Writing and Still Life

When I was at college, in every literary discussion there was always such an emphasis on ‘What does he say? What’s the message?’ Even then I felt that very few authors had anything to say. What was important to me was ‘What does it do?’ This refutes, of course, the idea that the message is the objective of a novel. In fact, any ‘message’ becomes part of the texture, stirred so much that it’s as negligible as a teaspoon of salt in a large stew. Think of the number of artists who have done still lifes—a view of a river or a vase of flowers … there is nothing about the choice of subject that is going to startle anybody. What will distinguish one still life from another is what the artist brings to it. To a certain extent that is true of the novelist.

Joseph Heller, born May 1, 1923–December 12, 1999, Author of Catch-22

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