A Night of Lecture

April 24, 1996
E 351

They dressed the stage with two blue and warn velvet chairs. A pitcher of water sits atop a table next to two water glasses; this ensemble divided the chairs. The lecture hall contained the excited buzzing of voices from the audience. I have never seen a more ornate structure than this. Narrow and deeply set, every time I turn my gaze over to the stage a wave of vertigo washes over me; forcing my attention back to the walls. The walls are also ornately adorned with outlaid patterns that swirl and swoop up and down the paneling– adding a feeling of grandeur to this already special evening.

The lights dim as applause rises out from the seats as introductions were being made. Apparently, Mr. Fowles came to Portland to meet Barry Lopez. John Fowles has been labeled everything from honorary curator at the museum to a natural historian but of all his titles “with his imagination like his novelist is inadequate” a term to describe him. He himself even suggests in one of his introductions that he ” did not intend to walk into the cage labeled novelist’ ” (Program Guide). No, Mr. Fowles goes beyond this in the fullest sense. Each and every novel is different with experimentation and twists.

There are three main concerns within his writing. The first deals with his cause for freedom. Freedom of the human spirit as well as the form. In his writing this freedom is expressed most eloquently as he won’t let anything or anyone dictate what or how he writes. The writing process, to him, is learning how to be free from boundaries. And one of the ways that he accomplishes this is by leading the reader astray, giving them what they believe is the right path of deduction and them going the opposite direction. This is done because “we [as readers] like it.”

The second main concern in his writing deals with the manipulation of shading as it’s represented in the conventions of time and characterization. I am left a little fuzzy as to what Mr. Fowles really means by this but to me it is a sense of having “to known when to leave things out” so that the reader can fill in what materials have been left out. When this is done, he suggests, that from this collaboration of the reader and writer comes what he believes is the final text. It is reading that provides us with a connection, memories and broadens our horizons.”

The final objective is to show how we fit in with Nature. It is said that “his stories are set in real paces and [therefore] we can all go to them” and this is what draws readers to him. He believes that we are set in the moment of the “process of ruin” or destruction of Nature. His novel-in-progress takes place in the Mediterranean and deals with dolphins. He also believes that the future will always be more interesting, because we will outlive man’s stupidity.

He also had some thoughts to share on what a novelist is and what french benefits writers get. For example, as a novelist we have command over what he calls virtual reality. We are allowed to do as we like in our writings but we do have some control over what life the piece takes. Another liberty we authors have is the ability to lie. In his mind writers are doubled people that lie to get a message across. We are entertainers, but part of entertaining is that we never tell the ultimate truths. Apparently we also like showing off and are always vague.

Writing a novel is a process of growing, in which you must allow the first draft to brew. Once this process is done then it can be reworked. “The novel to me is to explain what life is about and what you feel life is about… what these creations mean and through that what you yourself mean” (Program guide). That is what John Fowles taught me tonight. That and his Socrates advice of Know thyself, for in knowing thyself we can also get to know others and vice versa. And as the applause rose out once more from the audience, I definitely knew that this was a night of lecture.