Joseph Conrad on Fiction, Art and the Power of the Written Word

Beauty Is How You Look

Fiction — if it at all aspires to be art — appeals to temperament.

And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time.

Such an appeal to be effective must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion.

All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions.

It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the color of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music — which is the art of arts.

And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance.

It is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

The sincere endeavor to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose.

And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fullness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus:

“— My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

~ Joseph Conrad, Preface to ‘Narcissus’ 1897

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Comments

  1. says

    Inspiring, Jo, as usual. As is the art, which quite frankly is what grabbed me in the endless Twitter feed and brought me here. Truly a compelling reason to use good art in Twitter posts (and you do)!

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