THE lies in novels are not gratuitous – they fill in the insufficiencies of life. Thus, when life seems full and absolute, and men, out of an all-consuming faith, are resigned to their destinies, novels perform no service at all. Religious cultures produce poetry and theater, not novels.
Fiction is an art of societies in which faith is undergoing some sort of crisis, in which it’s necessary to believe in something, in which the unitarian, trusting and absolute vision has been supplanted by a shattered one and an uncertainty about the world we inhabit and the afterworld.
I’m not at all sure about that idea of novels providing a “service,” but this is nevertheless an excellent explanation of why totalitarian societies clamp down not only on civil rights and freedom of expression, but on that most essential and potentially most subversive of individual rights — freedom of imagination.
Now it’s time to catch up with Vargas Llosa. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter sounds like farcical fun, but this accidental theologist really has to start with The Storyteller, in which a saintly, disfigured student presents himself as the official storyteller for a rainforest tribe and the repository of its collective memory.
Long live stories!