Creationists: Selected Essays, 1993-2006
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
E. L. Doctorow is acclaimed internationally for such novels as Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, and The March. Now here are Doctorow’s rich, revelatory essays on the nature of imaginative thought. In Creationists, Doctorow considers creativity in its many forms: from the literary (Melville and Mark Twain) to the comic (Harpo Marx) to the cosmic (Genesis and Einstein). As he wrestles with the subjects that have teased and fired his own imagination, Doctorow affirms the idea that “we know by what we create.”
Just what is Melville doing in Moby-Dick? And how did The Adventures of Tom Sawyer impel Mark Twain to radically rewrite what we know as Huckleberry Finn? Can we ever trust what novelists say about their own work? How could Franz Kafka have written a book called Amerika without ever leaving Europe? In posing such questions, Doctorow grapples with literary creation not as a critic or as a scholar–but as one working writer frankly contemplating the work of another. It’s a perspective that affords him both protean grace and profound insight.
Among the essays collected here are Doctorow’s musings on the very different Spanish Civil War novels of Ernest Hemingway and André Malraux; a candid assessment of Edgar Allan Poe as our “greatest bad writer”; a bracing analysis of the story of Genesis in which God figures as the most complex and riveting character. Whether he is considering how Harpo Marx opened our eyes to surrealism, the haunting photos with which the late German writer W. G. Sebald illustrated his texts, or the innovations of such
literary icons as Heinrich von Kleist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sinclair Lewis, Doctorow is unfailingly generous, shrewd, attentive, surprising, and precise.
In examining the creative works of different times and disciplines, Doctorow also reveals the source and nature of his own artistry. Rich in aphorism and anecdote, steeped in history and psychology, informed by a lifetime of reading and writing, Creationists opens a magnificent window into one of the great creative minds of our time.
From the Hardcover edition.
project from these traditional storytelling observances a whole series of narrative tropes. Ahab would have to allow the crew the hunting of other whales. So there was that available action. Bad weather and worse could reasonably be invoked—there was that to rely on. As Ahab’s maniacal single-mindedness became apparent to the crew, some of them, at least, might contest his authority. (Surely this must have been an attractive option in Melville’s mind— a mutinous crew.) There might be the threat
Hernandez, captured by the fascists, walks to his execution by firing squad though he has an opportunity to escape. A big, wide-focus, panoramic novel, L’Espoir often seems hastily thrown together, with barely believable pretexts for extended political and philosophical conversation. Social theory is assumed to be as essential to a serious novel as it is to a Republican future. But despite the book’s weaknesses, what comes through as an ultimate effect is the agony of a country, the terrible
source of a candidate’s appeal. Presidential candidates tend to run as outsiders even though they may come from well-established political dynasties. The current president has no patience for the United Nations, wants to go it alone, and has gone to war alone. He advertises himself as the rugged individualist par excellence. Of course, none of this cynical exploitation of a means of our national identity is Hemingway’s responsibility. But it is at least possible that his longstanding popularity
earliest of his major metaphors of displacement, The Trial, The Castle, and In the Penal Colony coming later. The question must be asked if there is really no exemption for us from Kafka’s prophecy, if he is not so totally Mitteleuropean in his flat characterizations of vile human nature, his depiction of the inevitable tyranny of all social structures, his mordant metaphysics of the emptiness of human striving. Why, for instance, can there not be consolation in the however imperfect American
public celebrating its own mystification, that hardly mattered. The incomprehensibility of his space-time physics, and the fulfillment of an early prophecy of the theory of relativity when Sir Arthur Eddington’s experiments confirmed the bending of starlight as it passed by the sun, was enough for Einstein to be exalted as the iconic genius of the twentieth century. This was a role he could never seriously accept; he would come to enjoy its perks and use it as he grew older on behalf of his