Readers ask literature to open windows to the human soul. It’s sad, then, that they don’t usually get to witness the editing process. In the editing process, two people who both lead a literary life—an augmented reality where the connections between existence and sentences are investigated daily—converge on the text one of the two has written, and wage sensual war on each other for the soul of the page. This battle shows how vulnerable the two players are—it shows an abyss that is then hidden from view in the finished product. Before sentences are streamlined and steady flow is established, those windows on the human soul give rawer, starker insight. The editing process might in that sense be the real literature—the real experience of drowning in a haze of feeling and meaning, surrendering to the uncanny impression that we have no idea what reality is.
A fellow writer, who’d made the switch from their native language to English for their next book, told me years ago that their American editor was doing something very strange to their manuscript—they were drawing red circles around those passages where a parent was either smoking cigarettes or drinking beer in front of their children. Under those red circles, the editor was adding the comment, « bad parenting ». I assumed the editor was signaling discomfort at the idea that a bad parenting model was on casual display inside the story, that the writer could carelessly portray bad examples outside the context, say, of a cautionary tale. That beers and cigarettes were not harbingers of tragedies to come. That beers and cigarettes were just—there?
A European writer might want to distance themself from this kind of editor and rant about the puritanical idealism of American publishing. A writer writing in English for a European publication aimed at forging a conversation among European writers might want to start here, draw a line, and say—this is what we are not.
Drawing such a line would be a dangerous choice, I feel, because if the brand of idealism that creates this sort of obsession for morality in American literature comes straight from Christianity, that means we have it in us: were we to dismiss it in haste, I’m sure we’d be swallowed back into it by convoluted way of some roleplaying: we would exaggerate our role of jaded sinners and thus end up unwittingly justifying the morality of American literature.
Put it like that, and it looks as if I’m talking about a big battle for the soul of literature. What I have in mind is in fact something way smaller.
For my brother,