented machismo of his fiction than by the wild punches he threw at his contemporaries. To hear Hemingway bellow over the supposed personal and literary inadequacies of Stein or Faulkner or Fitzgerald, to read the bullying hostility of his private letters and A Moveable Feast, is to endure all the slop and nonsense he carefully cut out of the best of his published novels and short stories. (Has any writer ever been hurt as much as Hemingway has by the posthumous stir-frying of his art with his leftovers?) Many novelists rig up some simple and crude persona to help promote their work, and part of that persona can involve the equally simple and crude process of cutting down other writers.
"The Grays live in the heart of an archetype, pulling things toward them. Whitley's other aliens -- the little furry ones -- are completely forgotten. He had one big hit with the Grays, and his other aliens didn't make the Top Forty. And why have we chosen them? They are the dead of Belsen. They are laboratory cats with their heads shaved. They are aborted fetuses. They are everything we have done, back to get us. Literally back to have us up the arse."
Behind the oldest Coptic church in Cairo, in the middle of what used to be the Egyptian capital of Fustat, in the spot where (they say) the baby Moses was discovered among the reeds, sits a small synagogue that once housed a remarkable treasure. Originally built as a church, but sold to Cairo's Jews in the ninth century, the Ben Ezra Synagogue is a building of striped stone arches, simple chandeliers, and marble floors. As graceful as the building is, the most wondrous thing in the synagogue is its storeroom: a small dark closet where stacks of discarded papers once rose six yards high (literally to the rafters). These abandoned documents were ten centuries' worth of Hebrew writing, haphazardly preserved by Fustat's Jewish community and the desert climate.
More than anything else, I guess, I hate the urge toward nostalgia. To me it is the most stunting and regressive of urges, spurred on by the inherent conservatism of fear: fear of change; fear that the youths of the world are passing one by; fear of what would happen if one cared as much as one did when those writers and musicians were as new, as crucial and exhilarating as they were when one was in their prime.
I love Scrabble. I grew up playing with my grandmother. She and my father taught me Pitch, gin, poker, and bridge. But it was Scrabble I loved. I remember the thrill I felt when I was old enough to keep my own letters, to have my own rack. We would play a game after lunch, then my father would drift off to something else. "You want to play again, Nana?" I would ask. And my grandmother would nod, light another cigarette, and start flipping over the tiles.