Ihave the impression that the subject of our meeting has been wrongly defined as ‘the crisis in the novel’. Every writer is convinced that he writes well and that he belongs either to the innovators or to the traditionalists. He is sure that the crisis in the novel is no concern of his and he passes the responsibility on to others. It must be said, however, that crisis is inherent in the nature of the creative act: without it art would perish. Every writer who sets out to write a book is convinced that he can say what no-one else has said before and that he can say it in a completely new way. Every writer, painter and composer undergoes a crisis and this is really in the nature of a pregnancy followed by a birth process; each can sometimes be most painful.
I have always been opposed to the view that form is more important than subject matter and I have always been equally opposed to the opposite view. I am convinced that in art, form cannot be separated from subject matter, nor subject matter from form.
Even the French Parnassiens maintained their art for art’s sake theory for only a short time. Art for art’s sake can no more exist than love for love’s sake.
The form of the novel has been enriched and modified many times. I recall that Zola introduced montage into the novel long before the film was invented—the transition from long shot to foreground, the swift change which takes us from historical fact to psychological detail. Tolstoy said of Tchekov: ‘You cannot compare Tchekov to the Russian writers who preceded him. Tchekov has a style all of his own, rather like the Impressionists’. It is true. Tchekov introduced into the narrative elements which recall Impressionist painting: the feeling of air and light, the possibility of revealing something large by means of a tiny detail. All this springs from his inner feelings towards man.
Can one possibly deny the influence of Joyce or Kafka, two great writers who bear no resemblance to each other? For me, they belong to the past: they are historical phenomena. They represent neither a flag to wave nor a target to shoot at.
In the Soviet Union there was the poet Klebnikov. His name means nothing to our guests and even present-day Soviet readers know little about him. His poetry is very difficult; personally I find it impossible to read more than a few pages of him at a sitting. But Mayakovsky, Pasternak and Aseyev have all said to me that without Klebnikov they could never have existed. A great many of our young poets who have never read Klebnikov have, even so, absorbed many of his poetic devices through the work of Mayakovsky, Pasternak or Zaboloksky.
Joyce discovered the tiny psychological detail, the function of the interior monologue; but alcohol cannot be drunk neat, it must be diluted. Joyce is a writer’s writer.