The honest writer even has the reader to contend with. Writers and
readers are not always natural allies; are often antagonistic, even
natural enemies. The reader says please me, thrill me, comfort me,
flatter me; the writer says (or might say if agent, editor, and publisher,
or his own pusillanimity, would let him), wake up, get up: the ship's
going down, and we're drowning.
Of course, the writer may rationalize by saying he can both tell the
truth and gratify the reader; that his aim is to "sweeten the pill,"
to speak the truth persuasively, to win readers by wooing them. What
he may not always be aware of is the danger the very rhetorical tools
he uses~the sweetener on the pill or, more perversely, the caustic
banalities of "authenticity," one of the chief mannerisms of our time~may
betray the very truth he is trying to say.
Of course, is it even possible, through language, and in particular
through written language, to "tell the truth" about any object, person,
event, however simple? This has been one of the most disputed questions
in philosophy over the last hundred years~from Shklovsky and the Russian
Formalists to Roman Jackobsen to Wittgenstein, Blanchot, Derrida,
the philosophical premises of Beckett's writing~even though the same
suspicion was adumbrated more than two millennia ago by the bÍte-noire
of many of these thinkers: Plato.
The answer to that question~an answer no serious writer is likely
to want to hear~very possibly is no: how can a word or any combination
of words capture the smell of lilacs on a summer morning, or the taste
of a fresh cut peach over vanilla ice cream, or the sound of a moth's
wings beating against a window shade, or the color of a