The Novel

Le fue d’artifice, James Ensor, 1887

I’ve found a flow. It’s odd because I never expected that there would be one. I had always thought of my writing as what it was — produced in random bursts of energy and coherence, or else bled from me in delirium. Which was fine, for what I was doing. But something else is happening now. For the first time, I actually know what I’m doing. Against all odds, I’m starting to make sense.

Perhaps the most formative element in this newfound spring of writing is Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Maxine’s father recommended it to me and I inhaled it. I inhaled it with even more intensity and need than my direst three-A.M. cigarettes. It opened neural channels that I didn’t know existed, brought bioluminescence to my drowsy, stagnant skull and electrified the writer within me like a defibrillator. It wasn’t so much the content, nor the style, but rather the recognition of what I was trying to do. Autofiction — reconciling the two diametrically opposed forms of autobiography and novel, of fact and fiction.

I started to understand that there is nothing I need to do, no route I am supposed to take, no real rules I have to follow. I am telling a story, that is all. More importantly, I have a vision for this story, an uncompromisable vision. I want to take people with me into myself, and to do this I needed to build a self to enter into. This book is not a part of me. It is me. But it also isn’t, of course. Nothing that is made of language is actually what it describes. It is an artifice. We construct ourselves through language — our lives are laced with it, it is everywhere, it is the fabric of our reality. It both negates and confirms our reality. And there are many types of language. Music, painting, literature, late-night coke-binge conversation, confession, lies, vows, promises, embellishments, prayers, half-baked philosophies. The stuff of life is language.

But this is, of course, our greatest strength and most agonizing weakness. Language is inherently contradictory. It’s the most elaborate fabrication the human animal has been able to dream up, and although it is entirely fabricated, it is the best we can do, and so it is everything. We express ourselves through language; we use language to know ourselves. More importantly, we use language to deceive ourselves, to create the version of ourselves that we want others to know. To create myself — this is the central tenet of my novel’s form. I want to take people into myself, into my internal narration. But they cannot witness this. They can only see what I put on a page, so I must create a self for the page. It is diluted, yet that dilution is truer than honesty, in its own backwards way. The falseness of my voice, the awareness that it is a book, that it is literature, reveals the truth of the artifice of everyone’s internal language. I want people to see how unreliable my personal language is, and in that unreliability, I want them to see a human being.

Autobiography is too true to life, which is to say, not all that true. Fiction is imagination, which alone is not enough for me. What I’m doing is joining hands with the long tradition of writers who have combined these two elements in order to continue creating myself. That is the central process of the human being — self-creation. We are constantly in process of becoming. My process of becoming is, at present, the the creative act of writing this novel. Once it is done, it will no longer belong to me.

It’s rather funny, I think. I am building this monstrous edifice to myself, only to give it all away. Contradiction is truly the foundation of everything, don’t you agree?

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To meditate on the warmest dream

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Ryan Langan

Ryan Langan

To meditate on the warmest dream

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