“Feelings as they occur are experienced as if they were episodes in Kafka, overloaded with hints of meaning that reek of eternity and the inexplicable and suggest your dying—always your dying—at the hands of a murderousness in events if you are not immediately soothed, if everything is not explained at once. It is your own selfishness or shamefulness, or someone else’s or perhaps something in fate itself, that is the murderer; or what kills is the proof that your pain is minor and is the responsibility of someone who does not care.” – Harold Brodkey, “A Story in an Almost Classical Mode”

“Every serious writer has to be original; he cannot be content to do or to offer a version of what has been done before. And every serious writer as a result becomes aware of this question of form; because he knows that however much he might have been educated and stimulated by the writers he has read or reads, the forms matched the experience of those writers, and do not strictly suit his own.” – V. S. Naipaul, “On Being a Writer”

“Thirteen is an age that gives rise to dramas: it is a prison cell of an age, closed off from childhood by the onset of sexual capacity and set apart from the life one is yet to have by a remainder of innocence. Of course, that remainder does not last long. Responsibility and Conscience, mistaken or not, come to announce that we are to be identified from then on by what we do to other people: they free us from limitations—and from innocence—and bind us into a new condition.” – Harold Brodkey, “A Story in an Almost Classical Mode”

“It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. Consequently, we must believe that ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These experiences are not ‘recollected,’ and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is ‘tranquil’ only in that it is a passive attending upon the event. Of course this is not quite the whole story. There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate. In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him ‘personal.’ Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” – T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

“What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered.” – T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

“Special trains were outfitted whereby buffalo might be shot from the coach windows and even from the cow-catcher. One particular expedition had sixteen wagons packed with baggage, supplies and liquid refreshments. The campgrounds were easily identifiable for years by the number of empty liquor bottles scattered around.” – Leon Metz, The Shooters

“An examination of arrest records throughout the West during the heyday of the gunman furnishes some surprising statistics. Murder placed far down the list in crime. The most persistent offenses were drunkenness, assault, larceny, thievery, vagrancy, gambling, burglary and carrying concealed weapons. Adultery, fornication, bigamy and seduction cases sometimes jammed the court dockets. Prostitutes usually paid a fine of $10 a month which amounted to virtual licensing. These fees were often the largest source of municipal income.” – Leon Metz, The Shooters

“Tell the truth. Tell it, knowing that no matter how hard you try, you’re still not telling it truly. The very act, the very elapsing of time between the concept and the utterance already allows one to shield or protect oneself. Musicians, painters, sculptors and the like are given much more room to tell the truth; to give themselves away. In writing, one has to struggle.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“If we look at the great works of literature and thought through the centuries until about the mid-eighteenth century, we have to recognize that indeed they have been overwhelmingly the achievements of men. The circumstances in which these achievements occurred may be excoriated. The achievements remain precious.” – Irving Howe, “The Value of the Canon”

“American culture is notorious for its indifference to the past. It suffers from the provincialism of the contemporary, veering wildly from fashion to fashion, each touted by the media and then quickly dismissed. But the past is the substance out of which the present has been formed, and to let it slip away from us is to acquiesce in the thinness that characterizes so much of our culture. Serious education must assume, in part, an adversarial stance toward the very society that sustains it—a democratic society makes the wager that it’s worth supporting a culture of criticism. But if that criticism loses touch with the heritage of the past, it becomes weightless, a mere compendium of momentary complaints.” – Irving Howe, “The Value of the Canon”

“Everything wants your failure. The body that you inhabit, the time that is yours, the circumstances of your life, every particularity that can be summoned to the general spectacle of your enterprise through space and time, can be seen as an interference to doing great art—nothing more efficiently than the mortality that is your due. And to exert ceaselessly in the face of such circumstances is to require an exorbitant desire. One must want so greatly that every reason to succumb is dismissed.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“Writing isn’t lonely in the most important sense, because when you do it, you are in touch with your best friend, so the loneliness can be abridged in those terms. Also, a writer can suppose to himself that by doing his work, he is fashioning a bridge to other lone souls in space and time—that he is in conversation with the most secret place in himself and others.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but who is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotions recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to reenter and be riven.” – Harold Brodkey, “Innocence”