FG – One

Fiction Gutted
The Establishment and the Novel
 

PART ONE

As Gideon Lewis-Kraus notes, writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Wood is a writer who matters. People read him, people of the educated, monied, controlling part of the populace. That’s why it’s important that what James Wood writes does not matter – in central ways. Nowhere is this more on display than in How Fiction Works, the star critic’s most recent book, a truncated politically-charged though aesthetic appreciation of fiction that is spectacular in its misrepresentation of reality, or “the real, which is at the bottom of [Wood’s] inquiries.” Ask Wood to annotate a novel, and he provides sometimes splendid views of narrative lines by way of an at times “uncannily well-tuned ear,” as Terry Eagleton notes. He is eager to discourse at length, often with quick pith, on how to strive toward reality in fiction (or criticism), reality of the profound sort, the truth, a worthy aim. Unfortunately, HFW is resolute in not accurately representing central elements of reality in both fiction and, call it, actuality, life outside fiction. A few examples of these crucial misrepresentations show how such blindness chops understanding of fiction and life, and why it makes one safe to be a literary star of the status quo, of the establishment, of money and power. One must bury and falsify crucial reality. To that end, in How Fiction Works, James Wood has written an establishment polemic in the guise of aesthetics – a deeply partisan status quo account of the novel that is also pervasive in its misrepresentations of both reality and aesthetics.

The first dozen misrepresentations:

1 – the book; 2 – free indirect style; 3 – narrative puzzle as worth; 4 – qualities of narrative mode; 5 – the development of the novel; 6 – selectivity; 7 – the meaning of time and experience; 8 – Flaubert’s “advance”; 9 – Flaubert’s value; 10 – the visibility of the novelist; 11 – “shiny externality” and miasmic internality; 12 – “juvenility” of plot

Misrepresentation 1 – the book: How Fiction Works is wildly mistitled. (Not, How Fiction Works, which would also be inappropriate.) A far more accurate title for the discourse actually written: Purview in the Novel. “The house of fiction has many windows, but only two or three doors,” Wood opens, and in the course of the book goes on to say much about the windows, doors, and characters one may find inside but says little about the house and grounds itself, let alone the nature of the actions and events one may encounter in and around the household. HFW includes chapters on narrating, detail, character, language, dialogue…but none on plot, which he dismisses as if in a fit of mental asphyxia as “essential juvenility” – plot, the grounds and motion of life – the actions and events, time and place of story. There is far more to fiction than any favored purviews of Wood might reveal.

Misrepresentation 2 – free indirect style: It becomes amusing, the repetitions of this bit of jargon: “free indirect style…or speech…or discourse” – a type of narrative mode presented in convoluted fashion as if requiring complex explanation, over the course of, initially, fourteen pages.

Wood posits at least nine labels for the mode he gives three names. “Free indirect speech or style…or discourse” is: “just authorial irony” or “merely another definition of dramatic irony” or “internal speech or thought” or “‘close third person'” or “‘going into character'” or “secret sharing” or “soliloquy…renovated” or “close to stream of consciousness” – or – “much like pure soliloquy” of character “simultaneously” consisting of authorial “omniscience…through the author’s eyes and language.” Readers of HFW are left sensing that whatever free indirect style might be, it is not anything exactly that Wood quite explains, and it comes off as either comically convoluted or professional “secret.” Though all modes of discourse may be rendered with extraordinary complexity, the basics can be quickly known (even three as footnote).[1]

Footnote [1]: Wood could have simply overviewed the three basic types of speech he refers to: 1) Direct discourse, which presents the speaker verbatim: She thought, I need prevail… 2) Indirect discourse, which is the speaker reported: She thought she need prevail… 3) Free indirect discourse, which drops attributives (she thought, she said) and instead implies attribution, sometimes uncertainly, sometimes mixing and melding “speakers” (the purviews of referents): Rosa worked the picket line as her friend Al came into view. She need prevail for the union. Meaning is much destabilized in this third mode because especially with no context it’s not clear to whom the thinking is attributed. The thoughts may represent Rosa’s purview or not at all, may instead be entirely or partly that of the narrator/author, or of Al, or of the whole group, or…

 

Any aspect of these thoughts (whether it’s belief, or vision, or sentiment, or principle, or diction, or voice, etc) may be shared to varying degrees with a wide variety of “speakers.” Any or all of this uncertainly attributed discourse may more-or-less be clarified in context, or be indicated later, or not. Alternatively, in both direct and indirect discourse, the phrase is clearly attributed to Rosa (she owns it, or it owns her – though plenty of ambiguity may exist in these modes as well regarding actual purview and ultimate referent). One can sense the various paces, voices, and other differences in these three modes, each diverse in qualities. Obviously, where quick attribution of thought or speech is urgent, free indirect discourse may not be the best option. No mystery why.

