(Oates’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 8/13.)
I think that I should begin by evoking René Magritte’s famous painting of 1929, The Treachery of Images, with its simple, literal depiction of a pipe and the provocative caption beneath—Ceci n’est pas une pipe. “This is not a pipe.” (How strangely people seem to have reacted to this self-evident statement! Though no one in actual life would confuse a pipe with the drawing of a pipe.)
This is not a traditional lecture so much as the quest for a lecture in the singular—a quest constructed around a sequence of questions: Why do we write? What is the motive for metaphor? “Where do you get your ideas?” Do we choose our subjects, or do our subjects choose us? Do we choose our “voices”? Is inspiration a singular phenomenon, or does it take taxonomical forms? Indeed, is the uninspired life worth living?
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