Elias Khoury (Brilliantly) on Writing

John Lingan has a good point in “Everybody’s Got Advice”, posted over at The Constant Conversation. When writers give advice, they have in mind their own process, their own product, their own (sometimes narrow) tastes. Ultimately, perhaps the only thing you can get from this sort of how-to is the advice-giver’s literary values.

So forgive me when I say that this is real advice (from an interview published in Banipal):

I used to write the opposite of what I was living but I used to really believe in the ideology of politics and I used to think that literature was something else. Then I discovered that life and literature cannot be separated so much, and that there must be something wrong in our optimistic ideological approach. When you write literature you cannot insert the ideology of historical optimism which was in fashion, Mao Tse Tung etc. Ideology cannot work in literature and it cannot really work in life either because it covers reality and it covers atrocities and I cannot be part of that.

My criticism of the civil war started with al-Jabal as-saghir [Little Mountain]….

My criticism became more explicit in al-Wujuh al-baidha’ [The White Faces, to be published by Archipelago as White Masks] (Beirut, 1981), which was considered to be very heavy criticism of what we – our leftist and Palestinian camp – were doing, and I was considered to be against the revolution. The PLO practically banned the book. They threatened the distributors so much that the book did not appear on the market until after 1982. It was then that I discovered that my work as an intellectual and as a writer is, first, important and, second, meaningless, cannot be done, if I am not critical of the situation I am living in.