Misrepresentation 3 – narrative puzzle as worth: It soon becomes clear in HFW that Wood is most interested in a more complex sort of free indirect style which he flails to name (to no avail). He is captivated by what might be called: unstable multipurview meld (UMM). (Or, more simply put: unstable purview meld, UPM, but I prefer here the more suggestive acronym, UMM – as we might call Wood’s favored version of “free indirect discourse.”) This mode makes for a “game” or “puzzle” to figure out. What is attributable to whom? who is speaking? what are they saying? what does it mean? – an approach potentially engaging or valuable but too often mere fetish (and expounded as trivial puzzles, imprecision, bogus ambiguity, vapid indeterminacy, or sheer drivel – sometimes as vacuous narrative fixation with schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, or general evasiveness and other displays of narrative dissolution and distraction).

Wood claims that this “game” or “puzzle” exists in every mode as “our basic novelistic tension: Is it the novelist who is noticing these things or the fictional character?” What an isolated game this. Wood cares far more for “who” is noticing “things” than for most anything else. Such “games” and “puzzles” are played by people who are bored with larger story. It’s upscale soap opera – the “tension” of a blinkered shut-in – that ideal marketing target. Give the marks a game, distract them with toys and intrigue, however limp. What else might fill the void left by dismissing plot? Playing up such game as the “basic novelistic tension” is as marginal and eviscerating of a representation of the novel as one may find in serious criticism.

Misrepresentation 4 – qualities of narrative mode: Tagging Wood’s favored narrative mode with “free indirect” misleads readers from the fact that it may be neither much free nor indirect in central ways, despite fitting the accepted technical parameters.

Wood’s preferred UMM mode may be highly confined (to, say, two main views) and be free of little beside attributives. The mode may even present direct authorial commentary and direct speech, or if this is disallowed by definition, then the mode is scarcely free in that way too. So why not move on from the theoretical roots and call it more what it really is? After all, HFW is to be a book that “asks a critic’s questions and offers a writer’s answers” so as to “reduce what Joyce calls ‘the true scholastic stink’ to bearable levels.” Why not give a precise yet plain talk name to the mode Wood prefers – unstable multipurview meld, UMM? Despite being more accurate, UMM mode does not sound nearly as sweeping and profound, one may suppose, as “free indirect speech or style…or discourse.” UMM is one engaging yet limited narrative approach among others, far from a sweeping culmination, as “If the history of the novel can be told as the development of free indirect style…” The mode is often dysfunctional where precise clarity of meaning is needed. Even when well and fully employed, UMM mode is neither as free nor indirect as advertised.

Misrepresentation 5 – the development of the novel: While Wood’s favored narrative approach can work as an intriguing aspect of fiction, it functions too often as a type of “puzzle” remote from any necessarily “basic novelistic tension.” Wood says “our…tension” and if by “our” he means a longstanding establishment fixation then he may be accurate. Rather than a great source of wonder and vitality, wholesale fascination with such “tension” points to major debilitation in the capacity of the novel. It points to a mode of fiction that is a regression to gaming in excess, as Wood extols it. While Wood highly values this mode in part as mind-mix or meld of consciousness, he seems more fascinated by blinding or diversionary mind-melt, rather than a mode where melded thoughts and sensations may be understood as basic distinct purviews (as in, say, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” 1729) that functions with clear point and purpose – along with any degree of ambiguity and open-endedness.

UMM stories can readily prattle on with great pretension or trivial focus and may push into schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder – modes which have long since been embraced by the establishment, much as the status quo also welcomes and encourages toothless (or repressive) busywork for other academics and intellectuals. Alex Comfort noted 60 years ago in his valuable book of criticism, The Novel and Our Time (1948): “We have a tedious mass of books by lunatics who think they are psychologists and by neurotics who think they are lunatics. The literary magazines are full of the praises of schizophrenia.” This is a notable “modernist” tendency, though not only modernist in expression, a sometimes interesting and even useful exercise of the novel but far from central to a necessary development of the form, to imaginative work in general. Pushed beyond its capacity to give birth, this mode as “game” and “puzzle” marks, where universally revered, an end to history in more ways than one. Death by, say, juvenile gaming disorder.

