That was three years ago. I’ve just received a box of books from Brazil, amongst which some old friends lurked. Without further ado, here is something that caught my eye in Jonathan Franzen’s essay (quoting from Don DeLillo) on the detachment of the novel from “the times”:
Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be the heroes of some underculture, but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.
That detachment, then, may be a sign of the times, but it is also the vocation of the writer, just as it always has been. The written word is a reflexive space, a prosthesis for human consciousness that changes its nature, bringing at once Innerlichkeit and outsiderhood. It has also always been a minority pursuit, even though the perspective it offers, objective but partial, “as a painter who steps back”, may be the most humane one as yet available to us.