In my previous post I had promised further commentary on why it is possible to acquire a feel for, or working knowledge of, the works of some–but not all–authors by reading about them rather than reading them. So here it is.
What kind of writers would fall into the category of authors whose individual works, or entire oeuvres, could profitably be understood without having to read them in full? It might be fairly easy to conclude that these are writers who wield a great deal of technique and employ overarching themes and ideas. However, in my opinion, this need not always be true. For instance, you could get to know all about Garcia Marquez’s brand of magic realism as a narrative technique by reading about it, and still be blissfully unaware of what makes One Hundred Years of Solitude a marvel. This, I believe, is because Marquez used magic realism to tell a long, complex, and ultimately satisfying tale; he placed his themes, ideas, and technique in the service of his story. He was, first and foremost, a story-teller.
This, then, is the distinction as I see it; not one between writers who wield technique and trickery and those who do not, but one between those who sell ideas and those who tell stories: the Fabulists as opposed to the Story-Tellers. Borges and Kafka were purveyors of fabulous ideas and metaphysical concepts. Their stories serve their ideas; they are vehicles for metaphysical experiments. It is telling that most of Kafka’s and all of Borges’s works are short stories. They were fabulists, who placed their stories in the service of their themes and ideas. And it is this that makes it possible to appreciate their work and those of other fabulists simply by coming to terms with the underlying conceptual frameworks. For, to grasp their concepts is to grasp their work and the workings of their worlds.