Reagan Wiles draws and paints, in addition to writing stories and poems, and says that drawing has been formative. The period of confinement has been a time of transition and restructuring of life for Mr. Wiles, as with the world en masse. Nature has taken a more important place, and Silence has served a greater part in subduing the desires of the heart.
Preface to a Novel that Will Never Exist
One must eventually get started doing what one loves. Sitting down to write one’s second novel is a serious affair, for it has a reputation to renew or to repair. Sitting down to write one’s third is a matter of saying something that one had not said in the first two but that one had wanted to say all along but had not known. Or to make money, if one is that kind of novelist, to sustain a reputation as a publishing writer in hopes that the later work will merit “real” notoriety, an advance and royalties. The third and subsequent novels are the works of a writer’s maturity. Some authors succeed in writing their best first and then write such different books thereafter that their reputations do not suffer for having been prodigies. Isaac Bashevis Singer’s first novel Satan In Goray, set in Poland, where the fraught-with-ghosts’ stories were typically set, was such a one: He was an artist who later went in a different direction with his subject matter, de-dybbuking it; and although he never wrote a better novel than the first, he later published equally excellent and imaginative stories and novels different from his earliest and earlier books; these are the ambiguously autobiographical works that followed the fantastic period of Singer’s creative adolescence, which, for their verisimilitude and regenerativeness and sheer volume of life experience—especially the experience of the middle aged and elderly in New York, Buenos Aires, Miami and Tel Aviv—shall be read and remembered as the typical Singerian tales and novels. A great novel may not necessarily be from the most mature period of a writer, although the mature work may give us more to sustain us as human beings, as persons and personalities, making our way in the world. Whereas the great work of art may have been the prodigious feat of the genius of youth, yet it may not give anything that we could eat and live: It may give us only the instructions how to die; or how to love the beautiful and entirely useless; or it may be a mythologically faithful picture or rendition of a place long ago and far away, some unique enclave of experience that was once upon a time, before some great war or apocalypse such as mar with excoriations and pocks the cadaverous reminiscences of the twentieth century; or perhaps it was a situation or circumstance only in the mind of the writer (but then it could not be the work of art we are claiming it to be), none the less real for that, but which no more is, except in his peculiar and fantastical miracle or mode. In fairness, such a prodigy of literary art may sustain the reader but while his family starves or goes without their NIKE sneakers. In the third and subsequent novel, the writer should not make too much of an attempt to say something important—as he must do, unless he be a genius, as a young and/or inexperienced writer—but to let his living and his observations of his living, and of the living of others, and of art and history, write what must be written, given the material that one has been exposed to and in which one has been interested but which has been more or less forgotten. This way the material of memory and of the natural, ordering capacity of the psychic and creative apparatus can be remade into something entirely new because it no longer pulls at one’s personal heartstrings but has largely been forgotten, or lost the force of its emotional impact, or because one is unaware of any emotional or feeling tone attached to the material; or perhaps the material is of such stuff that it is remembered if at all not by the consciousness of the writer but by the faculty in him which records what never really reached the notice of the person at all; and below that, there is the cargo with which one had come freighted—auspicated or fraught!—into the world and which is his legitimate heritage as a human being and which almost none is aware of, but which it takes art to make us aware. If one really wants to write anything at all very good, he cannot be too enthusiastic or too passionate or think too determinedly about his subject or his characters or his setting or his beginnings, middles or endings. For there will be many of each of these in their turn, and they shall each be transposed with the others, shall transpire and resurface and the artist in love with his expressions shall at times resuscitate what should stay dead; so that what one had begun with becomes what one ends with, and what one had thought to be the matter of the expansive middle passage of the book dwindles to the insignificance of a word overheard or bypassed in the dark hallway down which some minor player had wandered while one believed himself lost to his story, never to find his way back; while the current of the circuit continues on in its obedient (to itself, not to the writer!) and metaled way toward a new beginning, through a storied if muddled or busy, though vital and spirited middle, to an end that happens to be the last turn in the road before—displaced by what has become its beginning—having been taken as the supposed road more traveled and so abandoned in preference for its eventual genesis. Which turns out to be the road one must travel and the road that one might have traveled had he begun with the ending and taken his turn as he would be wont to do, even had he conspicuoulsy chosen to know his subject before he began and planned the whole thing with an outline or something as ridiculous as that. So, in like humor—in ridiculity—one finds oneself writing a Writer’s Preface or Introduction to his book before ever he has written word one of his novel or work of art, if he be lucky to be allowed to produce such a thing, or either of these; they are not mutually exclusive though their being both and one is mighty rare. Only a handful of plays and poems and novels and songs and the like from all times shall also qualify to be treated as works of art; for the majority of what has been written and is written daily and published annually is perfect mediocrity or, in other words, only what the audience had thought that they wanted. That is popular art, not for art’s sake but for the sake of the publishers; and for the public only insofar as the public consumes for the publishers’ sakes and for the sake of the “health of the economy” generally, that is nationally, speaking. And in the world economy, licenses and copyrights being sold to foreign translators and their publishers—or foreign publishers’ or foreign branches of the big publishers’ teams of translators, etc.