Sunday, October 3, 2010

writing a cathedral of fire

Rain-grey Sunday. Where else to go but the Internet, to find gems like Michael Cunningham's New York Times op-ed piece about writing being an act of translation from the author's head to the written word. If you're too weary from examining Fernando Frisoni's 'Who's looking hot on the streets of Sydney' page in the Sun-Herald to lift your fingers to the keyboard (and it is an exhausting exercise- where does he find so many people all dressed in different variations of the same, week in, week out?) then wrap your mother-loving eyes around this expression:

Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

And this:
We, as a species, are always looking for cathedrals made of fire, and part of the thrill of reading a great book is the promise of another yet to come, a book that may move us even more deeply, raise us even higher. One of the consolations of writing books is the seemingly unquenchable conviction that the next book will be better, will be bigger and bolder and more comprehensive and truer to the lives we live. We exist in a condition of hope, we love the beauty and truth that come to us, and we do our best to tamp down our doubts and disappointments. 

We are on a quest, and are not discouraged by our collective suspicion that the perfection we look for in art is about as likely to turn up as is the Holy Grail. That is one of the reasons we, I mean we humans, are not only the creators, translators and consumers of literature, but also its subjects. 

It's like taking a breath of someone else's genius. 

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