He told the old woman then that all most people were interested in was money, but he asked what a man was made for. He asked her if a man was made for money, or what. He asked her what she thought she was made for but she didn’t answer, she only sat rocking and wondered if a one-armed man could put a new roof on a garden house.
Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving - amateurs - we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers - should we be lucky enough to find any - some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.
The novel ought to be a stout defender of the independence of eschatology in its most robust sense - that is a defender of the apparently obvious but actually quite vulnerable conviction that the present does not possess the future. Whether or not we say, as earlier believers in eschatology would have done, that God is in possession of the future, the one thing we can agree on is that we are not. The open, ambiguous, unresolved narrative insists on this, which is why novels are never popular with ideologues and do not flourish in climates where eschatology is excessively realized. You do not find fundamentalist novelists (only would you would have to call fabulists, writers of narratives with closed significance.
Reading and writing fiction is a form of active social engagement, of conversation and competition. It’s a way of being and becoming. Somehow, at the right moment, when I’m feeling particularly lost and forlorn, there’s always a new friend to be made, an old friend to distance myself from, an old enemy to be forgiven, a new enemy to be identified.
The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through —not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can’t be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible. There is another kind who pulls in his horizons, drops his mind as one lowers rifle sights. And giving up the impossible he gives up writing. Whether fortunate or unfortunate, this has not happened to me. The same blind effort, the straining and puffing go on in me. And always I hope that a little trickles through. This urge dies hard.
I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification.
If humanity is in God’s image, there is something that it is like to be human, something beyond any negotiation or contingency. In this sense, Adam cannot wholly die. Yet if every individual is of incalculable value, a situation in which large numbers of human beings are liable to suffer the obscuring or defacing of the image is an insupportably tragic one. Adam will not wholly die, but this does not mean that the death - morally or spiritually - of any one child of Adam is tolerable. It is still necessary to write, in the effort to bear credible witness to the reality of Adam in a world where he is becoming invisible. It is necessary to go on talking, narrating, in the attempt to discover whether what is said or told can be recognized, which also means that a novel that closed down the possibility of intelligent dissent would have failed.