Truth and Literature


Henry Miller is obsessed with truth. And yet he wants to write literature! Literature is something other than truth. “Then to hell with literature!”

Writing his novel, Henry is all the while obsessed with the idea of the real book he will one day write. It won’t be a novel. It will be utterly unlike anything he has written so far.

Up to now, the real book has been written in the mind only, in an ink which is “invisible” as well as “indelible”. So far he has only lived this book, since he cannot yet write it, except in the mind.

He has this notion of “writing in the mind only”: an idea so crazy, an insane kind of talk born of desperation. Henry is desperate to be a writer, though he has written nothing of note. So he tells himself he is writing all the time, in the mind only. And so he is a writer after all.

Whether or not Henry really is a writer yet, he is certainly a reader. He is inspired by Arthur Machen, who writes that what is important in literature is the inexpressible which, nevertheless, is somehow expressed. “A troublesome though inseparable accident … the indefinable, inexpressible images which all fine literature summons to the mind.”

Besides what the writer is consciously doing to create sensations in the reader, something else occurs, something deeper. It seems to just happen, and yet of course it is born of the writer’s genius. The presence of genius means that the words are bound to conjure up something deeper even than what is intended. It’s the presence of this extra depth that makes a written work great and timeless.

This idea must have given hope to Henry, who himself was struggling to express the inexpressible. And people tell him again and again that he has genius, and he seems to believe it. He knows he is not a writer yet, but he has something, and so Machen’s words are another ray of hope for him.

(Image is from Pixabay.)

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