Writing in pursuit of truth lets you see through darkness.
“Once you have entered that dungeon, and raised your lamp, and seen the injustice residing in there, nothing can ever be the same again. No matter how far away you run, that image, that knowledge will be with you. And this is the difference between the true writer and the non-writer: The true writer cannot forget. The true writer in us will be haunted by that image until he or she writes about it. It will keep him awake at night; it will visit his waking hours. The writer is fascinated by evil, not mesmerised or attracted by it, but he is fascinated by it, by the fact of its existence, and by its sheer banality. It is a slippery slope, and we all stand on its edge. The writer is like that dragon slayer of legend who tirelessly seeks after dragons, from town to town, village to village, tormented by his passion; he knows that once he stops to rest, or to reflect on how perilous his vocation is, he will be overtaken by the very evil he seeks to exterminate.
How can literature act to increase our vision, to enlarge our sympathies? And this is where I want to make a link between literature and truth: truth as a concept has always existed side by side with fiction, way back to the earliest days of fiction. Before the advent of the novel, the English novel in particular, the dominant form of narrative was life writing, that is, biography and autobiography, or “histories” as they were then called. The earliest writers of the novel, in order to be taken seriously, pretended that their tales did actually happen (although in this deceit I like to imagine more the hand of printers and marketers than that of the authors themselves.)
The writer enlarges our sympathies by making us see ourselves better, but first he must see himself better in his own work. For regardless of how extroverted and socially oriented we may be in our writing, we write first and foremost for ourselves; we write to answer the most niggling questions bothering us, and so, in a way we are raising that lamp not just to see the poor boy in that dungeon, we are raising it to a mirror, to see ourselves.”
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