A Kind of Fiery Trial of Untruthfulness

Saul Bellow in a 1991 interview -- “Literature in my early days was still something you lived by; you absorbed it, you took it into your system. Not as a connoisseur, aesthete, lover of literature. No, it was something on which you formed your life, which you ingested so that it became part of your substance, your path to liberation and full freedom... I think the mood of enthusiasm and love for literature, widespread in the twenties, began to evaporate in the thirties.”

Doris Lessing in a lecture published as a monograph in 1999 -- “To regard literature as a serious matter, for people who took themselves seriously, was common, I would say, until about the end of the Fifties. I think the hedonism, the drugs... of the Sixties was responsible for a general lowering of standards, a barbarising.”

And so on... in the science fiction community, there's a saying that the Golden Age of science fiction is thirteen. Things were better in my day... Perhaps we remember how enthusiastic we were in our youth, and we forget how narrowly our enthusiasms were really shared.

Literature may be something which has “always already” died out. Here are some excerpts from Joseph Conrad's letters: to E. L. Sanderson in 1899, Conrad wrote of his book that was due to come out in the spring --

"If only five thousand copies of that could be sold! If only! But why dream of the wealth of the Indies? I am not the man for whom Pactolus flows and the mines of Golconda distill priceless jewels. (What an absurd style. Don't you think I am deteriorating?) Style or no style, -- I am not the man. And oh! dear Ted, it is a fool's business to write fiction for a living. It is indeed."

"It is strange. The unreality of it seems to enter one's real life, penetrate into the bones, make the very heartbeats pulsate illusions through the arteries. One's will becomes the slave of hallucinations, responds only to shadowy impulses, waits on imagination alone. A strange state, a trying experience, a kind of fiery trial of untruthfulness. And one goes through it with an exaltation as false as all the rest of it. one goes through it, -- and there's nothing to show at the end. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!"

Not the kind of thing you can put in a grant proposal, statement of purpose, or cover letter. The moral here of course is that writers make depressing pen pals.

1 thought on “A Kind of Fiery Trial of Untruthfulness”

  1. You know, back in the 70's, when I was a kid and would hear old people complain and talk about how much better it was back in the day – man, they were so much better at it than the geezers we have around today.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top