Quotes By The Art of the Novel

“We are born one time only, we can never start a new life equipped with the experience we've gained from the previous one. We leave childhood without knowing what youth is, we marry without knowing what it is to be married, and even when we enter old age, we don't know what it is we're heading for: the old are innocent children innocent of thier old age. In that sense, man's world is the planet of inexperience.”


“I thought of the fate of Descartes’ famous formulation: man as ‘master and proprietor of nature.’ Having brought off miracles in science and technology, this ‘master and proprietor’ is suddenly realizing that he owns nothing and is master neither of nature (it is vanishing, little by little, from the planet), nor of History (it has escaped him), nor of himself (he is led by the irrational forces of his soul). But if God is gone and man is no longer master, then who is master? The planet is moving through the void without any master. There it is, the unbearable lightness of being.”


“I also think of those daily slaughters along the highways, of that death that is as horrible as it is banal and that bears no resemblance to cancer or AIDS because, as the work not of nature but of man, it is an almost voluntary death. How can it be that such a death fails to dumbfound us, to turn our lives upside down, to incite us to vast reforms? No, it does not dumbfound us, because like Pasenow, we have a poor sense of the real, and in the sur-real sphere of symbols, this death in the guise of a handsome car actually represents life; this smiling death is con-fused with modernity, freedom, adventure, just as Elisabeth was con-fused with the Virgin. This death of a man condemned to capital punishment, though infinitely rarer, much more readily draws our attention, rouses passions: confounded with the image of the executioner, it has a symbolic voltage that is far stronger, far darker and more repellent. Et cetera.

Man is a child wandering lost—to cite Baudelaire`s poem again—in the "forests of symbols."

(The criterion of maturity: the ability to resist symbols. But mankind grows younger all the time.)”


“Every true novelist listens for that suprapersonal wisdom, which explains why great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors. Novelists who are more intelligent than their books should go into another line of work.”


“No peace is possible between the novelist and the agélaste [those who do not laugh]. Never having heard God's laughter, the agélastes are convinced that the truth is obvious, that all men necessarily think the same thing, and that they themselves are exactly what they think they are. But it is precisely in losing the certainty of truth and the unanimous agreement of others that man becomes an individual. The novel is the imaginary paradise of individuals. It is the territory where no one possesses the truth, neither Anna nor Karenin, but where everyone has the right to be understood, both Anna and Karenin.”


“In the presence of Esch, values have hidden their faces. Order, loyalty, sacrifice—he cherishes all these words, but exactly what do they represent? Sacrifice for what? Demand what sort of order? He doesn't know.

If a value has lost its concrete content, what is left of it? A mere empty form; an imperative that goes unheeded and, all the more furious, demands to be heard and obeyed. The less Esch knows what he wants, the more furiously he wants it.

Esch: the fanaticism of the era with no God. Because all values have hidden their faces, anything can be considered a value. Justice, order—Esch seeks them now in the trade union struggle, then in religion; today in police power, tomorrow in the mirage of America, where he dreams of emigrating. He could be a terrorist or a repentant terrorist turning in his comrades, or a party militant or a cult member a kamikaze prepared to sacrifice his life. All the passions rampaging through the bloody history of our time are taken up, unmasked, and terrifyingly displayed in Esch's modest adventure.”


“A novel examines not reality but existence. And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he's capable of. Novelists draw up the map of existence by discovering this or that human possibilit. But again, to exist mean: 'being-in-the-world.' Thus both the character and his world must be understood as possibilities.”


“The uniform is that which we do not choose, that which is assigned to us; it is the certitude of the universal against the precariousness of the individual. When the values that were once so solid come under challenge and withdraw, heads bowed, he who cannot live without them (without fidelity, family, country, discipline, without love) buttons himself up in the universality of his uniform as if that uniform were the last shred of transcendence that could protect him against the cold of a future in which there will be nothing left to respect.”


“Of course, even before Flaubert, people knew stupidity existed, but they understood it somewhat differently: it was considered a simple absence of knowledge, a defect correctable by education. In Flaubert's novels, stupidity is an inseparable dimension of human existence. It accompanies poor Emma throughout her days, to her bed of love and to her deathbed, over which two deadly agélastes, Homais and Bournisien, go on endlessly trading their inanities like a kind of funeral oration. But the most shocking, the most scandalous thing about Flaubert's vision of stupidity is this: Stupidity does not give way to science, technology, modernity, progress; on the contrary, it progresses right along with progress!”


