Inspirational Verse

In a work of fiction, one assumes there is a conscious mind behind the words on the page. In the presence of happenings in the so-called real world, one assumes nothing. The made-up story consists entirely of meanings, whereas the story of fact is devoid of any significance beyond itself. If a man says to you, “I’m going to Jerusalem,” you think to yourself: how nice, he’s going to Jerusalem. But if a character in a novel were to speak those same words, “I’m going to Jerusalem,” your response is not at all the same. You think, to begin with, of Jerusalem itself: its history, it religious role, its function as a mythical place. You would think of the past, of the present (politics; which is also to think of the recent past), and of the future—as in the phrase: “Next year in Jerusalem.” On top of that you would integrate those thoughts into whatever it is you already know about the character who is going to Jerusalem and use this new synthesis to draw further conclusions, refine perceptions, think more cogently about the book as a whole. And then, once the work is finished, the last page read and the book closed, interpretations begin: psychological, historical, sociological, structural, philological, religious, sexual, philosophical, either singly or in various combinations, depending on your bent. Although it is possible to interpret a real life according to any of these systems (people do, after all, go to priests and psychiatrists; people do sometimes try to understand their lives in terms of historical conditions), it does not have the same effect. Something is missing: the grandeur, the grasp of the general, the illusion of metaphysical truth.

Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude

3 thoughts on “Inspirational Verse

    1. True, but a) it’s harder to do that kind of “reading” in real life than it is with and novel, and b) there’s a high risk of diminishing real human beings by “reading” them that way. (Try telling a war vet who’s lost a limb that the incident he suffered through was a metaphor for something.) I don’t think Auster is saying anything especially brilliant here, but I was struck at how clear a statement it made about the distinctions between how we look at real life and fictional life. I’m not sure if anybody’s looked at it in any depth.

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