Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lies and metaphors

Here’s an interesting passage from Colm Toibin’s review of Wendy Moffat’s new biography of E.M.Forster in this morning’s New York Times Book Review:
... novels should not be honest. They are a pack of lies that are also a set of metaphors; because the lies and metaphors are chosen and offered shape and structure, they may indeed represent the self, or the play between the unconscious mind and the conscious will, but they are not forms of self-expression, or true confession.
 I learned in high school a worthless but not ridiculous definition of a novel: a long work of fiction. Toibin’s assertion is a nice, concise go at answering the obvious question: what is (or isn’t) fiction?. I had terrific English teachers at school, but I would have killed for an atmosphere that would have allowed “...they are a pack of lies” to enter the discussion.

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This review was paired with one by David Leavitt of Selina Hastings’ new bio of Somerset Maugham, and in reading them I learned something that amazed me: Forster was five years the younger. If asked, I would have said Forester was at least a decade older. But he was essentially finished as a novelist with A Passage to India in 1924, while Maugham carried on long after.

2 comments:

Martin Benedict O'Brien II said...

The best, most concise and compelling definition of a novel I ever heard was by John Gardner:
"a fictive dream"

I don't know much about Freud but I know this much about dreams: they try to tell us something.

Something true.

As my favorite English professor, Dr. Barry Leeds said, "Novels?, It's true even if it never happened"

Martin Benedict O'Brien II said...

Hi,

Just heard about a book The Invisible Gorilla which seems to bolster your argument in this post. my take: the memory is a dynamic, ego-centric process. If that is true, then what is History?