Misrepresentation 6 – selectivity: Flaubert is the phony god of the literature establishment, whom Wood especially believes in. Flaubert’s relatively small example is vaunted much like the fake Wizard in the Wizard of Oz, projected and distorted beyond its reality, an example probably not even as helpful to writers, readers, and literature as that of the kindly aged professor of Oz to Dorothy. It was Glinda the good witch who directed Dorothy home, not the bumbling professor, ostensible Wizard.

Wood’s preferred “Flaubertian” purview gaming is a natural fit for what Wood also calls Flaubertian blurring of both time and meaning in narrative, “the insistence…that in some way there is no important difference between [even grossly different] experiences: all detail is somewhat numbing, and strikes the traumatized voyeur in the same way” – a style or approach highly useful to the establishment. Wood comments that post Flaubert such a blurring approach has often been used by nonfiction writers in reporting on war – which makes perfect sense for establishments conducting criminal aggressions. Flaubert with “intense selectivity of detail” and by great “authorial impersonality” focuses on “blurring the question of who is noticing” the world, “all this stuff,” and what it might mean. Actually, if one wants to “blur” both the world and who might be perceiving it, one selects details randomly, not with “selectivity.” The selectivity is meant more to “turn prose into poetry,” however “impersonal.” Obviously, one must do something with the random. Fashioning it as poetic is one option, but far from the greatest recourse.

Misrepresentation 7 – the meaning of time and experience: “No novelist pushed to such extreme the potential alienation of form and content (Flaubert longed to write what he called a book about nothing).” No fiction could be more serviceable to the establishment than books of “poetic” prose about “nothing.” Flaubert’s technique, much praised by Wood, “confus[es] habitual detail with dynamic detail” – so that as in “modern war reporting…the awful and the regular are noticed at the same time…” thus rendered “anti-sentimental” and “numbing.” And so are served certain clear interests in randomizing reality, stripping it of select meanings.

For example, “a soldier dies while nearby a little boy goes to school,” Wood writes, rather than: “The missile exploded the little boy on his way to school as the US jet flew gallantly on.” One sentence has the quality of jump, with vital trope, while the other is a yellowed museum piece, and in fact seems not “anti-sentimental” but grotesquely sentimental: do look at this plucky, pitiful child – a bit of life and school goes on, amidst the gore (for which, unmentioned, we are responsible). Such prose often is grotesque because negligent and vapid – “traumatized” or “numbing” – repugnant and dumbed down.

Misrepresentation 8 – Flaubert’s “advance”: Not infrequently while reading HFW, one must annotate sentence by sentence to correct falsehoods or record incredulity at what is written. The “great innovation” of Flaubert, Wood notes, the great model for novelists, American and English included, is due to the time-ambiguous properties of a verb form that does not exist in English and so cannot be employed: “…in English, we have given the game away, and are admitting the existence of different temporalities.” Actually, an author would be asserting the difference, making it more precise, which Flaubert in French either cannot or chooses not to do, at times. Some advance – topped immediately by Wood’s subsequent claim that the “loafing” and looking of a stroller is the “classic…novelist activity” of the modern novel, which is tantamount to saying the novel imploded post Flaubert, and to a great extent for well over a century “so strong is the post-Flaubertian inflection of our era.”

Yet Wood insists, “Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring; it all begins again with him” – the new “classic novelistic activity” of “loafing,” looking, strolling; the acceleration of the use of the UMM “puzzle” as the “basic novelistic tension”; the “modern” “blurred” use of time and detail that is “traumatized” and “numbing” and said to be highly “selective” and also a “game,” yet shown to be random and, via war reporting, anything but. The novel certainly has been encouraged to implode – the establishment seems to relish it, when not complaining about the inevitable results – tedious wastelands of poetic nothings and nowheres, garish frenzied fiction, status quo banality, thin enigma, and all sorts of fiction that help eviscerate much public and private reality. Not unlike such fiction, HFW is a partisan creature in aesthetic clothing, bearing the open wounds of wholesale misrepresentations and truncations, lurching on, cocksure in its broken myths and misprision.

