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October 2002
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Fiction lies within the bookends of summer

This is a transcript of the interview that Nathan Childers gave to the Journal of Pretentious Literary Theory.


JPLT:
Would you be so good as to comment on your aphorism, "Fiction lies within the bookends of summer"?

Nathan Childers:
I'd rather not. Explaining metaphors is rather like chewing people's food for them.

JPLT:
But Nathan, premasticated food is in. Many of our readers like Pringle's potato chips.

Nathan Childers:
Oh, very well, if I must. It is a mystery to me why I consented to this interview. Wasn't there some mention of a fee?

JPLT:
I believe that there was some mention of a fee. I am quite certain there was no mention of payment.

Nathan Childers:
I was afraid of that. Very well, the aphorism. Your readers will have appreciated that there is an immediate albeit superficial ambiguity in the aphorism, quite delicious if one likes that sort of thing.

The heart of the aphorism, though, is the phrase, "the bookends of summer," so I suppose I should begin with that. Summer is commonly taken as one of the three seasons of life, with spring being youth, summer being maturity, and autumn old age. A great merit of this metaphor is that it is presented to us by nature herself. As such it is natural and unassuming, unlike the forced metaphors produced by so many authors. It is treacherous, though, because it evokes reincarnation.

JPLT:
Reincarnation?

Nathan Childers:
Yes. One needs to know whether man is an annual or a perennial.

JPLT:
Excuse me, I don't quite see what you mean by man being an annual or a perennial.

Nathan Childers:
Oh dear. Surely it should be ... Never mind. Winter. Winter is the key, the unmentioned season in the metaphor. Winter is death, and death winter, and yet death is not death. Life is reborn when winter passes, when death dies. Winter then, is the period of quiescence between death and rebirth. Thus reincarnation.

Nature is a jade; she offers life two paths, that of the annuals and that of the perennials. Annuals die the true death with winter; the next generation takes their place. Perennials appear to die with winter but come alive again with spring. Nature's jest is that man does not know whether he is an annual or a perennial.

JPLT:
I see. Is this insight original with you?

Nathan Childers:
It would be were it not for the fact that it is five thousand years old. Can we go to lunch now?

JPLT:
Perhaps in a bit. Are you finished with summer?

Nathan Childers:
We are all finished with summer. It is the human condition to be finished with summer. But no, there is more.

Summer is the timeless time. Is it not commonplace to hear people ask, where did summer go. They descend in hordes upon the beaches, they take their vacations, they play, they have the good time, and in the end they turn to each other and ask, where has summer gone. Summer could last a thousand years and in the end people would still ask, where has summer gone. Why is that? I will tell you.

Have you ever watched a solar eclipse? The popular science mavens tell us that we should look away every so often. It seems that if we stare fixedly at the image we fall into a trance and only remember the first and last few seconds of the viewing. During the rest of the time we are conscious but we remember nothing of the experience; memories require differance to be constructed.

So it is with summer; it is a time of repetition of elemental pleasures. It is that repetition that makes memory impossible. We can be happy; we can remember being happy; we cannot remember happiness.

Speaking of memory, haven't we forgotten lunch?

JPTL:
I believe sandwiches are on their way. So then, are the bookends the beginning and end of summer, the first and last few seconds, so to speak? Or do they instead encompass summer as bookends encompass a book?

Nathan Childers:
Or even that the bookends belong to summer. We do not know nor do we care. The metaphor tells us to look for fiction in the bookends, i.e., in the delimiters of summer rather than in summer itself. It suggests that there are two sorts of stories, those set at the beginning of summer and those set at the end. The first sort is the fairy tale. It begins "Once upon a time" which is to say that the story is preceded by a blank, featureless eternity. It ends with "They lived happily ever after" which is to say the story is followed by the empty, endless bliss of summer. The second story is the tragedy. It begins with a flawed happiness that collapses into destruction.

You haven't asked about lies.

JPLT:
What about lies?

Nathan Childers:
I'm glad you asked. That is a very good question. The two meanings of "lie" provide the superficial ambiguity that I spoke of. One meaning gives us the obvious interpretation that fiction is to be found in the bookends of summer, or, in language that your readers will understand, fiction is situated in the bookends of summer.

The other meaning suggests that fiction set within the bookends of summer is untruthful; it lies, which is to say that the variants of the two great story are false. At one level fiction is a lie; it is a factually incorrect narration. At a deeper level the lie embodies truths. Perhaps, however, the truths of fiction are themselves lies.

Ah, I see the sandwiches have arrived. What you have should hold your readers.

Tunafish!? I hate tunafish!


This page was last updated October 1, 2002.

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