George Saunders on the Vitality of Fiction in Increasingly Turbulent Times
The writer and MacArthur Genius fellow chats with InsideHook about his writing process, teaching methods and the singular healing powers of a good story
For us, today, in America, I think we need to come into some realization about the way that corporate capitalism has learned to look very hip and charming and essential and is still fundamentally against the individual. Or, it sees the individual as a datum to be exploited. It has learned to do this in a way that aligns with what feels like the individual’s interests, and yet I think so many of us are sad because we can feel the actual misalignment. This issue can be taken on directly, in the subject of the story, or it can be taken on just by writing a really good story about anything. The act of two people (reader and writer) huddled over a story is a show of confidence in our ability to parse out incredible nuance and our ability to really be open to the Other. That’s the whole game: we start out regarding the character as we would someone passing on the street (“Huh, that dude looks goofy”) and then, by the end of the story, if it’s a good one, he’s become, essentially, “us, on a different day” or “us, located in a different life.” That move right there is pretty radical. It says that our first impressions are actually badly informed projections, based on very little, and it says that we are capable of honing those impressions into something more like love, or fondness — we know so much about the character that we feel comfortable really looking at him or her. The story form, we might say, gives us time to do that (in a way that real life doesn’t — before we know it, that sad-looking guy is getting on the bus and, for us, he’s all done).