This is related to the previous post here: Franzen, Wallace, Islands and Solitude, specifically to Jonatahn Franzen account of David Foster Wallace’s thought about the fundamental role of fiction:
He’d love writing fiction, “Infinite Jest” in particular, and he’s been very explicit, in our many discussions of the purpose of novels, about his belief that fiction is a solution, the best solution, to the problem of existential solitude.
Compare with those comments given during an interview conducted in 1993:
Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being. If you operate, which most of us do, from the premise that there are things about the contemporary U.S. that make it distinctively hard to be a real human being, then maybe half of fiction’s job is to dramatize what it is that makes it tough. The other half is to dramatize the fact that we still “are” human beings, now. Or can be. This isn’t that it’s fiction’s duty to edify or teach, or to make us good little Christians or Republicans; I’m not trying to line up behind Tolstoy or Gardner. I just think that fiction that isn’t exploring what it means to be human today isn’t art. (“An Interview With David Foster Wallace” by Larry McCaffery, Review of Contemporary Fiction, 13.2, Summer 1993, 127–150. PDF)
This is a very old and very fundamental theme in human history: we are human beings because we tell stories, we create representations. It’s somehow reminiscent of the plot behind Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) where stories need to be perpetually told in order to sustain the world.
In the 90, William Gibson expressed a similar idea in “Memory Palace” a “performance show” (directed by Montxo Algora). Although the script for the show is notoriously hard to find, the following excerpt was reproduced at the very end of No Maps For These Territories, a documentary by Mark Neale:
“When we were only several hundred-thousand years old, we built stone circles, water clocks. Later, someone forged an iron spring, set clockwork runnings, imagined grid-lines on a globe. Cathedrals are like machines to finding the soul; bells of clock towers stitch the sleeper’s dreams together, you see; so we’ve always been on our way to this new place ―that is no place, really― but it is real. It’s our nature to represent: we’re the animal that represents, the sole and only maker of maps. And if our weakness has been to confuse the bright and bloody colors of our calendars with the true weather of days, and the parchment’s territory of our maps with the land spread out before us―never mind. We have always been on our way to this new place ―that is no place, really― but it is real.” (watch it on YouTube, visit the documentary official website)
It’s also a recurring motif in Woody Allen’s film. From Annie Hall (1977) to Stardust Memories (1980) and Deconstructing Harry (1997), there’s always a little comment about the relationship between life and art. Here’s the bit from Annie Hall:
You know, you know how you’re always tryin’ t’ get things to come out perfect in art because, uh, it’s real difficult in life.
Here’s the one in Stardust Memories:
You can’t control life. It doesn’t wind up perfectly. Only-only art you can control. Art and masturbation. Two areas in which I am an absolute expert.
And the one in Deconstructing Harry:
―Everyone is waiting to honor you. After all, you created them.
―I love all of you. Really.You’ve given me some of the happiest moments of my life…You’ve even saved my life at times. And now, you’ve actually taught me things. And I’m completely grateful. The author’s message is… “know yourself”, stop kidding yourself. Accept your limitations and get on with your life. It’s amazing. To me… it’s a really interesting character. A guy… who can’t function well in life… but can only function in art. It’s sad in away and also funny. Good for a novel.
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