Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Fiction as Exception" by Bernardo Carvalho

Today I read an exceptional essay by Brazilian writer Bernardo Carvalho titled "Fiction as Exception" (Luso-Brazilian Review (47:1)). The upcoming theme for Fiction International is "DV8," and I found myself reflecting on Carvalho's constant attempts to subvert what he sees as the tropes of "best selling" or so-called "non-serious-fiction" by intentionally creating works of "experimental" fiction.

Perhaps Carvalho says it best toward the end of his essay: "Being a reactive writer, who often works out of tantrums, against what I see around me, I could not refrain from ending up associating fiction (a very particular kind of fiction, I must say, "experimental" fiction for the want of a better word) with authorship and rupture. I believe this is the main conscious motive behind my writings: to search for literature where it is least expected, to turn what would be considered flawed by collective standards into my own literary qualities." (page 8).

I believe it is in this spirit of experimental, ruptured, and flawed writing that Fiction International operates.

An excerpt of Carvalho's essay is below.

from FICTION AS EXCEPTION by Bernardo Carvalho
Luso-Brazilian Review 47:1

"What I am trying to say here - and this is what I really believe in as a writer - is something quite evident, but which is progressively being questioned from different fronts and angles: literature is the result of a subjective, singular and individual act. It is created out of conventions and, in the case of the modern western tradition, conventions which were often conceived against conventions. The problem now is that a new generation is coming of age under the spell of a general corporate ideology in which you do not want to use art and literature as a means against conventions anymore, but rather against your own capacity to break with the conventions. You should not question the net. It has become a second nature. It aims at not having anything outside itself. You can be a self-proclaimed writer in the internet with no original writing, reproducing what is being done everywhere around you, publicizing your personality instead of going against the conventions of your own time (in which case you probably would not be read on the net). It has become more important to be socially recognized as a writer than to write unexpected work, to have a function than to create rupture. Functionally, it is as if there were no conventions anymore and art (or literature) was just a natural act of expression and creativity which could be done, democratically, by anyone, and evaluated and shared by objective and measurable criteria. Of course, these criteria can only be given by the market (how many people read and praise a book or a blog) or by the previous and palpable reality a book represents (thus the hegemony of non-fiction and of fiction that expresses the direct experience of its author). By this logic, what makes a good book is less the ability of an author to invent, to imagine and to create new unexpected things or to go against conventional consensus than the ability of the author to share his or her own life experiences and to represent and reassert the world we already share, see and understand.

Being a reactive writer, who often works out of tantrums, against what I see around me, I could not refrain from ending up associating fiction (a very particular kind of fiction, I must say, "experimental" fiction for the want of a better word) with authorship and rupture. I believe this is the main conscious motive behind my writings: to search for literature where it is least expected, to turn what would be considered flawed by collective standards into my own literary qualities.

Recently, after hearing another Brazilian writer say that literature does not search for truth, as science does, but that it is the representation and incorporation of different discourses of reality, I understood more clearly that in fact the literature I am interested in is, on the contrary, the result of a search for truth, for a truth that is not in the world we see. It is a literature more interested in the invention of what has yet to be created than with representation of what we already recognize around us. Of course, this invention can sometimes only be conceived by allusion. It is a tentative act, which strives to say things that cannot be said, a literature (and now I am speaking about my books) that uses the conventions of realism to show the frailty of these same conventions. It is a literature that rejects the already established poetic and metaphoric standards, sometimes through apparently banal, neutral and non-literary language, as it tries to show literature where it is least expected. It is a literature, as you may have understood by now, fascinated by paradoxes. It is a working-process literature, as if truth could only happen in movement, before being said and understood, and could only make sense before making sense, before being unanimously accepted as truth.

Of course, there is in these books a consciousness of our time, of humanity as a self-destructive element. They are books informed by a kind of ill-resolved humanism, in which the consciousness of our own evil is not enough to make us refrain from it, since it is at the same time the reason for our immediate survival. Writing about Brazil, in his The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald, the late German writer, tells us that "Our propagation on earth comes with the carbonization of superior vegetable species and, in a more general way, the unstoppable burning of every combustible substance (...) everything is combustion, and combustion is the intimate principle of every object made by us." This consciousness of the human being as paradox is behind the narrative structures of my novels and the characters I am interested in, fighting their own conventions from within, in order to see what their condition forbids them to see. And it brings me to the place where I recognize the artistic act and its tragic nature, being the herald of a consciousness that is never enough, as if looking for an unconceivable truth that could save us from what we are.

I am not a religious person, I do not believe in any god, and I do not abide by any church, but I recognize the religious aspect of what I have just said. In fact, I would agree if you told me that it has to do with faith. Faith in literature as a way of transcendence, of widening the world we live in and its understandings - not necessarily with good will and good universal feelings that become commonplace and therefore can be easily marketed, but by tackling our most contradictory, paradoxical and obscure spots. This is what I call literary truth, the product of authorship, of an individual subjectivity that cannot be unanimously or consensually taken, nor can it be conceived before its own creation."

3 comments:

Gary Lain said...

Good post Tyrone, thought provoking. There is an overtly political dimension to Carvalho's critique that he avoids, for whatever reason, one that involves the struggle for social justice.

Harold Jaffe said...

There are interesting things in Carvalho's discourse, but also seemingly improvisatory declarations.

One can no longer speak of science without speaking of technology. In fact, most, if not virtually all, science is either allied with technology or indistinguishable from technology (Virilio).

Re the Internet: it is not a question of getting rid of it but of being in position to adjust it, to work toward an "intermediate technology" (Schumacher) which addresses sentient beings' needs but does not exceed them in profit-mad even hubristic ways.

As far as what literature can and cannot do in this degraded epoch, the author seems unable to specify that with any clarity.

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