The mushroom people

“A book may have been published, but it is not available if I don’t know it exists; if it costs more than I can afford; if it is locked up and out of reach; if I am illiterate, or ashamed of bookishness, or teased or told I am uppity if I want to rise above my fellows.  Entire societies are devoted to keeping their citizens ignorant, unskilled, unschooled, fanatical in support of their own stupidity and of the forces which would switch off every intellectual light.” — William H. Gass, “The Shears of the Censor,” from Tests of Time

How do I autograph my ebook?

“Ideally, magazines should be supported by their subscribers.  But our educational system doesn’t produce such audiences.  We publish poetry; we don’t read it.  We like it performed for us so that it will, with the poet, take the plane.  And we like our few books autographed, because they will, one day, be worth more to our heirs and our assigns.” — William H. Gass, “The Shears of the Censor,” from Tests of Time

On sale now, at a low, low price

“The chief mode of censorship in a commercial society is, naturally enough, the marketplace.  It is not that we suppress serious books entirely.  But in capitalist countries, only on the margins can excellence be located.  Poetry and most significant fiction have to find a few little magazines to appear in, or an occasional small press which may be prepared to nourish them.  However, those obscure mags are read only by their editors; the presses are being pennied to death; while their distributors go bankrupt.” — William H. Gass, “The Shears of the Censor,” from Tests of Time

The word is our bond

“There is a bond between us, readers and writers—an ancient tie as old as writing is, if not as old as speech itself, a pact, a promise which the act of setting down sentences in a moving way implicitly solidifies—that what we shall say shall be as true to things and to our own hearts as we can manage with our skills to make them; and that what we read shall be free and unforced and uttered out of the deepest respect for the humanity all language represents, whatever its content otherwise; and that this covenant (broken tragically, every day which history has been there to mark) is the model for all exchange of thought and need and feeling, and that this community, the community of unveiled countenance and free speech, must be sustained if we are to continue, either in the harsh and unforgiving condition of survival or in terms of every genuine enterprise of the moral spirit—in short, so we can say, though we may be here by genetic accident or god’s decree, that we deserve to stay.” — William H. Gass, “Tribalism, Identity, and Ideology,” from Tests of Time

Peel me another peach

“What is unthinkable?  Think it.  What is unutterable?  Utter it.  What cannot be spelled without a dash?  Fill in the dashes with doubts.  What is obscene?  Dream it.  In all its tones, in seamy detail, at indelicate length.  What is too horrible to contemplate?  Describe it.  With cool and indifferent interest.  As though peeling a peach.  You will not be the first, for the unthinkable has already been thought, the unutterable uttered innumerable times, God’s various names have been taken in vain, the obscene has been enjoyed, the horrible carried out.” — William H. Gass, “The Writer and Politics: A Litany,” from Tests of Time

A common phenomenon

“In every country, in every clime, regarding any rank or race, at any time and with little excuse, orthodoxy will act evilly toward its enemies.  Survival is its single aim–that is, to rigidify thought, sterilize doubt, cauterize criticism, and mobilize the many to brutalize the few who dare to dream beyond the borders of their village, the walls of their room, the conventions of their community, the givens of some god, the mother-smother of custom, or the regimen of an outmoded morality.” — William H. Gass, “The Writer and Politics: A Litany,” from Tests of Time

Pragmatic self-loathing

“There is nothing truly beautiful but that which can never be of any use whatever; everything useful is ugly, for it is the expression of some need, and man’s needs are ignoble and disgusting like his own poor and infirm nature.  The most useful place in a house is the water-closet.” — Theophile Gautier, quoted in “The Writer and Politics: A Litany” (from Tests of Time, by William H. Gass)

Those people are doing things again

“History is not an agent who goes about trampling traditions into dust, ending lives, stifling others, despoiling the land, and poisoning the sea.  History is humanity on its rampage.  Considering the frequency of natural calamities, our treatment of warfare as a seasonal sport, and the insatiable squirrelliness of human greed, it should be an occasion for surprise when anything excellent survives.” — William H. Gass, “The Test of Time,” from Tests of Time

