Life is not a narrative, but

the only means we have of describing and understanding life is through narrative. The same is true of history, scientific theory (and studies), and basically everything, no?

Here is a similar statement, expressed rather differently, from Martin Page’s recent novel L’apiculture selon Samuel Beckett (Apiculture according to Samuel Beckett. Editions de l’Olivier, 2013), in which the writer Samuel Beckett is a character. In this novel, “Beckett” says

It’s thanks to an attack that I met Suzanne [Beckett’s real-life life partner], before the war. On the Avenue de la Porte d’Orleans, a man stuck a knife in my breast and Suzanne, who was just getting out of a concert, came to my aid. It made me think about chance and necessary meetings. A knife strike nearly killed me and did, in fact, completely overturn my life. I then understood that Art is also a crime, but a crime against reality. With its incessant transformations, Art recreates the world’s and society’s constitution, just as murder recreates a person’s body. A work of art puts you out of breath, increases your heart rate, changes your relations with forms, colour and sound. It doesn’t change us to the point of killing us. But reality as we knew it hitherto dies, to be replaced by a new reality–more complex, stranger. And more beautiful, too. (Martin Page. L’apiculture selon Samuel Beckett. Paris: L’Olivier, 2013. 85-86. [Passage translated by Daniel Aureliano Newman.)

In this passage, Page’s character Beckett takes up a cause we normally associate with another Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, whose essay “The Decay of Lying” made essentially the same point. Between the lines of Beckett’s words here, though, is a warning that art’s crime against reality is not necessarily a positive protest against the way things are. His phrasing allows us to read the passage also as a warning against the artfully reconstituted “realities” of political or personal opportunism and hatefulness (indeed, he has, in the previous pages, been railing against Fascism). It is, I think, a call to arms about the power of art, including narrative in its manifold forms, both an invitation to use it and a caution against its abuses. In other words, he seems to suggest that art, including the stories (fiction and nonfiction) we tell have consequences in this world, and that we must be careful and responsible storytellers and careful and attentive readers of stories–again, fictional and not.

On that note, I will say goodbye. If you’re so inclined, check out my my new course blog, on literature and film. I have greatly enjoyed our course, intense as it has been, and hope that even if you don’t go on to be a literature student, that the ways that we’ve encountered narratives will serve you in your future studies and lives.

Best of luck on tomorrow’s exam!

Dan

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