Every novel created with real passion aspires quite naturally to a lasting aesthetic value, meaning to a value capable of surviving its author. To write without having that ambition is cynicism: a mediocre plumber may be useful to people, but a mediocre novelist who consciously produces books that are ephemeral, commonplace, conventional – thus not useful, thus burdensome, thus noxious – is contemptible. (p. 93)
I’m sure every writer out there who wrote a work that was panned or didn’t sell a whole lot didn’t actually set out to write a work of ephemera.
As an artist (and I’m going with the fact that Kundera calls novels art, hence novelists artists – even though I don’t know if I would call myself an artist), I understand that I should always strive to produce the best version of whatever I am working on. I should care about the words I choose and the story I tell.
I do care about the words and the story.
But I can have all the intentions in the world and still end up writing a piece of crap that is commonplace and conventional by someone’s (everyone’s?) standards. Maybe I’m mediocre without knowing it. Does my intent to write a novel with skill and craft count for something?
And since not every book wins the Nobel and not every reader wants a Nobel-caliber book, isn’t there a place for conventional and commonplace? There is a reason the same tropes keep being trotted out in so-called ‘genre’ fiction. There is a successful love affair in romances. A case is solved in mysteries. Sometimes a known outcome is appreciated; there is so much unknown in this world – cracking open the spine of a romance set in the Highlands (the best place for a love affair, ideally in the 18th century) can be a satisfying sound because it means the boy and girl get together.
Is this the difference between art and Art? Just a book and a Novel worthy of a long life?
These are actually questions I mull over all the time. I want to write interesting novels with surprising details and provoking themes. But I also enjoy picking up the deck of tropes, shuffling them with lots of flourish, and banging out a mystery. Am I less of a worthwhile author because I don’t always aim for the stars?
I love that I pulled The Curtain of my shelf last Sunday. It has reinvigorated my urge to write just as much as it has made me question why I write. Questions are good, as long as I just keep writing.