“There comes a moment when the image of our life parts company with the life itself, stands free, and, little by little, begins to rule us. Already in The Joke: “I came to realize that there was no power capable of changing the image of my person lodged somewhere in the supreme court of human destinies; that this image (even though it bore no resemblance to me) was much more real than my actual self; that I was its shadow and not it mine; that I had no right to accuse it of bearing no resemblance to me, but rather that it was I who was guilty of the nonresemblance; and that the nonresemblance was my cross, which I could not unload on anyone else, which was mine alone to bear.”

And in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: “Destiny has no intention of lifting a finger for Mirek (for his happiness, his security, his good spirits, his health), whereas Mirek is ready to do everything for his destiny (for its grandeur, its clarity, its beauty, its style, its intelligible meaning). He felt responsible for his destiny, but his destiny did not feel responsible for him.”


“Лекота. Откривам непосилната лекота на битието още в "Шегата": „крачех по запрашените павета и усещах угнетяващата лекота на празнотата, затиснала живота ми.“
И в "Животът е другаде": „Яромил сънуваше понякога страшни сънища. Сънуваше, че трябва да вдигне изключително лек предмет – чаша за чай, лъжица, перце, и че не успява, че е толкова по-слаб, колкото предметът е по-лек, че изнемогва под лекотата му.“
И във "Валс на раздяла": „Разколников изживява своето убийство като трагедия и рухва под тежестта на извършеното деяние. А Якуб е изумен от това, че неговото деяние не му тежи, не го обременява. И размисля дали в тази лекота не се крие далеч повече ужас, отколкото в истеричните преживявания на руския герой.“
И в "Книга за смеха и забравата": „Празнината в стомаха й идва точно от тази непоносима липса на тежест. И както всяка крайност може да премине в своята противоположност, доведената до максимума си лекота се превръща в тежест – това е ужасяващата тежест на лекотата и Тамина знае, че няма да може да я понесе и секунда повече.“

Едва когато прочетох преводите на книгите ми, изумен забелязах тези повторения! После се утеших – може би всеки романисти развиват една-единствена тема (първия си роман) в вариации.”


“Повторения. Набоков отбеляза, че в началото на Ана Каренина , в руския текст, думата „къща“ се повтаря осем пъти в шест фрази и че това повторение е умишлен ход от страна на автора. Във френския превод обаче думата „къща“ се появява един-единствен път, в чешкия превод – не повече от два пъти. Ð’ същата книга навсякъде, където Толстой пише „сказал“ (каза), в превода откриваме рече, отвърна, подхвана, викна, заключи и Ñ‚.н. Преводачите са луди по синонимите. (Аз отхвърлям самото понятие синоним – всяка дума има свой собствен смисъл и е семантично незаменима). Паскал: „Когато в един текст открием повторени думи, но опитвайки се да ги коригираме, открием, че са толкова подходящи, че бихме развалили текста, трябва да ги оставим – това е отличителен белег.“ Богатството на речника не е ценност само по себе си – при Хемингуей именно ограничаването на речника, повторението на едни и същи думи в един параграф пораждат мелодията и красотата на стила му.”


“Every novel says to the reader: “Things are not as simple as you think.” That is the novel’s eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off. In the spirit of our time, it’s either Anna or Karenin who is right, and the ancient wisdom of Cervantes, telling us about the difficulty of knowing and the elusiveness of truth, seems cumbersome and useless.”


“Kitsch is the translation of the stupidity of received ideas into the language of beauty and feeling. It moves us to tears of compassion for ourselves, for the banality of what we think and feel.”


“Porque o homem pensa e a verdade escapa-lhe. Porque quanto mais os homens pensam, mais o pensamento de um se afasta do outro. E, finalmente, porque o homem nunca é aquilo que pensa ser.”


“The novelist destroys the house of his life and uses its stones to build the house of his novel.”


“The unification of the planet's history, that humanist dream which God has spitefully allowed to come true, has been accompanied by a process of dizzying reduction. True, the termites of reduction have always gnawed away at life: even the greatest love ends up as a skeleton of feeble memories. But the character of modern society hideously exacerbates this curse: it reduces man's life to its social function; the history of a people to a small set of events that are themselves reduced to a tendentious interpretation; social life is reduced to political struggle, and that in turn to the confrontation of just two great global powers.”


“The novel is born not of the theoretical spirit but of the spirit of humor.”


“Every situation is of man's making and can only contain what man contains.”


“É verdade que os cupins da redução desde sempre atacam a vida humana: até o maior amor acaba se reduzindo a um esqueleto de lembranças raquíticas.”