RIP Peter Matthiessen

From the Paris Review: “RIP our co-founder and longtime friend Peter Matthiessen. We are honored to have known him and will miss him dearly.”

Read his Art of Fiction interview: http://tpr.ly/dLB1Fz.
Read his story “A Replacement”: http://tpr.ly/1b3RmYW.
Listen to Matthiessen on the art of travel writing:http://tpr.ly/NZB4qd.

Below is an excerpt from his Art of Fiction interview (Spring 1999) that I enjoyed…

INTERVIEWER

Can you say precisely why you prefer writing fiction?

MATTHIESSEN

Nonfiction at its best is like fashioning a cabinet. It can be elegant and very beautiful but it can never be sculpture. Captive to facts—or predetermined forms—it cannot fly. Excepting those masters who transcend their craft—great medieval and Renaissance artisans, for example, or nameless artisans of traditional cultures as far back as the caves who were also spontaneous unselfconscious artists.

As in fiction, the nonfiction writer is telling a story, and when that story is well-made, the placement of details and events is never random. The parts are not strung out in a line but come around full circle, like a necklace, to set off the others. They resonate, rekindle one another, stirring the reader with a cumulative effect. A good essay or article can and should have all the attributes of a good short story, including structure and design, pacing and effective placement of its parts—almost all the attributes of fiction except the creative imagination, which can never be permitted to enliven fact. The writer of nonfiction is stuck with objective reality, or should be; how his facts are arranged and presented is where his craft appears, and it can be dazzling when the writer is a good one. The best nonfiction has many, many virtues, among which simple truthfulness is perhaps foremost, yet its fidelity to the known facts is its fatal constraint.

Like anything that one makes well with one’s own hands, writing good nonfiction prose can be profoundly satisfying. Yet after a day of arranging my research, my set of facts, I feel stale and drained, whereas I am energized by fiction. Deep in a novel, one scarcely knows what may surface next, let alone where it comes from. In abandoning oneself to the free creation of something never beheld on earth, one feels almost delirious with a strange joy.

Image

Pictured left to right: William Styron, Tom Guinzburg, Peter Matthiessen, and George Plimpton.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: