Updated: Well I'm glad it isn't Maud after all. Thanks for the correction, Barb (and link fix, Chance, and yes A.S. and I are tight enough to not let differences get in the way of our relationship, Anonymous. Isn't love great?)
Just some random thoughts, since I've been concentrating on other people lately, one person in particular, and not on a whole lot else.
First, Matt Cheney is writing some wonderful thoughts on fiction and reality and language at his blog, The Mumpsimus. The last two entries are rich, and the comments on the entry about psychological realism are great too. Matt's impetus for the entry on psychological realism in fiction and the predictability of character originated with an entry about this subject at a blog kept by Trent Walters. So go take a look.
As for me, I don't know if we can ever really know the essence of a person or a character. I don't think we can. I think we can approach a person or a character, but that your approach must always be in motion as that person's essence will be too. I don't believe in fixed personalities, I don't believe in a person being only one person and predictable beyond certain attributes and tastes and dislikes that in the end tell you nothing about them really. Instead I believe in a self that is fluid and always in motion. The action taken by that self are fixed, after they occur. The self takes actions one day and then take other actions that are contradictory the next, and sometimes this occurs without any causality. I don't believe in knowing, I suppose, but in being.
Next, usually I agree with almost everything on Maud Newton'sblog, but in an entry on the Booker Prize by her friend Andy, when he admits he thinks Arundahti Roy's The God of Small Things was a self-indulgent vanity piece, I am left slack-jawed. I loved The God of Small Things. I recommend it to people I love who I think should read that book. Those characters, the world Roy creates in that book, are still close to my heart several years after first reading it. I think the language is gorgeous. I love the splicing of words to create new words, I love the way the text is drenched in metaphor and simile. A.S. Byatt, who I also love, felt the book was over the top when it won the Booker, but I disagreed with my girl A.S. back then, even if I do respect the lady. And I'll disagree with Maud's friend now. First of all, I'm suspicious of the term "self-indulgent" when applied to a great many things, especially literature. I mean, really, what does a person mean when they apply that term to a book? Self-indulgent. It sounds to me as if they are saying, This writer wrote this book only for themselves and no one else. It's written in such a way that no audience was considered as the author wrote it. And if that's what a critic means when they apply that term, I think that's crap. Obviously I (and great many other people) loved The God of Small Things, so don't discount me and those other people as a valid audience. If Roy was being self-indulgent, then she also indulged me and a great many others, which means you have to take away the "selfish" connotation of that label. And if this isn't the definition of "self-indulgent" people mean when they use that word to describe a book, then I'm not sure what they mean. And vanity piece? Vanity? Again it has implications that the critic is describing the author to be only concerned with him or herself. Again I don't find this a correct term for The God of Small Things. I feel Roy opened up a wide vista for many readers to inhabit while reading her book.
I think a lot of critics, when using the terms "self-indulgent" and "vanity", really mean that this books uses poetic language, it makes up words that don't even exist maybe, it creates forms that we've never seen before and why do we need to do that? What's wrong with good old fashioned fiction? I hate how poetic literary creations get shafted simply because they use language at a heightened level, or invent narrative structures that a reader must become acquainted with, and learn new strategies for reading as they go. I think those books are important, and shouldn't be bashed simply because they don't fall in line with a preconceived notion of the sort of language an author should use, or a certain kind of pattern of telling, or anything that premeditates the act of reading a book for the first time at all. I think those are good rules for living in a social world too. Too often we make judgments on people for the same reasons that we do upon these books. Who cares if someone doesn't talk, dress, behave, etc in the way that the majority of others do? Take them in and let them be. They might (and most likely do) have something to add to the spectrum of humanity.