Monday, March 04, 2013

What happens to people in novels?

--All right, that's enough of that. Didn't the two of you get started on this new thing he's going to work on while I wasn't here?

--Of course, Valentine said, his tone returned to its agreeable level, with an ingratiating edge to it as he turned to Brown and went on, --We decided to write a novel about you, since you don't exist.

Recktall Brown did look startled at that. But he recovered immediately to take off his glasses and turn his sharp eyes on Basil Valentine. --We're going to get down to business right now, he said.

--Brown doesn't exist, you must admit, Valentine went on. --He's a figment of a Welsh rarebit taken before retiring. A projection of my unconscious. Though a rather abiding one, I must confess.

--By God, Brown said, --if you don't settle down and be serious. . .

--But my dear man, I am being serious. I am the only person in this room who exists. You are both projections of my unconscious, and so I shall write a novel about you both. But I don't know what I can do with you, he said, turning to the other chair.

--With me? He almost smiled at Basil Valentine. --Why not?

--Because, my dear fellow, no one knows what you're thinking. And that is why people read novels, to identify projections of their own unconscious. The hero has to be fearfully real, to convince them of their own reality, which they rather doubt. A novel without a hero would be distracting in the extreme. They have to know what you think, or good heavens, how can they now that you're going through some wild conflict, which is after all the duty of a hero.


--What happens? In this novel?

--What happens? Basil Valentine turned his full face.

--To me. The cab jolted to a start.

--Why, to you? Good heavens, I haven't the faintest notion. Valentine laughed shortly, looking ahead again. --I was about to say earlier, of necessity. . . but tell me, when you were a child. . . .

--Necessity, yes. Yes, a hero? John Huss. . . .

--Huss? Hardly, today, eh? John Huss? Someone's said, you know, anyone who accepts a martyr's part today is a coward. And you? what happens to you? he went on hurriedly. --I suppose you. . . well, let's say you eat your father, canonize your mother, and . . . what happens to people in novels? I don't read them. You drown, I suppose.

--That's too romantic.

--Novels are romantic.

--As though, death could end it?

--Have it your way, there is a step after death then. Valentine sat back and clasped his knee with folded hands. --After all, my dear fellow, you are an artist, and nothing can happen to you. An artist does not exist, except as a vehicle for his work. If you live simply in a world of shapes and smells? You're bound to become just that. Why your life, the way you live. . .

--Yes, I don't live, I'm . . . lived, he whispered.

Valentine turned to see him gripping his face in the breadth of a hand, whose finger-ends had gone white at the temple. --But, do you know how I feel sometimes? The hand dropped to clutch Valentine's arm, and Valentine looked up into the feverish eyes. --Like. . . as though I were reading a novel, yes. And then, reading it, but the hero fails to appear, fails to be working out some plan of comedy or, disaster? All the materials are there, yes. The sounds, the images, telephones and telephone numbers? The ships and subways, the. . . the. . .

--The half-known people, Valentine interrupted easily, --who miss the subways and lose each other's telephone numbers? Cavorting about dressed in the absurd costumes of the author's chaotic imagination, talking about each other. .  .

--Yes, while I wait. I wait. Where is he? Listen, he's there all the time. None of them moves, but it reflects him, none of them. . .  reacts, but to react with him, none of them hates but to hate with him, to hate him, and loving. . . . none of them loves, but, loving . . .


The cab swerved suddenly.

--William Gaddis, The Recognitons

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