Writing, Control & Difference

Writing, Control and Difference

The novelist and well known wit Will Self contends everything a novelist writes is about them. We are not just referring to the differences between fiction and non-fiction. For Toni Morrison, fiction supplies the gaps in history and writing. The physical and metaphysical quality of writing allows this. Writing allows us to enter a realm that exists but cannot be controlled, and it therefore liberates us. The Tango Singer, Tomas Eloy Martinez’s 2006 remarkable novel, reveals how fiction can dominate a reality and still be fully political. To dismiss such work as escapism is to remain ignorant of its power. To find fiction that merges genres as outrageous and offensive, the literary equivalent of the quiet spinster aunt who rips off her clothes and snogs your best friend, is again a misunderstanding. In a continent that has been through so much violence and many dictatorships, such as Latin America, magical realism flourished. I would call my 2012 novel Unholy Days magical realist.

Behind it is the analysis of the brutal reality of exploitation, including people trafficking, framed through a poetic style, juxtaposed with a traditional teleological novel which I have to forgive myself for.

In practice, all forms can merge, which challenges everyone to think again, and again, expanding perceptions and horizons. This may upset those that like limited categorisation that want the repetition of the primal scene, or have become so at one with marketing discourse it is their only reality. The kid in the playground or that guy at work that must build a tower in a certain way or else will not be happy here, because this is subversive, or transgressive, if you will.

The problem is we are often taught to think within definite confines, which isn’t thinking at all, and then feed our minds with anything, including literature, that matches those confines. In this way we are comforted within the confines of our self-made prisons, and we are Nabokov’s ape, who given a brush can only draw the bars of its own cage. For Aldous Huxley, the only person without contradictions is a dead person, but in societies we often try and iron out contradictions as they threaten and confuse us. “Let’s sing from the same hymn sheet” is the rallying cry. And, if you don’t, you are an extremist and a terrorist, even though we all know the real terrorism is conformity. And so it is important to allow for this confusion and difference, to allow for paradox, including a tyranny of difference. Without it, we come not to Borges’ garden of forking paths, but the road of dead-ends. Conjurors of stories get spanked for ‘making shit up’ or for the antithesis ‘stealing from reality’, or for being blasphemous, as in Salman Rushdie, who had a fatwa against him for the novel The Satanic Verses. But Will Self is right. A novelist is someone who confuses his own life with that of his characters, as Alain Robbe-Grillet puts it. Let the confusion reign.

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