Keith Scribner: Representation and Psychology of Conflict
Keith Scribner grew up in the northeast of the United States. Earning a B.A. in economy at Vassar and a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Montana, he was awarded a Wallace Stegner Fellowship to study at Stanford then began teaching creative writing there. Scribner is the author of three novels: The GoodLife (1999), Miracle Girl (2004), and The Oregon Experiment (2011).
Les éditions Christian Bourgois publieront prochainement un recueil en français des textes écrits à l'occasion des assises du roman.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech William Faulkner famously said that all real meaning in fiction comes from the human heart in conflict with itself. As a novelist I’m compelled by the internal conflicts inherent in the stories we tell ourselves in order to live and how those stories come to define us, how they allow us to justify our actions and possibly delude ourselves about who we are. Like any narrative, these stories help us shape otherwise disparate experiences into a comprehensible form. Over time we become so heavily invested in these narratives that when their veracity is challenged, the resulting conflict can be explosive.
A man tells himself a story: he has played his life by society’s rules; he did well enough in school and would have done better if his parents hadn’t been so distant; he was such a go-getter in his first job that his bosses felt threatened and continually passed him over for the promotion he deserved; he married his high-school sweetheart but because she worked nights and they argued about a better apartment and a vacation they couldn’t afford, their electrifying youthful passion was smothered and she couldn’t get pregnant; the financial crisis hit just as he was about to excel in his next job, just as he’d finally established himself in the tight-knit office, and he was laid off; the unemployment rate is rising and in job interviews he senses he’s gone to the wrong school, he grew up in the wrong town, even his shoes, his haircut, are wrong; their bank account is empty, their health insurance lapses, and then his wife discovers she’s pregnant.
The story he tells himself—that all his life he’s played by the rules—lets him believe he’s been cheated out of the success he’s been promised, promised by the cultural myths that his own personal narrative is partly derived from. Tension arises when his narrative is contradicted by the story the world is telling him about his life—about his very character—triggering doubt, ambivalence, second guessing. The resulting conflict is at the heart of novels because the man must now either reevaluate his identity, reconsidering everything he thinks he knows about himself, or he must act to deny the outside world’s version of his life and defend his own.
Our old trusted narratives die hard so to truly reevaluate oneself—to discover that those disparate events can be formed into a different story, one that admits more complicity in our own failings, less heroic, less virtuous, more common—requires the slaying of dragons, angels, and ghosts. For our man to admit that he did not do better in school because of his own laziness; that he cut corners at work and held petty grudges against his bosses, keeping himself at a distance for fear they’d recognize his incompetence; that as soon as they were married he drew away from his wife, fearing he’d made a mistake; for our man to admit all of this requires tramping to dark dank alleyways in the dangerous parts of town and coming face to face again and again with himself.
More likely he acts to defend the comforting old story—his most loyal ally and friend, the measure of his worth. Internal conflict becomes external. Desperately, blindly, he strikes out to prove he’s been mistreated, that his wife is uninspiring, that she’s using pregnancy to belittle him, that if his parents hadn’t been so cold he’d be more confident in his career, he’d have more friends. He’s entitled to success, to get what he deserves, even if that means breaking the rules, even if that means deception, cheating, betrayal, or violence.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Keith Scribner, "Keith Scribner: Representation and Psychology of Conflict", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), août 2013. Consulté le 06/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/keith-scribner-representation-and-psychology-of-conflict