I believe that Woolf, with perhaps the example of the newly translated Chekhov in her mind, introduced absent-mindedness—in all senses of the phrase—to English fiction …
I have just started reading Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer – and I’m already deeply in love with this fantastic text and its beautiful illustrations.
Let me give you some examples…
The book opens with several quotations, one of them is from Milan Kundera The Art of the Novel (1988):
A novel examines not reality but existence. And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he’s capable of. Novelists draw up the map of existence by discovering this or that human possibility.
Milan Kundera is here talking from within the novel, he is talking about the good writers possibilities and obligations. A bit further on in his book, Turchi is discovering the same possibility from the reader’s point of view:
A reader enters the world of a poem or story, relistic or otherwise, willing, at least for a short time, to believe it and to accept its terms. An enormous amount of popular art, or entertainment, asks us to inhabit its world in order to escape from our own. More ambitious art invites us to inhabit its world but also to see around and beyond it – to see our own world through it. It draws the imagination outward.
“… It draws the imagination outward”: I find this to be a beautiful way to formulate the importance of art. Because in this outward movement lays the possibility for discovering something important outside of oneself; the world of relationships, the value the other as a stranger, absolute difference – with all its ethical implications.
Chekhov says: a writer’s job is to pose questions.
And what is the art of posing questions?Not simply to leave the reader in a void, but to place the reader in a carefully shaped, well-defined void.