28 January 2005

Goodness

I hope to read Marilynne Robinson's Gilead at some point soon. For now, the Rake draws our attention to a recent interview where she addresses the question, "What were the challenges in writing about a religious man, a good man?":

I had no problem writing about a religious man. I know preachers are conventionally represented as frauds or scoundrels, hypocrites at best. In general, I try to steer clear of conventions. I know good characters are supposed to be uninteresting. That must be a very recent discovery. There are plenty of good people in literature. For one thing, they make reliable and scrupulous narrators. For another, they convey ethical and emotional nuance. Goodness, after all, requires a disciplined attention to other people. Ishmael is good, Nick Adams is good, many of James’ characters are very good. If the word "good" implies narrowness, judgmentalism or hypocrisy, then "good" has become a synonym for "bad," nothing a writer would wish to explore sympathetically. But if goodness implies the attempt to be a positive presence in the world, a good father or mother, a good friend, or simply an honest human being — that requires a great deal of sensitivity and attention, as everyone knows who has tried it. People are not good statically. They are good situationally. They can fail at any moment, and they know it. And they usually know when they do fail, because they want to know. This is a very active and complex experience of consciousness. Self-seeking is dull and monistic by comparison. In any case, making my narrator both religious and good (though blind to some essential things as well) allowed me to give him a large, active, reflective mind.

2 comments:

Chelsey said...

I read Robinson's boook, "Housekeeping." She has a very dry or bleak or maybe ghost-town-ish style, and I don't mean that in a bad way.

"Gilead" has gotten good reviews and I'm interested in looking through it. But if it has no more of a point than "Housekeeping," I shall put it in my queue of books I say I'll read but never will. Like "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Rhodes.

amcorrea said...

Yes, it sounds like Gilead really does have something to say.

And that's funny about Rhoades. My roommate has read it, but I don't think I will. He was v. rude to me during a Q&A session once.