There is a painting by Picasso which depicts a pitcher, a candle, blue enamel pot. They are sitting, unadorned, upon the barest table. Would we wonder what was cooking on that pot? Is it beans, perhaps, or carrots, a marmite? The orange of the carrot is a perfect complement for the blue of the pot, and the genius of Picasso, neglecting nothing, has surely placed, behind that blue, invisible disks of dusky orange, which, in addition, subtly enriched the table's velvet brown. Doesn't that seem reasonable? Now I see that it must be beans, for above the pot - you can barely see them - are quaking lines of steam, just the lines we associate with boiling beans... or is it blanching pods? Scholarly research, supported by a great foundation, will discover that exactly such a pot was used to cook cassoulet in the kitchens of Charles the Fat... or was it Charles the Bald? There's a dissertation in that. And this explains the dripping candle standing by the pot. (Is it dripping?no? a pity. Let's go on). For isn't Charles the Fat himself that candle? Oh no, some day, he's not! Blows are struck. Reputations made and ruined. Someone will see eventually that the pot is standing on table, not a stove. But the pot has just come from the stove, it will be pointed out. Has not Picasso caught that vital moment of transition? The pot is too hot. The brown is burning. Oh, not this table, which has been coated with resistant plastic. Singular genius - blessed man - he thinks of everything.
Here you have half the history of our criticism in the novel. Entire books have been written about the characters in Dickens, Trollope, Tolstoi, Faulkner. But why not? Entire books have been written about God, his cohorts and the fallen angels.
William H. Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life, Alfred A. Knopf, Londres, 1970.