Writing the Novel

Our beloved ex-president Barack Obama once said of the role of the U.S. in the contemporary world–that we, Americans don’t have to stress about controlling the entire narrative in a world that requires cooperation of diverse nations to function well. America in the 21st century can only write a paragraph; moreover, if the paragraph is composed well, then it’s job is done.

British Indian novelist, Amit Chaudhuri makes a similar claim on the value of the paragraph in a novel. He writes that he prefers the singular paragraph, not only over the much-touted “strong beginning,” but also over the cogency of the narrative superstructure that serves as the cache of the novel’s mainstream actions.

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What is a Writer?

According to Vladimir Nabakov, by way of Czech writer, Dubravka Ugresiv, there are varieties of ways to approach this question:

There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer. . . . To the storyteller we turn for entertainment, for mental excitement of the simplest kind, for emotional participation, for the pleasure of traveling in some remote region in space or time. A slightly different, though not necessarily higher mind, looks for the teacher in the writer. Propagandist, moralist, prophet—this is the rising sequence. We may go to the teacher not only for moral education but also for direct knowledge, for simple facts. . . . Finally, and above all, a great writer is always a great enchanter, and it is here that we come to the really exciting part when we try to grasp the individual magic of his genius and to study the style, the imagery, the pattern of his novels or poems.

To Write

To write a story, says Lorin Stein, editor of Paris Review, requires public solitude. You can’t be worrying about the sound around you or how you sound to others around you. You can’t worry whether your characters are likeable, smart or interesting. You have to be inside the scene–the tactile world of tables and chairs and sunlight–attending to your characters, people who exist for you in non-virtual reality. This takes weird brain chemistry. It also takes years of reading–solitary reading.

What Do Men Want in Haruki Murakami’s Stories?

Noted Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami has sold books in the millions globally.

Murakami is thus a popular writer. But is he a paradigm-shaping one as well?

In his last two short stories, published in the New Yorker Magazine, “Samsa in Love” and “Scheherazade“, Murakami seems to have unleashed a new paradigm of power relations between men and women.

In both stories, Murakami’s men are confined to their homes. In “Samsa in Love”, Gregor Samsa, the man-turned-into-bug in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor re-turns to his human state after a prolonged existence as a bug inside his father’s house.

He had lived alone in a condition of utter isolation. Upon waking up one day as a human male, Samsa finds himself unable to step out of the house and resume life as usual.

He is afraid to go out.

In “Scheherezade”, Habara, a man, can’t leave his home. We don’t know why; it’s indicated that something terrible has befallen Habara making him house-bound.

For both Samsa and Habara, redemption comes in the form of women. The women visit the men as visitors visit prisoners in high-security prisons. Samsa is visited by a misshapen locksmith, while Habara has a nurse who comes every week.

A kind of intimacy is established between the confined males and the females who symbolize enlightenment brought in from the world from which the men are cut off.

The intimacy is not strictly sexual, though sex plays a big role in forging the relationships. The intimacy is oddly enough a version of enthrallment, a bondage.

The misshapen locksmith enthralls Samsa by telling him about the intricacies of the mechanical and spiritual world; she speaks of hearts and locks and Samsa feels he can learn how to unlock both with her help.

She becomes indispensable to Samsa.

The middle-aged nurse, who is exemplary in her ordinariness, enthralls Habara with her stories, like Scheherazade from A Thousand and One Nights. But in the Murakami cosmos, it’s Scheherazade who holds power over the listener. Habara is powerless in her presence. She starts and stops at her will.

Murakami’s new crop of women are becoming the bearers of enlightenment in a world in which men are trapped by the darkness of their egocentrism.

Back to my question: A paradigm is shifting?

The Future of Storytelling

Does the future of storytelling lie in collaboration?

Recently a number of renowned writers, James Patterson and James Baldacci included, wrote a single short story for the Times: Exquisite Corpse.

The story reads well, not quite the patchwork I had expected. Strangely enough, I felt that I was reading a story rendered in the old fashioned narrative style, with no adventures in sequencing.