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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, May 05, 2008


I seem to be back to full intestinal health--praise be.

This morning I continue to type notes from different books--The New Larousse Encyclopedia of the Earth (not so new now; I received it as a present in about 1973), Anatomy of Criticism, The White Goddess. Searching, typing--what am I doing?

I'm not really sure. I'm looking for something, but what? Can I even say?

The first word that jumps to mind is unity. I'm looking for unity. A work of art is, after all, one thing--a unit. Everything in it must belong. How do you decide what belongs? It's partly intuitive, partly rational, or so I find. I think about John Constable, fussily reworking his paintings. I believe that in his masterpiece, The Hay Wain, he painted the dog (walking along the near shore of the pond) in and out of the picture more than once. Not just the dog, but other elements too. Constable had a hard time deciding what belonged in a picture.

A work of art, such as a novel, is like a landscape: it is a visible thing whose features are supported by a host of invisible factors that stretch out into the whole universe. Its richness and uniqueness and beauty derive from the specific conjunction of those factors.

I'm looking for things I can use. I'm searching the most likely places, trying to let intuition guide me as much as possible. For the artist does not create ex nihilo, but assembles things that he or she finds. Creation is a matter of combination. To have a range of things to combine, you need to go hunting.

So I'm hunting. It's almost like beachcombing, or like the old guy I saw in the Hinnom Valley outside the walls of old Jerusalem in 1981, walking slowly down the slope with a metal detector, looking for coins or other bits of treasure not yet found.

Yes, after all these years, still assembling my construction materials.

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