Writers are the last thing society wants- E.L. Doctorow
This is the second part of the speech of novelist E.L. Doctorow. The first part was published here. He speaks about how writers are always in jeopardy. And, even acclaimed writers like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were kept under surveillance by the U.S. government.
A writer said that his job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and that’s a pretty good notion to keep in mind as long as it doesn’t make us self-righteous and holier-than-thou. The way to get around that is to be ourselves, to use ourselves for a fictional models of morals of insufficiency. So, in any event, we writers are a nuisance. And those of you who dream of being writers, novelists and poets, let me assure you we are the last thing society wants. So much so that all over the world today, writers are tortured and put in prison and sent into exile because their representations of reality do not suit the governments they live under and I mean all over the world, countries of the right or countries of the left, countries whose systems we abhor and countries whose systems we support and send money to. And the reason these are in trouble because writers like politicians know what power there is, in their language. That reality is amenable to any construction that is placed on it.
They know that life is something you compose. Even in this republic- U.S., the federal agency at one time or another, in the past 70 years had under surveillance and kept dossiers on every American novelist and poet you have even heard of, including Hemingway, William Faulkner, Theodore Dreiser, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. Though, as the man who discovered from the New York Times published a book on this subject, as he said, not one of these writers was ever convicted of a crime or found to have done anything illegal.
So, the point is that we are under eternal suspicion. And, while I worry about the dangers to constitutional freedom of that kind of bureaucratic behaviour, I also have to admit, it makes me very proud to be a writer. I can bear anything but indifference. I think writing fiction is the most important, most all-encompassing disciplines. I think fiction is the ultimate discourse because it includes all others, all the vocabulary of the special discipline of the sciences, includes theological diction and the diction of ordinary life. There is nothing it doesn’t accept; it will exclude nothing. It even accepts data for its dreams, illusions, visions, hallucinations.
So, fiction is something in my mind that connects the visible with the invisible and distributes the suffering of one to many so it can be borne by all. So, that’s how important I think fiction is and that means that the writer has responsibility to bear witness and his final loyalty is to truth not to institutional truth or lies of government, government officials or religious officials, not even the institutions like family when they falter and are destructive. So, you see, that’s the kind of trouble writers get into and that trouble is real measure of our success. It’s the matter of staying alert.