April 10, 2009


"How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise–the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream–be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book–to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves. "
--John Steinbeck's Cannery Row
Can we get close, really close, to something and manage not to destroy it if we earnestly wish to find out everything there is to know about it? In the process, it seems we often must sacrifice either our curiosity, or whatever it is we are curious about; the two have a tough time coexisting. Consider this: Has man found a way to view something at the highest magnification power (i.e. with an electron microscope) without killing it in the process? No, at least not yet, and maybe not ever.

But all science aside, with fiction, perhaps Steinbeck can have it both ways – in effect "let the stories crawl in by themselves," and then fully equip them to survive the relentless penetration of sharp, prying readers' eyes.

It might help that by definition, fictitious events and characters never really took place or existed, so as much as we poke, prod, or tear them apart to put their guts on display, we can't really have killed them if they never existed in the first place. (Right?) With fiction, we can satisfy our curiosity about sometimes-realistic fabrications without having to sacrifice anything. We are seeing all there is–and all there can be–of a world, without having to penetrate it to death with laser beams. With fiction, we can get the best of both worlds, like Miley Cyrus, whose movie, incidentally, premiered today. Kind of creepy I knew that.

For some reason, all this gets me thinking about a certain part of Middlemarch:
"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."
So, moderation = good. In fact, in order to survive, George Eliot's words suggest that we must moderate what passes through our radars, or else we'd die from all that stimulation. As long as we may live, it is impossible to always, if ever, hear the sound the grass makes as it grows.

1 comment:

Christine said...

MILEY CYRUS? please nOOoo...you're banned from my apartment if you ever mention that obnoxious person again.