Misrepresentation 9 – Flaubert’s value: A century and a half on, Flaubert’s main value in art is that he continues to be used by the literature establishment to bury his countryman Victor Hugo and the example of a far more wholly accomplished and world changing fiction that is liberatory. While Hugo (Flaubert’s landmark, watershed predecessor and contemporary) is a greater artist and liberatory force in literature and history than Flaubert, the establishment is deeply invested in giving the basic opposite impression. In a neat inversion, and to the detriment of all but perhaps the most privileged, Flaubert is used to bury Hugo, by way of misrepresented aesthetics, norms, reality.

Flaubert is so lauded by the establishment evidently because his ideological line is a great fit for that which the status quo must work within – an orthodox ostensible apoliticism – the ideology that denies it is an ideology. In fact, Flaubert is the status quo’s ideological apotheosis: a politically dismissive, politically disparaging artist who is narrowly aesthetically obsessed, a figure whose work has anything but apolitical effects. Moreover, Flaubert’s work is conveniently situated in time and place and style obsession to help downplay the work of the influential and far more socially engaged novelists in and around what has been called “the de facto world capital of literature,” Paris, France – Balzac and Zola – but especially and primarily – Victor Hugo, whose achievement in both literature and life dwarfs that of Flaubert, and holds far more real and potential significance through years past, years present, and foreseeable years future. “‘We felt that simply by reading [Hugo’s] works, we were contributing to some silent victory over tyranny,’ remembered Émile Zola,” as noted by Graham Robb, biographer of Hugo. Dostoevsky called Les Misérables “that great book.” Tolstoy considered Les Misérables to be the greatest novel ever.

Rather than Victor Hugo’s society-rocking fiction (and daunting aesthetic achievement), today James Wood and many a writing circle celebrate the wan and overstuffed, by comparison, writing of Flaubert as seminal and essential. The establishment shouts Flaubert and his example far forward, typically to the effective exclusion of the greater art and the greater figure of Hugo, and the great work and vision especially in (though very far from only) Les Misérables – “a work of serious fiction for the masses…one of the last universally accessible masterpieces of Western literature, and a disturbing sign that class barriers had been breached,” notes Robb of the great work of liberty, justice, humanity. Hugo was born a couple decades before Flaubert and died a few years after him, thus eclipsing Flaubert in life as well as in art and society, though the literary establishment has for many decades functioned purposefully, habitually, and predictably, to no little success, to upend both reality and potential. James Wood is of his time and place in following suit.

Misrepresentation 10 – the visibility of the novelist: Wood’s preferred UMM mode actually makes the author, if anything, more visible, rather than less, as Wood tries to have it, pointing to Flaubert again as primary example (“the author’s fingerprints are…traceable but not visible”), then later retracts (“almost comically impossible”). Wood undercuts another of his own would be representations again not long after he says “Novelists should thank Flaubert” (rather than the “genre hardening” imperatives of the lit establishment and larger society) “the way poets thank spring; it all begins again with him.” He then demurs: “As so often, the Flaubertian legacy is a mixed blessing[;]…a poet’s obsessive excruciation” (visibility) – “rather than a novelist’s joy…[which is] sometimes an obstruction to seeing, not an aid…” – also, sometimes “studiedly irrelevant.” Mixed indeed, Flaubert – blessing not so much.

Flailing though it is, Wood’s laborious obsession with “style” helps build up and prioritize a repressive proscribed narrative approach over all others. “If the history of the novel can be told as the development of free indirect style” as Wood states, positing purview game as “our basic novelistic tension,” “it can not less be told as the rise of detail” of a particular type “characteristic of modern novelists” (rather than, one may note again, characteristic of any sociopolitical shifts and sectors, whether freeing or constrained) – a “cult of ‘detail’…” Cult? No kidding. Who’s cult, one might ask, and why? “There is the modern commitment to detail itself: the protagonist seems to be noticing so much, recording everything!” and showing so precious little, beyond poetry, with great “nuance” and “subtlety” and “limning” and style. All that a “voyeuristic” “loafer” devoid of any larger plot or certain purpose (for that might be construed as propaganda) could stroll past.

