Since I have not written a novel for 16 years, my interest in this discussion, though lively, has been dispassionate; it is this which encourages me to try to give a detached impression of what has happened. As you know, when a meeting of this kind is a failure, everyone says: ‘at least
At first, things were complicated by the great diversity of points of view, especially in the West. It is very hard to imagine anyone being able to reply to some of the Russians in the name of all Western novelists. Each participant here spoke only for a specific group. In the second place, some of our Soviet friends expressed themselves in a manner which amounted to a refusal to discuss at all. But such extreme positions were rare, and compensated for by many others. In this respect our friends from the peoples’ democracies took up positions which helped us all to understand better each other’s point of view, and to see how the same principles govern the changes and developments in our ideas, whatever our standpoint.
Above all, we were able, if not to agree, at least to isolate a certain number of problems which should now be subjected to serious discussion. Do not misunderstand me: all the individual contributions have been of interest; but a discussion is really serious only when someone whose doctrine has been under fire is able to reply immediately, which is impossible in a meeting such as this. I think therefore that the problems which I am going to raise should be dealt with in another way, in a smaller committee.
The first, which Nathalie Sarraute brought out so well, is that in the East as in the West we do not choose our situation. We do not decide to write for a minority public, while the writers from the socialist countries choose a mass one. It is an objective fact that a mass public is not yet available to Western writers, or if it is they have to pass by way of the bourgeoisie to reach it. We have in our countries admirable series of paperbacks, which cost extremely little and are read by an ever wider public. But these series only include books which have already been published at a price which excludes most readers, so that when it comes down to it we only have the right to address the masses when we have pleased the ruling elite. The obvious consequence of this contradictory situation is that, having to start off by addressing the bourgeoisie, our attitude cannot be the same as that of writers from the East, who address the masses directly, and share with them an entire conformity of ideas. Differences of structure must find expression. This does not mean, as one person said (I felt this was not so much a socialist criticizing the bourgeoisie as the East criticizing the West), that we have to introduce strip-tease scenes into our books, or sexual themes. It means for a Marxist that our publics are different in structure and that we have to reckon with them. Any serious discussion on the problem of the novel must keep this fact in mind.
The second problem which has also been rightly stressed is that of the relation between novel and reality. But first of all, if we wish to study it, we need a definition of reality. There is not a single writer in this hall who would not like to say something about reality. Nathalie Sarraute