Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A writer's secret

The lives of certain writers seem to be radiate out from anecdotes that only make sense on an anagogical reading, framed by a theology of the unknown God. Kafka and Gogol are supreme exemplars of this type.

In Donald Frame's The Creation of Nikolai Gogol, he writes that the opening of The Selected Passages from correspondence with Friends - a work that always been considered not only the worst thing Gogol ever wrote, but a sort of catastrophe, as though Gogol had gone senile -- Gogol said "he had prepared as a posthumous gift to his fellow countrymen ... 'the best of all things that my pen has produced... My composition entitled, 'A Farewell Tale'. It would reveal to them 'if only in part the strict secret of my life and the most sacred heavenly music of that secret.' He was reserving publication, he explained in a footnote, because what would have significance after a writer's death has no sense during his lifetime. "A Farewell Tale" was apparently never written - and Dostoevsky did not hesitate to brand Gogol's references to it as vran'yo (prevarication). Gogol, he suggested here and elsewhere, was an early version of his underground man. It was 'that same underground man which made Gogol, in a solemn testament, speak of a final tale which had sung itself out in his soul - and which in reality did not exist at all." Dostoevsky goes on to suggest that when Gogol began writing his testament he may not even have known he was about to mention a 'final tale.'

Dostoevsky's suggestion is in itself a masterpiece. And what writer, meditating on fiction, does not sometimes shudder at the childishness of make believe, the shamefulness of daydreaming, judged from the height of maturity? But that undermining of everything is countered by another - the moment you promise to tell the truth - only then do you see that the truly juvenile, shameful, and impossible task is complying with this promise. Even making the promise, which is made and has to be made everyday by every sentient, sane human being, is, when considered from the writer's perspective, a farce. The more solemn it is, the more whimsical it is. There's every chance that you will die tonight before you can even begin tomorrow to do what you promised yesterday. Not only that, but who made yesterday's promise? A person in such and such circumstances. That person no longer exists, in as much as those circumstances have shifted. Nail the promise by swearing on a book, swearing before a courtroom or a minister, and it turns from a wish into the most ludicrous lie that you have to surround, like a spoiled child, with infinite distractions. It is then that the unconscious, everybody's devil's advocate, will make other promises suddenly come into your mind. You grab your pen and you write one of them down - ah, this is just how to continue, to lend the right atmosphere to things! Now the words begin to flow!

That was a very, very cruel thing to mention. In what he said about Gogol, Dostoevsky spilled every writer's secret. Bastard.

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