Books Magazine

The Same Artifical Attempt at the Real

By Jaac
It is an interesting experience, once in a while, to read books that are seemingly effortlessly written and effortlessly read. They project the same temptation, as soon as you start them, as card game applications on an iPod; what happens to the boy, you wonder, even though the outcome is usually too cute, too deliberately quirky -- the whole of the story too entirely defined by the same artificial attempt at the real that you have read a hundred times before (I won't identify what I've been reading as it would be unfair -- the book was never meant to be anything other than what it is). This reading I've been doing is reading, certainly, but I know it is not the same as when I read the books that I have herded around my desk.
Surely this doesn't have to be so. After the publication of Orlando and during early paddlings into The Waves -- called then The Moths -- Virginia Woolf notes in her diary on 28 November, 1928:
Indeed I am up against some difficulties. Fame to begin with. Orlando has done very well. Now I could go on writing like that -- the tug and the suck are at me to do it. People say this was so spontaneous, so natural. And I would like to keep those qualities if I could without losing the others. But those qualities were largely the result of ignoring the others. They came of writing exteriorly; and if I dig, must I not lose them? And what is my own position towards the inner and the outer? I think a kind of ease and dash are good; -- yes: I think even externality is good; some combination of them ought to be possible.

And yet she continues, recalling something of Kafka's repudiation of 'the shameful lowlands of writing' after his breakthrough with 'The Judgement' (23 September 1912):
The idea has come to me that what I want now to do is to saturate every atom. I mean to eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity: to give the moment whole; whatever it includes... Waste, deadness, come from the inclusion of things that do not belong to the moment; this appalling narrative business of the realist: getting on from lunch to dinner: it is false, unreal, merely conventional. Why admit anything to literature that is not poetry -- by which I mean saturated?

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