Monday, July 01, 2002

Digression and digressions.
I've wanted to put up something on the problems of form and content, subject and style.

The more I write, the more I realize that the beauty of good prose is in its relative as opposed to absolute sense of precision. The goal for an author is to move him/herself and the reader gracefully but not too gracefully from one subject to the next, and at certain points to offer a more distilled observation. But though in an essay or a piece of technical writing one may know which passages are merely structural or secondary and which constitutive, in a work of fiction the author may have one idea and the majority of readers another, and in the long run the readers usually will be right.

A good writer works in a distinctive way, but within the bounds of his or her work the tools are going to be from the set of stock effects until that moment when something seems, perhaps in an illusion, to be more. The beauty of writing is precisely the tricks and stock effects that lead in to other moments, the moments that we remember more for themselves, but which wouldn't succeed without the less dramatic stuff that came before. In writing fiction the goal is to write well enough, enough of the time and to allow those other passages to create themselves out of our imagination. Whether the author recognizes them as such or sees them as he sees the rest is irrelevant.

My first visit to the Prado is something I'll never forget, specifically my accidental discovery of a Fra Angelico, which I stumbled on walking down the hall from Las Meninas. After a moment standing in front of it, I began to cry. The transition from Velazquez' surprisingly modern sense of doubt to a vision of deeply sincere but equally sophisticated faith was shocking.

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