The Luxury of Words

 Language exists to tell the truth. Fiction, being an art whose medium is language, tells the truth by not telling the truth. Fiction is inherently complex, imaginative, and stylized.

I’m not sure that the American school of writing entirely understands this. The golden rule here is to “write tight,” as if one were composing an essay or exposition. The idea is that if you don’t “need” a word to “tell the story” – and by ‘story’ we mean plot exclusively – its presence is well-nigh sinful. If you say ‘well-nigh’ when you could say ‘nearly’ you are a pretentious babbler.

Thus, we consent to fiction’s ability to tell us the truth by means of a story – a device not necessary to human life in a pragmatic sense – but we deny it the liberty to shape the story in any but a pragmatic fashion.

I think there is a luxury to words, to reading whole well-written passages that do nothing except lead you by the hand into some strange territory whether of the human person or of an imaginary world. Plot is not everything. Sometimes plot, like the greater blessing the lesser, bears pointless little beauties on its shoulders. I’m also not convinced that story consists of nothing but plot. If it did, my synopsis of Aleth would be sufficient and I would be relieved of the duty of actually writing the story, with descriptions and dialogue and affective images.

I guess that plot was being attacked at some point and they wanted to save it. I’m all for that as I believe that the traditional plot structure is a reflection of our Christian understanding of how the world ends. All the same, the point of the world is not merely to end. A lot of stuff happens in the meantime and God thought it good that it should have the chance to happen and to be enjoyed by creatures who could not see the point in it.

Enough either-or, please.

However, some people who think they agree with me might say ‘luxury’ when what they are really indulging in is dissipation. I like the word ‘dissipation’ because it suggests both lascivious undiscipline, and the spreading out of something until it loses poignancy or coherence. Unfortunately I feel I have to explain that, because no one ever sees these double meanings that I intend my words to have. 

So I do not mean to defend people who think they are doing art when actually they are just vomiting whatever happens to be in their minds onto a paper or computer screen.

“Oh, ah!” they say, rubbing their massive bellies or combing their greasy hair. “Better in than out. That feels much better. I love art.”


  1. Language does not exist to tell the truth. As for fiction, it seems to me, like an imagined, fantasized, sometimes idealized “truths;” like you say “it tells the truth by not telling the truth.” Although I am not the defender or the emissary of “the plot,” I dare say it exists for a reason. Its rigid reinforcement in the nowadays literary world[s] borders abuse. However, like how words used or neglected can tell us about a person, a plot tells us about the nature of men. Their need for a standing pole, a lighthouse, and a safe passage. For writers, it maybe a safe spot from which they can sew their words and hone their work without crashing against rock cliffs.
    Well, as for art it needs no solicitor, reclaimer or appraisal to exist. It can sprout firm and strong from the vomited words of the most unsightly, unholy human bellies; it maybe drawn out from the gutter or from the grease in an old man’s hair. There is no uniformity of thought or worthier truth. There is only perceptual and consensual truth. And language, among other things, is based upon that.


  2. Child,

    Well of course, someone with a large belly or greasy hair can still make art. I meant to compare gluttony and neglect of hygiene with the attitude of the person who thinks that he can say or do anything and it is art.

    I think art is a basic human activity that requires the skill or craft, and judgment or critical perception of not only a person but a society. It is the servant of the human spirit. It is this function of society that has so rigidly, as you say, enforced the plot. It’s a good thing but not a perfect thing.

    As for the idea that there is no truth other than what people percieve, this would be a disagreement so basic that I hardly know how to talk about it with you. To talk this way for me would be to choose insanity, unbelief, impiety, and all the other negations with which people make themselves miserable. I do not so choose.

    Your analogies of plot as a lighthouse etc. seem to me to have merit; especially that the existence of the plot reveals the nature of men.

    Thank you for stopping by and for plainly stating your opinions here. You are welcome anytime.


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