By awarding John Banville the 2014 Principe de Asturias Prize in Literature, his work, which takes the English language to the very limits of expression, is receiving the recognition it deserves.
John Banville: language as literature’s most essential material /
In the field of English literature, Irish authors have stood out because of their eccentricity, certain ease that allows them to belong to a specific language, albeit from the side-lines, keeping a safe distance from cannons and academies. From Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne to Joyce and Beckett, Ireland’s take on the English language has been a restless, playful wind, often irreverent but above all else vigorous in the sense that, in the end, it remains decisive for literary amazement: putting language to the test, exploring its limits, trying to go beyond its frontiers. Few writers have achieved this, but all of a sudden it seems that the Irish are accomplishing it with ease.
Currently, one of these distinguished authors is novelist John Banville, whose work was recently awarded the Principe de Asturias Prize in Literature. For some years, Banville has distinguished himself as one of the most sensitive prose writers of the English tradition, a careful artisan who also knows when to take risks, and perhaps the fact that he discovered the possibilities of literature in James’ Joyce’s Dubliners is no coincidence. As he states during this interview with The Paris Review, he had barely finished reading the stories when he was already typing his own, with the feverish enthusiasm only adolescence offers, which is tempered with time but which still sets the foundations for the future.
As Joyce did, Banville has also strived to establish a style founded on the use of language, fictions where yes, it is true, the plot and its twists, the awe we feel for what is narrated matter, but this is secondary to the use of language itself. That was the quality that literary critics praised the most when Banville won the Man Booker Prize for The Sea: the mastery the author had reached within language.
Towards the end of the interview mentioned above, Belinda McKeon leads the conversation to the commitment that the artist feels for his work, something that Banville has given plenty of thought to:
Art is a hard business. It’s a matter of sentiment, but not sentimentality. I do it for myself. The coincidence is that what I do for myself chimes sometimes with the experiences and emotions and desires of other people. This is a kind of miracle, but I don’t intend for it to happen—it just does. Art is like sex: when you’re doing it, nothing else matters… When I’m working I don’t care about anything, not even myself. All my concentration is directed towards the making of the thing on the page. The rest is just stuff—even though it is the stuff of life.
A commitment that is perhaps a condition for the art that shakes cannons to its core and transcends.Tagged: John Banville, writers, literature