Indeed, all books, each and every book ever written, could be said to be offered to the reader as a form of self-help. Textbooks, those whores, are particularly explicit in acknowledging this…
I’ve always said there are – to oversimplify it – two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another, and I am definitely more of a gardener. In my Hollywood years when everything does work on outlines, I had to put on my architect’s clothes and pretend to be an architect. But my natural inclinations, the way I work, is to give my characters the head and to follow them.
“I don’t have a poem called ‘Snow,’ and I’m not going to the theater this evening. Your newspaper will look like it’s made a mistake.”
“Don’t be so sure. There are those who despise us for writing the news before it happens. They fear us not because we are journalists but because we can predict the future; you should see how amazed they are when things turn out exactly as we’ve written them. And quite a few things do happen only because we’ve written them up first. This is what modern journalism is all about. I know you won’t want to stand in the way of our being modern – you don’t want to break our hearts – so that is why I am sure you will write a poem called ‘Snow’ and then come to the theater to read it.”
The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the silence of snow.
A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I say “one chooses” with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who – when he has been seriously noted at all – has been praised for his technical ability; but do I in fact of my own will choose that black wet January night on the Common in 1946, the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain, or did these images choose me? It is convenient, it is correct according to the rules of my craft, to begin just there, but if I had believed then in a God, I could also have believed in a hand plucking at my elbow, a suggestion – “Speak to him; he hasn’t seen you yet.”
Art is the preservation of something that was. An insight. An object. A view. A story. An emotion. In that way, Gatsby was a misplaced artist, yearning for the past. It ruined him because he tried to recreate the past in the world instead of in art.
Everything all at once filled with possibility, everything in motion, everything imminent – Ira in the drama in every sense of the word. He has pulled off a great big act of control over the story that was his life. He is all at once awash in the narcissistic illusion that he has been sprung from the realities of pain and loss, that his life is not futility – that it’s anything but.
Bech had not always been an evil man. He had dedicated himself early to what appeared plainly a good cause, art. It was amusing and helpful to others, he imagined as he emerged from the Army, to turn contiguous bits of world into words, words which when properly arranged and typeset possessed a gleam that in worldless reality was lost beneath the daily accretions of habit, worry, and boredom. What harm could there be in art? What enemies could there be?
He had returned to the archetypical sense of what a book was: it was an elemental sheaf, bound together by love and daring, to be passed with excitement from hand to hand. Bech had expected the pathos, the implied pecking of furtive typewriters, but not the defiant beauty of the end result.