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"...not quite dreaming and not quite waking..."

In The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, John Banville (talking with Ben Ehrenreich) discusses the difference between writing fiction and criticism, both of which Banville has done extensively:

In the matter of fiction and criticism I have a split personality, although no doubt each pursuit informs the other, in superficial ways. I was a newspaper copy editor for nearly twenty years; it must have taught me something about precision, clarity, punctuation, etc. Reviewing - and I consider myself a reviewer, not a critic - is a kind of knack that one develops. When one is young one expects to be able to say everything in a review that one feels and thinks about the work under consideration, but rapidly one comes to realize that the demands imposed by word length and deadline and so on mean that one must choose a couple of ideas and reactions and concentrate on them. Fiction - making art - is an altogether more mysterious business, which involves and invokes everything one has to give.

I might put it this way: For me, reviewing is done while I'm awake, and thinking as far as possible in a straight line; art is done while I'm in a form of hypnagogic state that is not quite dreaming and not quite waking. I know all this sounds hopelessly nineteenth-century High Romantic, but there you are.

There may indeed be a dichotomy between writing fiction and criticism, but not for the first reason cited by Banville. Because even in fiction, a writer has to "choose a couple of ideas and reactions and concentrate on them." Because without that focus, the likely result is a 2,000-page doorstop novel that is all but unreadable.

December 1, 2011 in Books | Permalink

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