The Architecture of Fiction

October 18, 2012 — 5 Comments

I’m reading Zadie Smith on “Rereading Barthes and Nabokov,” and her essay leads with this:

The novels we know best have an architecture. Not only a door going in and another leading out, but rooms, hallways, stairs, little gardens front and back, trapdoors, hidden passageways, et cetera.

Which reminded me of what I was trying to say here when I talked about Fallingwater and fiction (and about writing a fiction set at Fallingwater):

Wright leads you through space and sounds and organic substances that you’ve never experienced in a house. (And isn’t that akin to what writers aspire to with fiction: leading readers through narrative space?)

Frank Lloyd Wright (Photo: Canoe Communications)

And the next thing I knew Zadie Smith was talking about Wright and comparing him to Nabokov. In response to Roland Barthes’s claim that the Author is dead, that only the text is important, Smith says:

I think of [Nabokov] as one of the last, great twentieth-century believers in the autonomy of the Author, as Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the last believers in the Architect. They both specialized in theatrical interviews, struck self-regarding and self-mythologizing poses, all of which would mean nothing (the Author being dead, you don’t have to listen to his self-descriptions) if it weren’t for the fact that they wove the restrictions and privileges of authorship into the very fabric of the things they built.

Vladimir Nabokov (Photo: Guardian UK)

Smith continues:

For it’s true that each time I enter Pnin I feel its author controlling (via an obsessive specificity) all my reactions, just as, in Wright’s Unity Temple, one enters through a small, low side door, forced to approach the magnificence of the interior by way of a series of of awkward right angled turns.

Wright’s Unity Temple (Photo: uuworld.org)

And all of this makes me pensive and happy as I return to Fallingwater this weekend . . .

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5 responses to The Architecture of Fiction

  1. 

    What a wonderful collection of thoughts, Kelcey. Enjoy your time at Fallingwater this weekend!

  2. 

    Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m looking forward to Fallingwater in the fall. It’s a different place each season.

  3. 

    I love the discussion here and how Smith compares authorship to architecture. There is a design to a story, it’s a part of the experience of reading the journey. I’m just surprised that Smith is so fond of Nabokov in this way. Generally I hear it is about Lolita that he gets praise, and I couldn’t even bear to read the entirety of that book.

  4. 

    Pensive and happy — how lovely, how nicely expressed.

  5. 

    Thanks for your comment, Lila. As a reader, I love to be led through the story like a person through a house. And as a writer, I love to think about how words and spaces create an atmosphere the same way bricks and windows do. Please give Lolita another chance! 🙂

    And Ray: thank you.

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