Journal of the Fictive Life Critical Essays

Howard Nemerov


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In its introspective exploration of how a work gets written, Journal of the Fictive Life displays the traits that mark Howard Nemerov as man, thinker, teacher, and artist. Nemerov’s probings and resolutions are no less universal and evocative because he chooses the Freudian mode of self-conducted psychoanalysis rather than the Jungian mode of metaphorical analogy drawn from anthropology. Candor, wit, self-effacement, and intellectual honesty are manifest throughout this work, but the journal entries are more effective than the reflections of the fictional novelist Felix Ledger, who is necessarily aborted. Nemerov writes,I began under a pseudonym, Felix Ledger, whom I had invented as a novelist in a novel, . . . began talking about his relation with the art of writing. But really, even thus early, he was talking about my relation with the art of writing, and the pseudonym was already serving no real purpose. But I retained it for the writing of ten days’ entries . . . and it automatically dropped out only with the first narration and inspection of a dream, and the consequent deepening of analysis, the greater intimacy demanded with the details of my own past, which then and since became the true subject.

Felix Ledger was left behind because he had not established a character of his own. “Nevertheless,” writes Nemerov, “those first pages were necessary, though perhaps the pseudonym was not; and it is notable that this fictive self confesses rather less fully than I do myself.”

After Felix Ledger distinguishes between the novel and poetry as writing forms, he notes, “For a Jewish Puritan of the middle class, the novel is serious, the novel is work, the novel is conscious application—why the novel is practically the retail business all over again.” Yet poetry, Ledger makes clear, is pleasure, something that “has to be paid for.” The author frankly examines the ghosts of memory and unveils the enigmas and guilts and gildings of family life. He confesses his feelings about being the favorite son of a wealthy urban Jewish family in fashionable New York...

(The entire section is 858 words.)