Why great writing needs good etiquette
Decorum as a concept
means ‘not offending’, ‘good taste’ and all that.
And decorum in writing is a completely different concept.
And all it means is
that the content should suit ——
the style should suit the content.
It has nothing to do with good taste.
No writer worth anything is bothered by good taste.
What is good taste?
It’s a shallow consensus of a certain kind of
right thinking individual or group of individuals.
It’s measuring what you’re saying to how you’re saying it
and tremendously foundational principle for writing.
And the experimental writer will, of course,
instinctively transgress against these rules.
But you’ve got to realise
that all your guide ropes are being jettisoned,
and the goodwill of the reader is not infinite,
it’s usually very high as you open a novel.
But if you mess around with the reader at your whim,
that goodwill is very quickly used up.
stream of consciousness—even Joyce has a very low success rate with it.
You have to be a genius to write stream of consciousness,
and even the supreme genius, Joyce,
wrote his long novel —— he spent 15 years
on Finnegan’s Wake, which is flat out unreadable.
And even Ulysses, only about 25 percent ofUlysses works.
And I’ve come more and more to the conclusion
that if it’s social realism, your writing,
那么它要遵循礼数 —- 意味着这部小说是社交的形式
and it obeys —- it means the novel is a sociable form.
And the writer is like a host and the reader is like a guest.
And if you, when you visit a Nabokov novel
就好像 他已经给了你最好的 离壁炉最近的椅子
it is as if he has given you his best chair nearest to the fire
and given you his best wine
and given you his full attention in the most tactful and sensitive way.
If you went around to Joyce’s house,
you’d find the address didn’t exist.
then you would find some sort of outbuilding where Joyce lives,
and then he wouldn’t be in apparently.
And then you would shout for him and
eventually, a figure would appear,
and he would talk to you in a language you’d never heard of before.
And instead of giving you a delicious dinner as Nabokov does,
Joyce would give you two slabs of peat around a conger eel and
It would be some repulsive drink he’d made himself.
To leave social realism—and I’ve done it,
and most writers do it a couple of times in their career,
is a great statement of arrogance and introversion,
而且 离开社会现实主义道路 存在巨大风险
and there are huge risks involved in leaving the path of social realism.
And writers will be tempted to do it every now and then,
and sometimes you can bring it off.
But you say goodbye to
all the etiquette of social intercourse
which governs the novel, as it governs all our dealings.