The Instinct is to Kill It

Joy Williams, “Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223” by Paul Winner, The Paris Review 209 (Summer 2014)

I wonder if understanding the dream is really what must be done. Can we incorporate and treasure and be nourished by that which we do not understand? Of course. Understanding something, especially in these tech times, seems to involve ruthless appropriation and dismantlement and diminishment. I think of something I clipped from the paper and can’t lay my hands on. This peculiar aquatic creature who lives deep within the sea — it looked like a very long eel — came up to the surface, where it was immediately killed and displayed by a dozen or so grinning people on a California beach. Didn’t have a chance to evolve, that one. Curiosity by the nonhuman is not honored in this life. For many people, when confronted with the mysterious, the other, the instinct is to kill it. Then it can be examined.

This Obsessional Looking at the Human

Dan Kois, “The Misanthropic Genius of Joy Williams,” The New York Times Magazine 2 September 2015

“Could this obsessional looking at the human bring about the death of literature?” Williams asks.

Joy Williams, “Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223” by Paul Winner, The Paris Review 209 (Summer 2014)

We live and spawn and want — always there is this ghastly wanting— and we have done irredeemable harm to so much. Perhaps the novel will die and even the short story because we’ll become so damn sick of talking about ourselves.

Policing Language

Binoy Kampmark, “Pizza Danish, Franglais and Policing Language,” Counterpunch 14 September 2015

Even more strikingly, the battle being waged is against the incursions of American English, rather than more neighbourly intrusions from across the Channel. As Andrew Gallix notes, “American expressions are often adopted with far more enthusiasm in France than across the Channel” [1]. The enemy continues to lodge within.


The same piece appeared here:
Binoy Kampmark, “Pizza Danish, Franglais and Policing Language,” Eurasia Review 14 September 2015

A Supplementary Work

Roland Barthes, Preface, Critical Essays (1964)

What marks the critic is therefore a secret practice of the indirect: in order to remain secret, the indirect must here take shelter under the very figures of the direct, of transitivity, of discourse about others. Whence a language which cannot be received as ambiguous, reticent, allusive, or disclaiming. The critic is like a logician who “fills” his functions with true argu­ments and yet secretly asks us to appreciate only the validity of his equations, not their truth — even while hoping, by a final silent ruse, that this pure validity will function as the very sign of his existence.

There is, then, a certain misapprehension attached by its very structure to the critical work, but this misapprehension cannot be exposed in the critical language itself, for such ex­posure would constitute a new direct form, in other words an additional mask; in order for the circle to be broken, for the critic to speak of himself with exactitude, he would have to transform himself into a novelist, that is, to substitute for the direct falseness under which he takes shelter, a declared in­directness — declared as the indirectness of all fictions is declared.

This is doubtless why the novel is always the critic’s horizon: the critic is the man who is going to write and who, like the Proustian narrator, satisfies this expectation with a supple­mentary work, who creates himself by seeking himself and whose function is to accomplish his project of writing even while eluding it. The critic is a writer, but a writer postponed; like the writer, he wants to be believed less because of what he writes than because of his decision to write it; but unlike the writer, he cannot sign that desire; he remains condemned to error — to truth.

Works Which Are Nothing But Their Own Project

Roland Barthes, Preface, Critical Essays (1964)

The material text (the Book) may therefore have from its author’s point of view, an inessential and even to a certain de­gree an inauthentic character. Hence we often find works which are, by a fundamental ruse, nothing but their own project: the work is written by seeking the work, which begins fictively when it is terminated practically. Is this not the meaning of A la re­cherche du temps perdu — to present the image of a book which is written exclusively by seeking the Book?

Potential for Disorder

Susan Sontag, “At the Same Time: The Novelist and Moral Reasoning,” At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches

Every fictional plot contains hints and traces of the stories it has excluded or resisted in order to assume its present shape. Alternatives to the plot ought to be felt up to the last moment. These alternatives constitute the potential for disorder (and therefore of suspense) in the story’s unfolding.