After finishing a second Beckett novel, Malone Dies (oh, how I love his writing!), I turned again to Willa Cather, who I wrote about here: her 1915 novel The Song of the Lark. Surprisingly, I didn't feel an aesthetic jolt going from one to the other, as both are masters of clear, simple, direct prose. In my copy of The Song of the Lark is a brief essay by Cather "On the Art of Fiction", which sets forth an essential attitude:
Art, it seems to me, should simplify. That, indeed, is very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process; finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole––so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page. Millet had done hundreds of sketches of peasants sowing grain, some of them very complicated and interesting, but when he came to paint the spirit of them all into one picture, The Sower, the composition is so simple that it seems inevitable.In his Journal, Henry David Thoreau wrote of the clarity that memory brings, a similar searching for that which is most important:
I would fain make two reports in my Journal, first the incidents and observations of today; and by to-morrow I review the same and record what was omitted before, which will often be the most significant and poetic part.And, saying something a bit different about writing, which still amounts to a call for simplicity, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
Often I can give the truest and most interesting account of any adventure I have had after years have elapsed, for then I am not confused, only the most significant facts surviving in my memory.
All writing should be selection in order to drop every dead word.The inevitable, the most significant, the cutting out of all dead wood; all this seems to me to be something to aim for, whatever our art.