Coetzee: I don’t have much respect for reality

By profession I have been a trader in fictions. From what I write it must be evident to you that I don’t have much respect for reality. I think of myself as using rather than reflecting reality in my fiction. If the world of my fictions is a recognisable world, that is because (I say to myself) it is easier to use the world at hand than to make up a new one. In a letter to Louise Colet, Gustave Flaubert spoke of aspiring to write a book about nothing, a book that would be held together by the mutual tensions of its component parts rather than by its correspondence to any real world. He never wrote such a book: it was much too hard, and anyhow no one would have read it. But it is telling that a writer who is thought of as an arch-realist should have had such a low opinion of reality.

What ties one to the real world is, finally, death. One can make up stories about oneself to one’s heart’s content, but one is not free to make up the ending. The ending has to be death: it is the only ending one can seriously believe in. What an irony then that to anchor oneself in a sea of fictions one should have to rely on death!

John Maxwell Coetzee, Arabella Kurtz, The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy, 2015.

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