I've thought about that often since. I mean, about the word nice. Perhaps I mean good. Of course they mean nothing, when you start to think about them. A good man, one says; a good woman; a nice man, a nice woman. Only in talk of course, these are not words you'd use in a novel. I'd be careful not to use them.
Yet of that group, I will say simply, without further analysis, that George was a good person, and that Willi was not. That Maryrose and Jimmy and Ted and Johnnie the pianist were good people, and that Paul and Stanley Lett were not. And furthermore, I'd bet that ten people picked at random off the street to meet them, or invited to sit in that party under the eucalyptus trees that night, would instantly agree with this classification-would, if I used the word good, simply like that, know what I meant.
And thinking about this, which I have done so much, I discover that I come around, by a back door, to another of the things that obsess me. I mean, of course, this question of 'personality.' Heaven knows we are never allowed to forget that the 'personality' doesn't exist any more. It's the theme of half the novels written, the theme of the sociologists and all the other -ologists. We're told so often that human personality has disintegrated into nothing under pressure of all our knowledge that I've even been believing it. Yet when I look back to that group under the trees, and re-create them in my memory,suddenly I know it's nonsense. Suppose I were to meet Maryrose now, all these years later,she'd make some gesture, or turn her eyes in such a way, and there she'd be, Maryrose, and indestructible. Or suppose she 'broke down,' or became mad. She would break down into her components, and the gesture, the movement of the eyes would remain, even though some connection had gone. And so all this talk, this antihumanist bullying, about the evaporation of the personality becomes meaningless for me at that point when I manufacture enough emotional energy inside myself to create in memory some human being I've known. I sit down, and remember the smell of the dust and the moonlight, and see Ted handing a glass of wine to George, and George's over-grateful response to the gesture. Or I see, as in a slow-motion film, Maryrose turn her head, with her terrifyingly patient smile... I've written the word film. Yes. The moments I remember all have the absolute assurance of a smile, a look, a gesture, in a painting or a film. Am I saying then that the certainty I'm clinging to belongs to the visual arts, and not to the novel, not to the novel at all, which has been claimed by the disintegration and the collapse? What business has a novelist to cling to the memory of a smile or a look, knowing I so well the complexities behind them? Yet if I did not, I'd never be able to set a word down on paper; just as I used to keep myself from going crazy in this cold northern city by deliberately making myself remember the quality of hot sunlight on my skin.
And so I'll write again that George was a good man.