Erik Hoel’s Revelations

by Gabriele Ottaviani

Erik Hoel wrote the excellent The Revelations: Convenzionali is so glad to talk with him for you.

What need does this novel arise from?

This is such a good question because I think all novels must be necessary. You must feel you must write this book, and could write no other book. Here, I felt it necessary to share a lot of what I had experienced on this hunt for a theory of consciousness, and I felt that through this tale I could say something literary, that is, it seemed a necessary subject for literature to eventually cover, but it had not happened yet.

What is the message of the novel?

It’s full of messages, but perhaps its overriding message is one of ambiguity – that for some things there are no easy answers. It is also about those who attempt to uncover mysteries, and what drives this, as well as an expression of what it is like to be a scientist.

What is the role of literature in our society?

Literature is the only medium which can easily portray the contents of consciousness. In a novel, one can talk about perceptions and memories and emotions as if they were physical objects, and refer to them directly. Film cannot do this, it must refer to mental occurrences indirectly. This means that literature is an essential medium, as it reflects and expresses our best understanding of minds. However, as a medium it is not what it once was, at least in terms of public attention. The rise of film has replaced some of it in terms of prestige, although literature still certainly can have a large impact on society. But the sequestering of literature into the academy via the Master of Fine Arts means that a lot of what is called literature is now merely the vestigial output of academia.

What aspect of human nature and science arouses the most fascination and mystery in you?

The Revelations takes place in the world of consciousness research, which is one of the few truly unanswered questions in science. I dedicated decades of my life to understanding it, so that must be the first to me. Why there is anything it is like to exist is as great a mystery as existence itself.

What curiosity drives you to write?

I feel like writing, at least fiction writing, has to be based on interest and curiosity over the characters and scenes. You can have grand sweeping ambitions, but ultimately it must be in the details and minutia of the novel itself, like what happens next, or what someone will say, that acts as the driving curiosity. With nonfiction it is much more obvious, and more based purely on the ideas, rather than the execution. 

What relationship exists in your opinion between science and feeling?

Science is primarily thought of as being stripped of feeling, and scientists as being neutral, almost robots. None of the top scientists are actually like that in practice, however. All of them are as emotional and obsessive as artists. So I think it is a close relationship.

What was the most important revelation of your life?

I think life is a succession of revelations, some larger, some smaller, some denied. Choosing one is impossible, since they concern so many different domains, from work to personal life to the mysteries of the universe. But I would say one revelation that is common, and yet unremarked upon in its importance, is the expansion of self that having children entails. Such a change to the very sense of self must necessarily be rated as important, since it involves something so primitive and fundamental.



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