Bellow on trends in writing

From “Remarks by Saul Bellow to Padgett Powell’s Graduate Class in Fiction Writing at the University of Florida, Gainesville, February 21, 1992,” transcribed by Andrew Gordon:

Student’s question: In our creative writing course, we’ve been studying two kinds of fiction: realist fiction vs. writerly or postmodern. Which do you think a writer should choose?

Bellow: I think the first thing to do is to locate your soul and find out what it has to suggest. This other thing is irrelevant. The farther you get away from the promptings of your soul, the more trouble you’re in. Don’t adopt any device which doesn’t suit your deepest, own needs. You can be sure Diderot did not settle for any less. He is the kind of person he is: bubbling over, an eighteenth-century French intellectual with a tear in his eye.

Literature is not like two designs, as if you’re shopping for wallpaper. People hunt around and find their own devices. The history of literature is not just what people have come up with but also the history of what they’ve become bored with. Some ages are more susceptible to boredom than others.

My own rule is to choose the necessary and set aside the superfluous.


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