In Praise of Gossip: The Novel’s Evil Tongue

Source: Cynthia Ozick in Arts and Letters Daily, December 29. Her most recent book is the novel Foreign Bodies. Her new collection, Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays,” will be published in July.

GossipWhen the world was just new, Story came into being, and it came with the beguilements of gossip, and talebearing, and rumor.

Most pressingly, it came through truth-telling. After all, the garrulous serpent was no liar when he told Eve the secret of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eat of it, he whispered, and “your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.”

Ever since Genesis, no story has been free of gossip, and how unreasonable it is that gossip has its mischief-making reputation. Had Eve not listened, had she been steadfast in the face of so unverifiable a proposition, what barrenness! Eden would still be what it was, a serene and tedious nullity, a place where nothing happens: two naked beings yawning in their idleness, innocent of what mutual nakedness might bring forth. No Cain and Abel, then no crime novels and Hitchcock thrillers. No Promised Land, then no Young Men from the Provinces setting out on aspiring journeys. No Joseph in Egypt, then no fraught chronicles of travail and redemption.

In the absence of secrets revealed – in the absence also of rumor and repute and misunderstanding and misdirection – no Chaucer, no Boccaccio, no Boswell, no Jane Austen, no Maupassant, no Proust, no Henry James! The instant Eve took in that awakening morsel of serpentine gossip, Literature in all its variegated forms was born.

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3 responses to “In Praise of Gossip: The Novel’s Evil Tongue

  1. Yet why, at the same time, for many the carnal yearning, disguised in whatever ‘spiritual’ fashion, to reincarnate ‘Paradise Lost’, does not seem to be waning?

  2. For as long as the human capacity in committing the ‘original sin’ of gaining self-knowledge and procreating continues..the future of literature in the New Year appears, at least from the vantage point of this somatic spec of virtual reality, to look all right.
    Happy New Year, Eric!