“[O]ur basic novelistic tension: Is it the novelist who is noticing these things or the fictional character?” Quite a “cult.” No wonder it morphs and flees into “hysterical realism,” as Wood calls the hyperventilating of authors apparently bored or trapped into mania by the great Flaubertian spring. Such predilections for the novel represent a step back, an arbitrary limbing of narrative technique, a collapse of narrative substance and value. (Limbed by “studiedly irrelevant” limnings.) The invisibility of the author? On the contrary, one gets the sense that – apart from forsworn fealty to the status quo – the author and the author’s style are about all that exist at the center of an establishment novel – an arty game vaunted as narrative abundance by that quintessential establishment production: HFW.

Misrepresentation 11 – “shiny externality” and miasmic internality: Several decades ago, in language strikingly similar to that of Wood, critic and scholar Robert Alter deplored what he called puerile imagination, “the astonishing degree of puerility,” much akin to what Wood calls “hysterical realism,” though Alter is more advanced in his analysis of plot and its consequences. Alter critiques more the public element of story as involves the personal rather than private elements of the personal. Alter all but names a kind of “hysterical realism” phenomenon with his observation of puerile prose in speaking of authors (Pynchon, Barth, Barthelme…Vonnegut) who like today’s “hysterical realists,” if in somewhat different fashion, “finally [do not take] history very seriously,” or at least scarcely represent it profoundly or even substantially, Alter concludes, “despite the overwhelming density of actual historical detail in the [novels].” (While I draw some of Alter’s views partly forward to today’s novelists, I don’t know if Alter himself would do so.)

No matter that, Wood declares intense character immersion goes wanting. Wood has scarce need for plotting as critic, since he can simply follow the contours of the novel under review. Wood is a proud stylist, so it’s interesting that his style immediately dulls when he attempts to write fiction, though no surprise since quality fiction is an originating document of life, whereas criticism of the sort Wood excels at is highly referential of text. In his criticism where Wood ventures into generalization and “theories,” his thought frequently dims there also. That his original writing does not begin to approach the intermittent brilliance of his critical referential writing may result from an attempt to use one valuable tool for too various tasks, lacking the necessary others. He sometimes seems restless and impatient with his text-observant talent, worrying language and narrative as if anxious to be a novelist or a theorist above all else. As with “hysterical realist” novelists, he puts too much pressure on style and select other elements of fiction, pushing for more than can be birthed. And then pushing harder, with predictable results. In fiction, dullness. In theory, narrowness or vacuity, fronted by the misrepresentations of establishment ideology. Alter at least understands that bankrupt plot is a problem in fiction; whereas Wood regresses to the brute solution of gutting rather than engaging. He substitutes gaming style and interior obsession, both of which, lacking much of any refreshing flow of plot, quickly turn miasmic: Flaubert, for example, and many another dried flower fainting from the sun, subsisting in pavement cracks, huddling in quite small corners of life.

Today’s “Hysterical Realism,” Wood notes in his aptly titled essay “Human, All Too Inhuman,” of work like that of early Zadie Smith, “does not lack for powers of invention. The problem is there is too much of it” creating such a welter of details that “as realism, it is incredible; as satire, it is cartoonish; as cartoon, it is too realistic; and anyway, we are not led toward… consciousness…” but instead are deluged in narrative that “is all shiny externality,” the too-often shallow or chaotic, driveled, and boring juvenilia that Alter finds in earlier novels and that Wood notes of a passage in Smith’s White Teeth, which:

might stand, microcosmically, for her novel’s larger dilemma of storytelling: on its own, almost any of these details (except perhaps the detail about passing the shit and piss through the cat-flap) might be persuasive. Together, they vandalize each other: the Presbyterian dipsomaniacs and the Mormon aunt make impossible the reality of the fanatical Muslim.

In a remarkably similar observation almost thirty years prior, Alter notes that Pynchon’s highly acclaimed novel Gravity’s Rainbow is also greatly marred, because:

If history is no longer a realm of concatenation, if there are no necessary connections among discrete events and no possibility of a hierarchy of materials ranged along some scale of significance, any associative chain of fantasies, any crotchety hobbyistic interest, any technical fascination with the rendering of odd trivia, can be pursued by the novelist as legitimately as the movement of supposedly ‘significant’ actions. The end of history, in other words, is a writer’s license for self-indulgence, and Pynchon utilizes that license for page after dreary page of Gravity’s Rainbow as he describes at incredible length varieties of turds in a sewer, varieties of revolting wine-jelly candies in a British cupboard, varieties of bizarre sexual combinations in a very long daisy-chain, and so forth. The lack of selectivity leads to local flaws; the unwillingness to make differential judgments about historical events results in a larger inadequacy of the novel as a whole.