—for the world economic situation as well. Forget art, art is shit, is the dictum of the publishing business. Is it salable; and is the author billable on social media? Can we make him or her famous, and with what audience? This business of giving the audience what it thinks it wants is the law of adaptation in the publishing world, which is subject to the laws of tooth and fang, demand and supply, manufacturing demand, identity building, market analytics and all that; but the artist is not confined to the necessity of function begetting form but may, must, insist upon form communicating the mysteries which form itself—and only form—entertains and countenances, while beggaring function and the demands of the market. Art’s only market is history. And its true stewards are historians, all kinds of historians, and the lovers of art, book lovers, people who read poetry because they like it and who look at paintings because there are things that only a painting can impart, what a poem can’t; but a story may have something to say which only it can, as a poem its unique province, as a sculpture its own. Can the same be said of a video game? of a YouTube video? a popular song? I will not pretend to know. Nobody today can know that, though we love our Netflix series as our record collections, as our art collections if we can afford that kind of thing, our vases, our vintage Porsches, our refurbished ESSO pumps and signs. Art is completely useless, as Wilde would have it. The artist has nothing to say but what the forms—what the seed of form—purely, economically, or ebulliently and ostentatiously, nervously and beautifully and magically, reveal in their tight-lipped, staid, seductively quotidian, bizarrely commonplace, weirdly mystically Lynchian, vain, generous, litigious, fantastic, naturalistic, urbane, hokey, nostalgic or futuristic or speculative or negligently open-arsed contours. Which is to say, that ugliness is also representative in art; but as what must appear new to the spectator, the reader, as it were something novel, therefore ugly; in the way that anything must be which is alien to our sensibility; but which, again, may be, if not harmless, then neutral unless we use it to harm. Nevertheless, it will be something antique, or ancient, expressing itself newly, if not fully formed out of Eternity, as scripture, for instance—as Greek Tragedy and sculpture, the Tao te ching, the terra-cotta army, Bach, “The Three Hermits,” the drawings and sculptures of Giacometti, Highway 61 Revisited—always of the essence of the present moment. Ugliness, as also beauty, equally variegated and variable and incomprehensible, must be there in Reality, which is always the intersection point of time and timelessness at the corner of here and now, for there is ugliness in life. Ugliness is only incompleteness, and any pure form may comprehend any number, that is an infinity, of partials within its whole nature. The artist must leave alone the business of writing from the exterior to the exterior—from the world to the world—and instead record what passes out, through his own sensorium, of that place from which all mysteries are revealed in their forms, which will ensure their being whole and not partial, or if partial then integral therefore completely necessary, reconcilable, regenerate, indispensable; thus becoming manifest, after revolving in eternity as objects of a divine, incomprehensible nature, which in their own seasons pass into time, from Eternity into the light. It is through the specific style of parthenogenesis of the individual artist in his role as impersonal interpreter—he must interpret—that these truths or essences, of which art is made, are revealed to him and to us. It is not enough that the artist merely records his visions, for to record alone is not to make art but to dream awake and to record one’s dream. Which, for the purposes of art, appears a formless thing, being but a torn flag of an illimitable cosmos, while the work of art must have limits. Being, as it must be, the very most intense formulation of consciousness and life into a new thing, a thing within which all that might be contained is contained, and constrained, to within the sheerest threshold of its bursting—the pervious bounds of itself threatened to become again nothing. The work of art is a living thing and by instinct it comes into being, and by force of its beauty and its giving the appearance of the fragility and ephemeral nature of life remains alive though the centuries; seeming as delicate as a flower, yet it is next to Eternity Itself in its imperviousness to mortal dissolution. It is sensitive and flexible enough to ratify and to renew itself after the succeeding of further works of art coming into being. The real work of art can and must be altered by, must adjust to, every new and subsequent living work of art. This is as Eliot has stated. And we must trust him, if only for the fact that he is the author of Prufrock, The Waste Land and the immortal Four Quartets and carried on many other experiments in verse, some of which succeeded in becoming poems better than most; and who wrote several essays which cannot be ignored: “Tradition and the Individual Talent” elicits a citation in the above idea concerning subsequent works of art altering those of the past as well as the present and likewise being altered by their historical succedents. It is to the artists, as well as to the mystics and prophets, that we owe the preservation of the renewal of the spirit in a world at times seemingly devoid of such silence and reverence as works of art return to us and we to them. The true values cannot be descried in the world but must arise out of us. Often they arise—they emerge—in art, which at its best is a form of prayer and meditation, a contemplation of and a communion with Eternity or, if you prefer, with God.