Because I Can’t Help It: More DFW on FDM

“What seems most important is that Dostoevsky’s near-death experience [as a young writer, FMD was thrown in jail for conspiracy and sentenced to be executed. His executioners blindfolded him and tied him to a stake and waited until the executioners yelled, “Aim!” before having a messenger ride in on a horse to grant reprieve. Such was, apparently, a very common method of scaring the daylights out of people in a way that only Russians could do.] changed a typically vain and trendy young writer—a very talented writer, true, but still one whose basic concerns were for his own literary glory—into a person who believed deeply in moral/spiritual values…more, into someone who believed that a life lived without moral/spiritual values was not just incomplete but depraved.

The big thing that makes Dostoevsky invaluable for American readers and writers is that he appears to possess degrees of passion, conviction, and engagement with deep moral issues that we – here today – cannot or do not permit ourselves. . . … Frank’s bio prompts us to ask ourselves why we seem to require of our art an ironic distance from deep convictions or desperate questions, so that contemporary writers have to either make jokes of them or else try to work them in under cover of some formal trick like intertextual quotation or incongruous juxtaposition, sticking the really urgent stuff inside asterisks as part of some multivalent defamiliarization-flourish or some[thing]. . .So he—we, fiction writers—won’t (can’t) dare try to use serious art to advance ideologies. People would either laugh or be embarrassed for us. Given this (and it is a given), who is to blame for the unseriousness of our serious fiction? The culture, the laughers? But they wouldn’t (could not) laugh if a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction  was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction. But how to make that? How—for a writer today, even a talented writer today—to get up the guts to even try? There are no formulas or guarantees. There are, however, models.”

[Consider the Lobster; pgs 270-2]


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