Ana Luísa Amaral
Of Fiction Which is Everything
“Fiction and the Dream”. This is the name of the exquisite short text-statement by John Banville on the process of literary creation. And I, who come from poetry, who, even having written a novel, still feel it emerged from poetry, I read this title and think: in literature, fiction is everything. In fact, was it not Wallace Stevens who said in a poem “Poetry is the supreme fiction”? So, I can actually talk about poetry and about what I feel as an affinity between what Banville writes and the creative process of that whole which is fiction.
Banville begins by speaking of the dream, not in its symbolic, oneiric dimension, but of that state occurring during sleep, which Shakespeare claimed was made of the same stuff as ourselves. He talks of waking “in the morning, feeling light-headed, even somewhat dazed.” This would be the first stage of creation, that of mystery, the awe before what is still a shapeless mass- a mass or matter which, being worked and allowed to enter (allowed to enter, I stress, because I believe in what one calls “inspiration” and I think so does Banville, if we are to believe his text) will produce the short story, or some paragraphs of a novel, or a poem.
Further on, referring to the office, that sort of space perceived as sacrosanct by others, Banville queries on the author: “What deities does he commune with, in there, what rituals does he enact? Surely he knows something that others, the uninitiates, do not; surely he is privy to a wisdom far beyond theirs.”
And I recall the poet Denise Levertov and her famous statement, “To contemplate comes from ‘templum, temple, a place, a space for observation, marked out by the augur.’ It means not simply to observe, to regard, but to do these things in the presence of a god. And to meditate is ‘to keep the mind in a state of contemplation.’” These are similar matters here: Banville, the Irish writer, ponders on that point to which only the initiates have access, Levertov, the English author, later naturalized North- American, declaring the importance of meditation to be able to create.
Later, Banville clarifies: “The writer is not a priest, not a shaman, not a holy dreamer.” However, as he claims, “his work is dragged up out of that darksome well where the essential self-cowers, in fear of the light.” It is another form of saying that, in the paradox which is that of the writer “indeed, he probably knows less” than the others, as he works “in darkness”, he understands (or perceives, or senses) the light in an ineffable way. I agree with this idea/notion/concept of “light”, even if Banville does not mention light, but “darkness”. Reading him, between the lines, I can therefore only conclude that for there to be darkness, one must have light, and it is out of that luminosity that creation emerges. Thus, I bring Banville, to my field, which is poetry – actually not so removed from his, the novel. The language in which both novelist and poet speak belongs to a zone, which, just like metaphor, coincides only partially with the language we speak in our daily lives. In the field of discoincidence would stand the characteristics of what makes a poem, a short story or a novel. This zone, the moment one crosses it, stands away from the wider and safer zone, but is always recognizable when one looks back. And as one enters another zone, the wild one, that of the short story, of the novel, or of poetry, and the territory becomes more rugged, so is the unknown more present and so the uncharted matter at the end of the crossing becomes harder and more poignant.
But always this crossing presupposes the reader, on whom Banville reasons in his text. A contract is really established, between the one who writes, and who, in another way, reproduces what has been written. Therefore, the truth of the text is exactly that: its truths, diverse from the other ones, that of life, and of the person who produced the text, in the same way as the identity of the text is already and always a fractured identity, regarding the author or the factual evidence.
The truth of the text is another sort of truth, but it is not a lie: it is feigning – therefore fiction, although necessarily tangential to life. Feigning is just a different form of accessing truth. That is why one wakes the wife who is beside you, or, in case one has no one by one’s side, as is my case, one talks to oneself, sometimes at the mirror, and says “would you like to see what I wrote, what did you write, my other side, my recondite self, but my own self too? Look.” And the one who asks does not understand the other, the one in the mirror, she cannot, as Banville says “see the bare trees and the darkened air, the memory of which is darkening the very air around them now—how can she not hear the murmurous voices, as he heard them?”
To hear these voices is to bring into oneself the past and the memory; it is to fill them with futures, of worlds-to-be. Therefore to conclude, like Banville, that “the writing of fiction” (and I add “the writing of poetry”) “is much more than telling stories. It is an ancient, an elemental, urge which springs, like the dream, from a desperate imperative to encode and preserve things that are buried in us deep beyond words. This is its significance, its danger and its glory.”
Through danger and through glory, there she stands: the word of literature. The evergreen. The flower and state of being in the world forever being green- and new.
Translated from Portuguese by Filomena Louro