“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”

“To be a writer, one has to tell the truth, and one has to tell the hardest truth that is available to one. One has to tell one’s own truth. One has to risk everything to capture that truth; one has to reach down inside of oneself to the zone of most crucial danger, to the zone where, in fact, one may even be unsettling one’s notion of oneself and therefore destabilizing one’s personality. Through means of acoustic pressure, through means of thematic pressure, one must extrude that acuity and get it onto the page so that it can be seen. I think that this task is accomplished chiefly as a function of courage, of the will, and then of an absolutely unrelenting industry.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there were two brothers. One was big and strong and highly respected as a great warrior; the other was looked upon with scorn, for he was soft, gentle, and effeminately given to lying among the flowers to play his flute as he gazed into the sky. A time came when the town of the brothers set about the work of constructing a great temple to honor their gods. Since the oldest brother was the largest and strongest man in the community, the elders asked him to move the huge stones needed to make a truly holy temple, after the fashion of the ancients. The older brother responded with muscle, but he could not move even the smallest of the large rocks the priests wanted. So then in good warrior fashion, he set about organizing the conquered slaves in work gangs; but no matter how hard he beat them with the whip, the slaves could not budge the stones. While the slaves and the oldest brother were struggling with great effort, the younger brother came strolling in from his morning with the flowers and the sky. He looked at the people and the stones, and then he looked into the stones and recognized them, for he could see their names. With a smile he took out his flute and began to play. The older brother shouted that this was no time to play, that there was real work for real men to do, but his shouts were stopped by an exclamation from the slaves, for the great stones were beginning to sway back and forth in rhythm with the music of the younger brother’s flute. Stopping for a moment, the younger brother told the priests that they should speak to the stones and tell them that they were being moved to make a great temple to honor the gods. And when the priests had done this, the younger brother told the slaves to take the stones gently in hand, for they were very, very old, and lead them along the path to the site of the temple. And then he began to play his flute again. The stones began to sway back and forth; and as they did, the slaves gently guided them and the great stones danced themselves down the road and into the place the priests had chosen for them.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light (emphasis in original)

“Writing is considered a profession, and I don’t think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy.” – Georges Simenon (interviewed by Carvel Collins in The Paris Review)

“There is reason for the taboo in primitive life, but not in our life, not in civilized communities. The taboo then is dangerous and unhealthy. You see, civilized peoples don’t live according to moral codes or principles of any kind. We speak about them, we pay lip service to them, but nobody believes in them. Nobody practices these rules, they have no place in our lives. Taboos after all are only hangovers, the product of diseased minds, you might say, of fearsome people who hadn’t the courage to live and who under the guise of morality and religion have imposed these things upon us. I see the world, the civilized world, as largely irreligious. The religion in force among civilized people is always false and hypocritical, the very opposite of what the initiators of any religion really meant.” – Henry Miller (interviewed by George Wickes in The Paris Review)

“The idealists in politics lack a sense of reality. And a politician must be a realist above all. These people with ideals and principles, they’re all at sea, in my opinion. One has to be a lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one.” – Henry Miller (interviewed by George Wickes in The Paris Review)

“Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, ‘I will compose poetry.’ The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the color of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”

“We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems of thought is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes. There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, what is wiser and better than what men now practise and endure. But we let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat in the adage. We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry” (emphases in original)