Category: William H. Gass

That’ll do for thisThat’ll do for this

“History does not abide by traditional narrative explanations. It isn’t that narrative explanation doesn’t have its place—it is a great instrument—but uncritically examined, its assumptions about the world are, well, unlikely. Within a specific human realm, when we are busy giving meaning to human events selecting, choosing, arranging a story at a dinner party—we may be so taken with the result that we forget that another arrangement could have yielded something quite different. I am not suggesting what some have seen as an inevitable consequence of this particular mode that everything is relative; it’s much more that there are modes of explanation equally satisfactory within their own prescribed realms of discourse.” — William H. Gass (interviewed by Arthur M. Saltzman in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1991, Vol. 11.3)

Climbing the north face of Sugar MountainClimbing the north face of Sugar Mountain

“The artist is working with dangerous materials because he is making something that’s got reality in it, and reality is something that the human race flees from. Every culture is busy building some sort of false environment. I am increasingly impressed by how nature permits human beings to make fools of themselves in vast numbers. Cultures of great richness, in fact, can develop that are based in absolute idiocy.” — William H. Gass (interviewed by Arthur M. Saltzman in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1991, Vol. 11.3)

In the end was the wordIn the end was the word

“Add radio to print and the word became ubiquitous. It overhung the head like smoke and had to be ignored as one ignores most noise. It was by loose use corrupted, by misuse debased, by overuse destroyed. It flew in any eye that opened, in any ear hands didn’t hide, and became, instead of the lord of truth, the servant of the lie.” – William H. Gass, “The Book as a Container of Consciousness”

It is for the security of the homelandIt is for the security of the homeland

“Evil that is everyday is lost in life, goes shrewdly into it; becomes a part of habitual blood.  First it is a convenient receptacle for blame.  It holds all hate.  We fasten to it—the permanent and always good excuse.  If it were not for it, ah then, we say, we would improve, we would succeed, we would go on.  And then one day it is necessary, as if there’s been a pain to breathing for so long that when the pain at last subsides, out of fright, we suffocate.” – William Gass, “Mrs. Mean”

Black magic writer, I’m just a black magic writer…Black magic writer, I’m just a black magic writer…

“The people by me primitively guess that I am enemy and hate me: not alone for being different, or disdaining work, or worse, not doing any; but for something that would seem, if spoken for them, words of magic; for I take their souls away—I know it—and I play with them; I puppet them up to something; I march them through strange crowds and passions; I snuffle at their roots.” – William Gass, “Mrs. Mean”

Running out of GassRunning out of Gass

“A limp that tells the world we are compensating for an injury becomes a habit hard to break even when its cause has healed and there is no longer any ‘reason’ for it.  Except that the limp wishes to remain.  Our stutter wants to stay.  Our fall from a ladder would be forever like a cast-out angel if we didn’t fetch up in a lake of fire or at least on a floor.” — William H. Gass, “Auguste Rodin,” from A Temple of Texts

What the word meansWhat the word means

“All of us have emotions urgently seeking release, and many of us have opinions we think would do the world some good; however, the poet must also be a maker, as the Greeks maintained, and, like the sculptor, like every other artist, should aim at adding real beings to the world, beings fully realized, not just things like tools and haberdashery that nature has neglected to provide, or memos and laws that society produces in abundance.” — William H. Gass, “Auguste Rodin,” from A Temple of Texts

Out here on the perimeterOut here on the perimeter

“The world is not simply good and bad on different weekends like an inconsistent pitcher; we devour what we savor and what sustains us; out of ruins more ruins will after, in their polished towers, rise; lust is the muscle of love: its strength, its coarseness, its brutality; the heart beats and is beaten by its beating; not a shadow falls without the sun’s shine and the sun sears what it saves.  These are not the simplicities my saying has suggested.  In our civilization, the center has not held for a long time; neither the center nor the place where the center was can now be found.  We are disordered, arthritic fingers without palms.  Inside the silence of unmoving things, there are the sounds of repeated explosions.  Perhaps it is catastrophe breathing.” — William H. Gass, “Humors of Blood & Skin,” from A Temple of Texts

What writers can be like to live withWhat writers can be like to live with

“There are those who like to sail alone around the world; they shut themselves up in towers to write or watch for fires; in huts encased in ice, they give up their lives to loneliness; who hunt for pelts in the mountains or are driven with aimless intensity from place to place like sand through a desert; fly solo, take to the woods.  Searching for a second self, they dislike distraction.  They want something to pit their strength against: angel or shade or element of nature that will assume the shape, and become the substance, of their enemy within.” — William H. Gass, “On Heroes and Tombs,” from A Temple of Texts

Happy EasterHappy Easter

“I must say I trust hatred more than love.  It is frequently constructive, despite the propaganda to the contrary; it is less frequently practiced by hypocrites; it is more clearly understood; it is painfully purchased and therefore often earned; and its objects sometimes even deserve their hoped-for fate.  If you love the good, you have to hate evil.  I cannot imagine a love so puerile and thin and weak-kneed it cannot rage.” — William H. Gass, “Fifty Literary Pillars,” from A Temple of Texts

But you can get it with tenure and a pensionBut you can get it with tenure and a pension

“It may be that in a state of nature, since it is a state of war, the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, but in our present state of mediocrity, it is cowardly, shallow, tedious, banal, and uselessly drawn out.” — William H. Gass, “To a Young Friend Charged with Possession of the Classics,” from A Temple of Texts

Put that in your pipe and smoke itPut that in your pipe and smoke it

“No amount of relativism, no degree of deconstruction, no namby-pamby pluralism, despite debunking, the disclosure of bias, the so-called unreliability of observers and their cultural conditioning—their class and color blindness—or the oft-bewailed problems of representation, language’s betrayal of the mind, should be allowed to shake the singleness, consistency, and wholeness of any happening.” — William H. Gass, “There Was an Old Woman Who,” from Tests of Time

The mushroom peopleThe 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?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 priceOn 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 bondThe 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 peachPeel 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