‘Story is Such a Lie.’

Rodney Hall, frequent guest of this blog, began a spiel on this topic when last we met. This commentary on the nature of art is so fundamental and so important, it needs to be posted somewhere: once again, I exhorted him to start his own blog and yet again, he refused. For that reason, I present his ideas here, rather than attempt to pass them off as my own.


‘It isn’t that I don’t believe in story; look at [Luis] Bunuel. He takes you on a journey. You literally couldn’t get a dollar in funding for a Bunuel film in 2022. Film is the absolute captive of story. Almost nothing else is being made.

‘Novels are partly influenced by film; novels have taken that on. 99.9% of novels [published now] are a story. Considering that’s not even the constraint of the cinema… why would that be?

‘Right from beginning of novel people experimented. They no longer do.

‘If you go back to C.S. Lewis, he gives the clearest example of what fiction does. ‘When the reader closes the back cover of your book, it’s fully in their head.’ If 50% of what happens takes place in the reader’s head, the greater the book.

‘I expect the reader to contribute between 40 to 45 per-cent of the book. They can only do that if they get lost in the book as they are reading. Everybody knows the experience of getting lost; that is the experience of fiction. You might be absorbed in non-fiction, but you don’t get lost in it.

‘That’s what we’ve lost [culturally], but it will be found again. Art is incredibly durable. There is an appetite for it because it takes us to a world that we are able to imagine, but that we have never been to before. And it’s not enough to take [the reader] there; they have to co-create it. As an artist, you have to present it in terms that they can operate on.

‘There have been twists and turns in the history of the novel; for example, Dickens created progress by issuing pamphlets. It gave him a freedom no other novelist had; he could respond to his reader’s feedback.

‘Art is there to change you. People won’t be changed by it because they won’t surrender.

‘If people don’t get verbal sign-posts, they tend to give up altogether. I had that experience with Ulysses at twenty years of age; I got so frustrated that I threw it across the room. Now, Mr. Deasey’s office with the football game going on outside [chapter two of James Joyce’s Ulysses], I understand it to be a marvellous piece of work.’

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