Making sense

“In stories, there are agents and actions; there are patterns; there is direction; most of all, there is meaning.  Even when the consequences are tragic, there is a point; there is a message, a moral, a teaching.  And that is a consolation.  It is consoling to believe that our lives have a shape, a purpose and direction; that the white hats and the black hats have appropriate heads beneath them, and are borne about by bodies with the right souls inside; that there are historical entities, called events, which we can understand, periods which have cohesion and personalities all their own, causes we can espouse or oppose, forces we can employ, and so on.” — William H. Gass, “The Nature of Narrative and Its Philosophical Implications,” from Tests of Time

Coincidentally, I’m eating lunch as I post this

“We’ve been trained from babyhood to have three square meals a day, the full factory-industrial revolution idea of how you’re supposed to eat.  Before then it was never like that.  You’d have a little bit often, every hour.  But when they had to regulate us all, ‘OK, mealtime!’  That’s what school’s about.  Forget the geography and history and mathematics, they’re teaching you how to work in a factory.  When the hooter goes, you eat.  For office work or even if you’re being trained to be a prime minister, it’s the same thing.  It’s very bad for you to stuff all that crap in at once.  Better to have a bit here, a mouthful there, every few hours a bite or two.  The human body can deal with it better than shoving a whole load of crap down your gob in an hour.” — Keith Richards, Life

Hellishly efficient

“I take the view that God, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t bother to spring for two joints–heaven and hell.  They’re the same place, but heaven is when you get everything you want and you meet Mummy and Daddy and your best friends and you all have a hug and a kiss and play your harps.  Hell is the same place–no fire and brimstone–but they just all pass by and don’t see you.  There’s nothing, no recognition.  You’re waving, ‘It’s me, your father,’ but you’re invisible.  You’re on a cloud, you’ve got your harp, but you can’t play with nobody because they don’t see you.  That’s hell.” — Keith Richards, Life (emphasis in original)

Does the ‘god particle’ surf?

“General summaries often emphasize that science is about finding regularities in the workings of the universe, explaining how the regularities both illuminate and reflect underlying laws of nature, and testing the purported laws by making predictions that can be verified or refuted through further experiment and observation.  Reasonable though the description may be, it glosses over the fact that the actual process of science is a much messier business, one in which asking the right questions is often as important as finding and testing the proposed answers.  And the questions aren’t floating in some preexisting realm in which the role of science is to pick them off, one by one.  Instead, today’s questions are very often shaped by yesterday’s insights.  Breakthroughs generally answer some questions but then give rise to a host of others that previously could not even be imagined.” — Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality

One would hope

“The peasant and the pedant, though one talks like a man and the other like a book, are alike in that each speaks his language in only one way; the educated man knows and employs his language in three or four ways. He has only an enlightened sense of appropriateness to guide him.” — Harry Morgan Ayres, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVIII, Ch. XXX. Sec. 10

Franca’s lingua and mother’s tongue

“Variety is of the essence of language. Uniformity and consistency are inventions of philosophical grammarians whose efforts are most successful when they deal with a language no longer used to satisfy elementary social needs. A living language is one of the mores of a social group; it is neither a biological growth unaffected by human intervention nor a work of art given its form for all time by a single act of human creation. Consequently it will vary within the group somewhat according to the variation in other respects to be found in the individuals comprising it, and between groups it will vary still more. Like other mores it will be subject to modification by time. But the necessity for mutual intelligibility within the group will greatly restrict the play of individual whim; between groups this force will operate somehow in proportion to the immediacy of their contacts. In a cultured city like ancient Rome or mediæval Florence a group of people might raise and maintain a literary standard around which literary people of other groups would rally. Or, again, a convenient dialect might be somewhat arbitrarily chosen for a particular literary task, as Luther chose the dialect of the Saxon chancellary for his translation of the Bible, and this dialect, with more or less conscious modification from time to time, might remain the standard literary language. In all these cases the great mass of people, not wholly uninfluenced by the literary language perhaps, would go on speaking their own dialects.” — Harry Morgan Ayres, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVIII, Ch. XXX. Sec. 2