One of the problems with turning more time and attention towards prose fiction writing is that it leaves even less time and attention for the more instant gratification of blogging.
Anyway, I wrapped up volume three of In Search of Lost Time, thereby advancing my knowledge of Proust somewhat higher than it was a decade ago, and decided I needed a break before going further with the French aesthete. But instead of doing what a more reasonable person would do in picking up some lighter reading, I’ve returned again to Joyce and to Milton.
They’re not often spoken of together, but they both at least share a desire to fuse the classical and the Christian in their imagery, albeit from radically different perspectives. Both ambitiously attempted “Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme”, resulting in the sort of books that you tend to gradually inhabit rather than passively absorb. Joyce’s disillusioned Roman Catholicism and Milton’s intense, Puritan humanism both speak to me in different, weird ways.
Joyce in particular is edifying when it comes to writing fiction. One of the things that these recent months has impressed upon me is that I’m rather terrible at getting my ideas into a prose narrative. It’s a consequence of having spent most of my adult life writing university papers and blogging, rather than seriously attempting to follow-up on the novel writing of my teenage years. Joyce’s literary experiments, and their often diorama-like quality, force you to pay conscious attention to how narrative is constructed. He still remains an artist who isn’t easy to recommend.
As for Milton, I can’t say I intend to crank out an epic poem. Ever. But I haven’t been reading enough verse lately, and it’s good to correct that. But theology-as-drama and the complex interaction between religious belief and literary performance will always draw me in.