Several months back I realized that there are quite a few relatively contemporary authors that are not on everyone’s reading list. One clue to this phenomenon was that the best-seller and must read lists being published around the internet and even on ink & paper publications seemed to contain the same dozen or so authors month after month with only a few new authors touted, often because their first novels either came out of some prestigious creative writing school or because they followed the rules of popular fiction espoused by the more established and possibly less imaginative best-selling authors.
I recently read a piece in the New York Times Book Section that had me shaking my head. The subject of Bookends was “Is the Writer’s Only Responsibility to His Art?” The direction of this inquiry seemed obviously focused on the artist’s approach to his or her art (in this case literature) but the responses to the question clearly misinterpreted it to refer to the other responsibilities the artist might have, to his kids or to some moral code imposed by society or religion.
The quotation is from that drunken rascal William Faulkner (watch the film Barton Fink for a fun fictional representation of a Faulkner close).
Perhaps here is an opportunity to recall Parker’s Myths of Literature:
The New York Times continues to offer age-old questions that can be answered in as may ways as the wind blows. This week it was Should Literature Be Considered Useful? This, of course, begs the question of whether we should consider this question useful, let alone ask what we mean by literature. I suppose no one would even consider asking if art was useful (a good painting can hide those pesky nail holes left by the not-as-good painting you gave to the Animal Shelter for their annual fund raiser).
Doing a mind dump about literature I know that it generates many jobs—writer, publisher, editor, bookseller, etc.—and has a huge secondary market in the folks that purchase the books, read the books, and study the books in school (not to mention the billions and billions of reading groups on the internet). But what do they say in Bookends?
For his early novel, The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” Joseph Conrad wrote a very interesting and thoughtful Preface. Not all editions of this work include the Preface so I want to share it with everyone. The subject is art and the artist: in this case the writer. Conrad is a serious writer and this Preface should be read with the expectation of some effort and thought. Do you agree with Conrad? Do his thoughts fit in with more contemporary views of art and literature? Have you read The Nigger of the “Narcissus”?
Those readers that want to experience this work by Joseph Conrad are in luck: Project Gutenberg contains the text of The Nigger of the “Narcissus” with the Preface intact.