Notice that Alter accurately speaks of the “lack of selectively” rather than the “selectivity” that is actually more-or-less randomness, blurring detail and meaning. More recently, when Alter is not translating and introducing ancient religious texts, he still finds time to comment on classic fiction. In his book published 2005, Imagined Cities: Urban Experience and the Language of the Novel, Alter states:

Flaubert’s breakthrough in the representation of the urban realm was to perceive the modern metropolis simultaneously as a locus of powerful, exciting, multifarious stimuli and as a social and spatial reality so vast and inchoately kinetic that it defied taxonomies and thematic definition… Flaubert’s novel [The Sentimental Education] marks a moment of transition in which the stylistic unity, the syntactic coherence, and the temporal continuity of realist fiction are preserved while the certitude of realist representation is rejected. The city begins to show a phantasmagoric face…

Then come Joyce, Ellison, Pynchon, DeLillo in part, but how much of Achebe, Toer, Mahfouz, Gordimer, Coetzee, Thiong’o, Updike, Philip Roth, Franzen? And which authors tend to be more visible in text due to their extra stylist gyrations than the others? The Flaubertian invisibles, seems to me. Bellow and Morrison may be more mixed, but let’s say one can pick out two accomplished and somewhat distinct tendencies, both of some quality, both of mixed normative import – it seems to me that the potential of the latter tendency remains key and greater – largely because of its greater ability to clearly express and substantially communicate. Such fiction may still be extraordinarily appealing and intriguing of aesthetics, for those who value that above all. And this tendency may also incorporate modernist tendencies – no reason why it should not, to a degree.

Seen from this vantage, Flaubert stands as a landmark figure of what? He is celebrated for celebrating incommunicability, nothingness, and blurring meaning (not least by Victor Brombert in his keen study, The Novels of Flaubert). It’s all so inspiring to the “moderns.” That’s quite an aesthetic turn, an esthete’s turn, a turn for stasis, and not much more than a particular aesthetic emphasis but then there is the retrograde politicization (ostensibly apolitical) with debilitating normative and aesthetic effects. As such, Flaubert and the moderns are scarcely what Wood and others make them out to be: the leading lights of fiction. These are strains of fiction celebrated, vaunted, rendered iconic out of all proportion to their real value. Flaubert serves, even slaves, for the establishment by the establishment, and his example is near bankrupt for progressives, for popular efforts at social progress, even for revealing the full human condition, its reality and potential. There is only so much “nothingness,” “incommunicability,” and “blurring” a story can withstand before it turns miasmic or resorts desperately to shiny puerility – no matter its “overwhelming density of actual historical detail,” as Alter makes note, let alone an oblivious lack.

Misrepresentation 12 – “juvenility” of plot: Frequently in How Fiction Works, as Wood examines elements of favored canonical texts, one gets the sense of a man sitting in a closet folding his special clothes or, more literally, cloistered in den reviewing favored fictions as the only precious thing around apart from himself – all lines to the world cut off. Such is life without plot – the great mixing grounds of life – derided as categorically juvenile, the “essential juvenility of plot.”

No wonder Wood attempts to reach “the real” in fiction by way of fastidious intimacies of “style…point of view…perception of detail, and…character.” Unreal, not to prioritize action and events also, idea and purpose, the social and the public. Instead: styled purviews forever peering, sensing…themselves? Wood’s semi-notion of the “essential juvenility” of plot might be insulting I suppose to such masters of plot as Victor Hugo in Les Misérables or Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Wizard of the Crow, if such a notion were not so marvelously blank, so replete of silly. No wonder Wood adores authors like Henry James, turning blinded eyes from James’ voids and retrograde lines. To “[think] like writers,” according to Wood, is to “attend to style, to words, to form, to metaphor and imagery,” and HFW tries to “offer a writer’s answers” to “critic’s questions,” “essential questions about the art of fiction,” questions about “reality…metaphor…character…detail…point of view…imaginative sympathy…” and “why fiction moves us,” while questions of plot are cast aside, derided as “juvenility,” possibly because, as painter Ben Shahn notes, “Some [critics], more innocent and more modern, have been taught – schooled – to look at [art] in such a way as to make them wholly unaware of content….” Schooled by the establishment, and paid for reproducing it, faithfully. No plot past this line, says the headmaster. But the true truants are not readily schooled.

 

 

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