Uit: Confessions of a Young Novelist
“In 1860, on the verge of sailing through the Mediterranean to follow Garibaldi’s expedition to Sicily, Alexandre Dumas père stopped in Marseille and visited the Château d’If, where his hero, Edmond Dantès, before becoming the Count of Monte Cristo, was imprisoned for fourteen years and was tutored in his cell by a fellow inmate, the abbé Faria. While Dumas was there, he discovered that visitors were regularly shown what was called the “real” cell of Monte Cristo, and that the guides constantly spoke of Dantès, Faria, and the other characters of the novel as if they had really existed. In contrast, the same guides never mentioned that the Château d’If had held as prisoners some important historical figures, such as Honoré Mirabeau.
Thus, Dumas comments in his memoirs: “It is the privilege of novelists to create characters who kill those of the historians. The reason is that historians evoke mere ghosts, while novelists create flesh-and-blood people.”
Once a friend of mine urged me to organize a symposium on the following subject: If we know that Anna Karenina is a fictional character who does not exist in the real world, why do we weep over her plight, or at any rate why are we deeply moved by her misfortunes?
There are probably many highly educated readers who do not shed tears over the fate of Scarlett O’Hara but are nevertheless shocked by the fate of Anna Karenina. Moreover, I have seen sophisticated intellectuals openly weep at the end of Cyrano de Bergerac—a fact that should not astonish anybody, because when a dramatic strategy aims at inducing the audience to shed tears, it makes them weep regardless of their cultural level. This is not an aesthetic problem: great works of art may not evoke an emotional response, whereas many bad films and dime novels succeed in doing so. And let’s remember that Madame Bovary, a character for whom many readers have wept, used to cry over the love stories she was reading.
I told my friend firmly that this phenomenon had neither ontological nor logical relevance, and could be of interest only to psychologists. We can identify with fictional characters and with their deeds because, according to a narrative agreement, we start living in the possible world of their story as if it were our own real world. But this does not occur only when we read fiction.
Many of us have sometimes thought of the possible death of a loved one and have been deeply affected, if not moved to tears, even though we knew that the event was imagined and not real. Such phenomena of identification and projection are absolutely normal and (I repeat) are a matter for psychologists. If there are optical illusions, in which we see a given form as bigger than another even though we know they are exactly the same size, why shouldn’t there be emotional illusions as well?”
Met mijn broertje Seth liep ik door een weiland
en wees naar een plek waar kinderen engelen in de sneeuw hadden gemaakt.
Om de een of andere reden vertelde ik hem dat er een groep engelen was
neergeschoten en opgelost toen ze de grond raakten.
Hij vroeg wie ze had neergeschoten en ik zei een boer.
Toen waren we op het dak van het meer.
Het ijs zag eruit als een foto van water.
Waarom vroeg hij. Waarom heeft hij ze neergeschoten?
Ik wist niet waar ik hiermee naartoe wilde.
Ze waren op zijn terrein, zei ik.
Als het sneeuwt, lijkt het buitenleven een kamer.
Vandaag heb ik hallo’s gewisseld met mijn buurman.
Onze stemmen bleven dicht bij de nieuwe akoestiek.
Een kamer met aan flarden geslagen muren die omvielen.
We gingen verder met spitten en werkten in stilte zij aan zij.
Maar waarom waren ze op zijn terrein, vroeg hij.
Vertaald door Frans Roumen