The Source of Fiction; or, A Parable for an Artist



Exploring the development of an artist, I guess.

A great work of fiction is an heroic effort to reconcile some misunderstood, obscured or even vilified phenomenon of reality with the self-referential system of understanding and belief most commonly referred to, and stylized as, 'the world'. And what is 'the world'? Well, it is that which can be seen when looking out of a window: it is all that has been classified and categorized, systematized and summed up. In short, it is everything which has been, up to this point in time, 'understood'.

Understood by whom? Ah, but that is a question for a democrat.

That is a question for a revolutionary.

That is the question for an artist, who must, if he is honest, seek out the source of his particular brand of wisdom, truth, knowledge, pain and suffering, love and sense of beauty—in a word, his aesthetic. And when he has found this place or object, this Paradise or Grail, this Good which has conquered Evil in his soul and psyche—well, what then? At peace with his own understanding, he acknowledges that it is not a crime if another conscious being has derived their sense of purpose and well-being from an altogether different conception of the Source—though he sees how it is the conception of the Source which changes, and not the Source itself. Thus he starts to dwell in a realm of illusion and projection, which the rest of the world understands as simple narrative: unreal, and thus unimportant, the artist meditates upon both sides of that coin spinning so rapidly in the air, aware that when it does eventually lose momentum and fall upon the ground, whether one way or the other, the result is altogether arbitrary: he watches the world react to the outcome with a sense of distance and, of course, irony. At this point, if he is filled with discontent, he becomes a romantic. If his nature is more cerebral, he has a small choice in the matter, for what it's worth: he either becomes a fatalist or—and this is no joke—a comedian.

And so he discovers his orientation, and he moves through the world anew, looking, looking, looking for something which draws him in and holds on tight. But he soon realizes that finding a good story is more difficult for him than falling in love, and with a heavy heart he abandons many projects when they prove unable to keep up with the pace of his personal and artistic evolution—when their conflict, their internal motivation, gets outstripped by his own. Nonetheless, he derives his integrity from the resistance he puts up to the hunger for the real thing to which every artist worthy of the name must routinely grow accustomed, upon being disillusioned and disappointed again and again. He remains an anonymous and observant bystander, honing his craft on street corners, in pubs, on trains, buses and sidewalks, noting the individuals he meets and the transactions he witnesses. Always he is careful not to judge anyone or anything he comes across; rather he seeks only to interpret, and tries to hold the phenomena of this world in high regard. In the face of uncertainty, or even horror, he finds inner calm in the expression of beauty: it is, after all, the true antithesis of horror, wherein the latter was never better defined than as 'the repulsion of life, from life', while the human condition for the former was always to first face and conquer personal demons before being able to admit to the struggle within, which—when revealed—unifies so readily. He considers himself fortunate in the fact that it is the artist's obligation to accomplish this alone and in private, and that he was forced to do so much sooner than his peers; it was his desire to make a living from such revelation, and the themes he would work with must be universal, and his own conflicts must not creep into the body of his work, as they often do for the artist who does not understand himself.

Observant as he is, he is still as often lost in the realm of ideas and illusion, this as-yet-unknown artist, and he eventually considers fantasy a natural domain for his powers. He starts wondering how one might write well within this epic realm which, because of its immense range, and its fearful depth, often becomes a staging ground for the expression of grander exorcisms. The other night, in a conversation with his fiancée, the question as to whether or not genre fiction is often considered immature, because (arch)typical, was touched upon. So-called literary fiction was brought up as a contrast, and was defined as the artist's effort to depict the things of this world 'as they are', where such an endeavour was epitomized in Flaubert's painstaking search for the mot juste, or the right word.  Butso it was counteredthere have been times before when an aspiring artist would just as soon comprehend as to look around to see that genre fiction and high-flown tales of crime, romance, science fiction and fantasy, reign supreme. So it is with the twenty-first century, because there is indeed something fantastical in the air: something new, and exciting!

So the artist finds himself excited, though he moves forward cautiously, careful not to miss anything so long as he can help it. He carves out a word here, a sentence there, and leaves them behind for all the world to see. Fantastic though it may seem, his very claim to empirical truth lingers in the reaction the world has to his work. He constructs reality one word at a time—his own, for now, and maybe that will be all the power allowed him. He knows there have been artists to whom an entire era has been granted, and he accepts that such trust is gained by the word, as Flaubert believed. But it is a mistake to think that a great work of art comes from an individual: it takes a world; a history. Indeed, it is the world, when all is said and done, so long as it is able to provide meaning. With this in mind the artist continues to write, one word at a time, and he continues to speak those words as often.

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There's more where that came from!