Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, November 8, 2013

in which I try to figure out what Lee Siegel is saying about fiction

Siegel:

It’s safe to say that, like life itself, fiction’s properties are countless and unquantifiable.

Well … okay. Can’t really disagree with that, though I’m not sure what it means.

If art is made ex nihilo — out of nothing —

But art isn’t made out of nothing, is it? It’s made out of pre-existing ideas, experiences, and materials. A painting is made from what the painter has seen and thought about and imagined. Also from paint and canvas. Even poems are made out of language, which pre-exists the poem and indeed the poet (a point to which I will return).

then reading is done in nihilo, or into nothing.

Okay, I have absolutely no idea what that means. I’m not sure what the preposition “into” does when you attach it to “reading,” but it seems to me that reading is always interactive with the text being read, probably with the (imagined) author, and often with other readers, including teachers, students, friends, online discussion groups. If I were forced to use Siegel’s strange syntax, I’d have to say that reading is done into many things.

Fiction unfolds through your imagination in interconnected layers of meaning that lift the heavy weight of unyielding facts from your shoulders.

Does it? Are all facts burdensome? Do no facts enter into fiction? Doesn’t the imagined, in fact, interact in powerful ways with the already-factual?

It speaks its own private language of endless nuance and inflection.

On the contrary, it speaks a public language, which others (we) can read and respond to. That’s really essential, isn’t it?

A tale is a reassuringly mortalized, if you will, piece of the oceanic infinity out of which we came, and back into which we will go.

“Mortalized”? Was it immortal before it got mortalized? And what precisely is the reassurance intrinsic to the mortalization of the previously immortal, or whatever it previously was? What did that tale look like when it was a “piece of oceanic infinity”? Also, does anything you’re saying here make any sense whatsoever?

That is freedom, and that is joy —

Wait, what is freedom and joy?

and then it is back to the quotidian challenge, to the daily grind, and to the necessity of attaching a specific meaning to what people are thinking and feeling, and to the urgency of trying, for the sake of love or money, to profit from it.

“Attaching a specific meaning” sounds pretty good right now.

1 comments:

  • I think that maybe if I substitute "instrumental music" for "fiction," it makes a *little* more sense...but if this is really how Mr. Siegel feels about fiction, he must get something completely different out of it than I do.

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