Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Covenant of Pathos

From an interview with George Saunders about his story in the current New Yorker, a passage that I think crystallizes what I love about him (i.e., his humanity toward his characters):

Deborah Treisman: You seem, ultimately, to have a lot of sympathy for Mike, despite whatever it is that he has (or hasn’t) done, and the violent urges that keep surging up in him. Why is that?

George Saunders: Well, yes—I think that’s one of the fundamental goals of fiction, and its most efficient modus operandi: as a writer you’ve got to keep trying to “de-Other” your narrator until you’ve established him as basically you but on a different day. (I mean, that’s not the only way, but it is a way that, for me, can have the effect of making the narrator non-negligible, i.e., of minimizing the possibility of authorial slumming/puppeteering.) There’s this funny thing where the technical stuff (trying to make the voice convincing and compelling; operating at a sufficient level of detail; trying to keep the reader emotionally with the narrator) will dovetail with the moral valence of the piece—that is, technique leads to sympathy, or maybe, the appearance of sympathy.

I may have to pay the Art Institute a commission for these quotations I’m nonchalantly dropping in here, but here’s something the German artist Ludwig Meidner said that seems relevant to this question: “Do not be afraid of the face of a human being. Don’t let your pen stop until the soul of that one opposite you is wedded to yours in a covenant of pathos.”

No comments: