On writing, life, and art

 

Thoughts from the front and back pages of Gargoyle.

 

 

"Like most every other narcissistic writer on earth, I figured the heavens would part the moment I published my first book, and God Herself would gaze down upon me and set her soft soft fingers to my heart and banish from my body all traces of doubt, insecurity, and resentment."

Steve Almond

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work."

Emile Zola

"We buy books because we believe we are buying the time to read them."

Warren Zevon

"Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations—naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today—that they are so stored with meanings, with memories, that they have contracted so many famous marriages."

Virginia Woolf

"Writers, poets especially, have an odd relation to the public because their medium, language, is not, like the paint of the painter or the notes of the composer, reserved for their use but is the common property of the linguistic group to which they belong. Lots of people are willing to admit that they don’t understand painting or music, but very few indeed who have been to school and learned to read advertisements will admit that they don’t understand English."

W. H. Auden

"My books are friends that never fail me."

Thomas Carlyle

"While we read a novel, we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices… Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed."

Ursula K. Le Guin

"I very strongly believe that if you go back to your roots, if you mine that inner territory, you can bring out something that is indelibly you and authentic—like your thumbprint. It’s going to have your style because there is no one like you."

Joyce Tenneson

"Until the Lion learns to write, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the Hunter."

African proverb

"The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers."

James Baldwin

"Think of all those who have done this work before you—they were people, scared, flawed, with imperfect understanding of the thing, struggling all the time and stumbling all over themselves trying to be splendid, trying to be better than they were, to surpass their own doubts and timidities, getting it wrong over and over until they got it right. Think of them as they actually were; not as they managed from time to time, and not easily, to seem. And then you can arrive at yourself. No less a worker in this vineyard than any other worker. And bless them all. Honor them with your own labor, and then you can see how worthy it all is of celebration."

Richard Bausch

"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness—and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling— their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
“Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Arundhati Roy

"The greatest service a novelist can do his fellow man is…to attack the fake in the name of the real."

Walker Percy

"If I could choose I would rather be happy than write…if I could choose."

Jean Rhys

"Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!"

Edna Ferber

"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."

Agatha Christie

"The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm."

Aldous Huxley

"Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood."

Jane Yolen

"A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing."

Eugene Ionesco

"If I waited for perfection I would never write a word."

Margaret Atwood

"A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity."

Franz Kafka

"You should know that there is little you can seek in this world, that there is no need for you to be so greedy, in the end all you can achieve are memories, hazy, intangible, dreamlike memories which are impossible to articulate. When you try to relate them, there are only sentences, the dregs left from the filter of linguistic structures."

Gao Xingjian

"This is what you should do, love the Earth and the Sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, reexamine what you’ve been told at school or in church or in any book, dismiss what insults your soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem."

Walt Whitman

"Writers aren’t exactly people… They’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person."

F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Blessed are the weird people—poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadours—for they teach us to see the world through different eyes."

Jacob Nordby

"There are different rules for reading, for thinking, and for talking. Writing blends all three of them."

Mason Cooley

"The way of the arts is the way of the Buddha."

Shozo Sato

"It is supposed, beyond question, that what the United States does and stands for is right and good; if others fail to recognize this moral rectitude, plainly they are at fault. The naïveté is not without a certain childish appeal—which quickly fades, however, when we recognize how it is converted into an instrument for inflicting suffering and pain."

Noam Chomsky

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both."

Louis D. Brandeis

"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them."

John Waters

"Being a poet is like practicing a religion very few people understand."

Cheryl Dumesil

"Bookstores, like libraries, are the physical manifestation of the wide world’s longest, most thrilling conversation."

Richard Russo

"Literature has been our salvation, literature has inspired and guided lovers, routed despair and can perhaps in this case save the world."

John Cheever

"The great novels we get in the future are not going to be those that the public thinks it wants, or those that critics demand. They are going to be the kind of novels that interest the novelist. And the novels that interest the novelist are those that have not already been written. They are those that put the greatest demands on him, that require him to operate at the maximum of his intelligence and his talents, and to be true to the particularities of his own vocation. The direction of many of us will be more toward poetry than toward the traditional novel. The problem for such a novelist will be to know how far he can distort without destroying, and in order not to destroy, he will have to descend far enough into himself to reach those underground springs that give life to big work."

Flannery O’Connor

"An artist’s life is spent, much of it anyway, trying to prove his/her talent to people who have no talent. Trust that no judgment about your work is final—not even your own judgment. So when you get hurt by rejections or slights, or oversights, try not to dwell on the pain; shoulder it and go past it, and get on with the work. It’s what you’ve been given to do, and nobody ever promised you complete understanding and nobody ever said your rewards would be commensurate to the intensity of your labor. And the artist who expects full understanding and reward for the work is a fool."

Richard Bausch

"We were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness— embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television. This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink longheld ideas."

Howard Zinn

"Every GOP administration since 1952 has let the Military-Industrial Complex loot the Treasury and plunge the nation into debt on the excuse of a wartime economic emergency. Richard Nixon comes quickly to mind, along with Ronald Reagan and his ridiculous ‘trickle-down’ theory of U.S. economic policy. If the Rich get Richer, the theory goes, before long their pots will overflow and somehow ‘trickle down’ to the poor, who would rather eat scraps off the Bush family plates than eat nothing at all. Republicans have never approved of democracy, and they never will. It goes back to preindustrial America, when only white male property owners could vote. Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads?"

Hunter S. Thompson

"I’ve never been sure about the need for literary criticism. If a work is immediate enough, alive enough, the proper response isn’t to write about it, but to use it, to go on. By using each other’s texts, we keep on living, imagining, making, fucking, and we fight this society of death."

Kathy Acker

"Writing a novel…is like wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar."

Pati Hill

"A lifetime’s experience urges me to utter a warning cry: do anything else, take someone’s golden retriever for a walk, run away with a saxophone player. Perhaps what’s wrong with being a writer is that one can’t even say “good luck”— luck plays no part in the writing of a novel. No happy accidents as with the paint pot or chisel. I don’t think you can say anything, really. I’ve always wanted to juggle and ride a unicycle, but I dare say if I ever asked the advice of an acrobat he would say, “All you do is get on and start pedaling.”"

J. G. Ballard

"It is what is left over when everything explainable has been explained that makes a story worth writing and reading. The writer’s gaze has to extend beyond the surface, beyond mere problems, until it touches that realm of mystery which is the concern of prophets."

Flannery O’Connor

"What one writer can make in the solitude of one room is something no power can easily destroy."

Salman Rushdie

"All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting."

George Orwell

"God is the World."

Clarice Lispector

"The only book that is worth writing is the one we don’t have the courage or strength to write."

Hélène Cixous

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."

Helen Keller

"Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one."

Neil Gaiman

"All voyages are accomplished inwardly and the most difficult are made without moving from the spot.”"

Henry Miller

"When we are in the act of writing we are alone and on our own, in a kind of absolute state of Do Not Disturb."

Eudora Welty

"If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy."

Dorothy Parker

"I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."

Malcolm X

"What is absurd and monstrous about war is that men who have no personal quarrel should be trained to murder one another in cold blood."

Aldous Huxley

"Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

Annie Dillard

"An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats."

George Orwell

"My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people."

Steve Jobs

"[W]e have to be careful not to allow this to get any legitimacy… I’m taking this seriously in that I’m old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s when the left-wing took to the streets and somehow the media glorified them and it ended up shaping policy. We can’t allow that to happen."

U.S. Congressman Peter King, on the Occupy Wall Street movement

"The liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group."

FDR

"I always say to people, ‘No one earns $100 million. You steal $100 million.’ People earn $10 an hour. People earn $40,000 a year. ‘Earn’ means work. Okay? It doesn’t mean steal, which with these vast amounts of money, of course you steal them."

Fran Lebowitz

"It is well that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning."

Henry Ford

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."

Heinrich Heine

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

Samuel Johnson

"Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives."

John Lennon

"Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity."

Aldous Huxley

"Ruling a large nation is like cooking a small fish."

Lao Tzu

"Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it. Those who do not do it, think of it as a cousin of stamp collecting, a sister of the trophy cabinet, bastard of a sound bank account and a weak mind."

Jeanette Winterson

"But not until I was seven or more, did I begin to pray every night, ‘O God, let me write books! Please, God, let me write books.’"

Ellen Glasgow

"What crazies we writers are, our heads full of language like buckets of minnows standing in the moonlight on a dock”"

Hayden Carruth

"The writer is only half a book—the reader is the other half."

P. L. Travers

"I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning."

Peter De Vries

"For me, writing is slow work, a snail’s pace, to express my usual rate of forward movement in a comfortable cliché. There is no way of hurrying the process. If I do, I write badly and erase it or crumple it up the next day."

Doris Grumbach

"I can live a solitary life for months at a time, and it does me good, because I’m working. I just get up bright and early—sometimes at five o’clock—have my black coffee and go to work."

Katharine Anne Porter

"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware."

Henry Miller

"Write drunk; edit sober."

Ernest Hemingway

"Art is not a plaything, but a necessity, and its essence form, is not a decorative adjustment…If one’s own existence has no form, if its events do not come handily to mind and disclose their significance, we feel about ourselves as if we were reading a bad book."

Rebecca West

"Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate."

Margaret Atwood

" If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. "

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"This is the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history... This is not normal government policy. ... What we have here is a form of looting."

George Akerlof, 2001 Nobel Prize Winner for Economics

"In terms of historical suffering—I mean invasion, bombardment, starvation, deportation, genocide, totalitarian oppression—America is a tyro. Our national experience, Vietnam included, has always been, for the majority of the population, one of action at a distance. We are recent; we lack generational sediment. What historical rhythm we have established does not include the shared memory of disaster, certainly in this century. We have not been cursed with the calamities that, for better or worse, bind individuals across lines of caste, class and family. We have known nothing like what the Poles experienced under the Nazi occupation, or the Russians under Stalin, or the Irish under the enduring British yoke. In America, the sufferings of individuals, whether Vietnam veterans or the socially disinherited (now known as 'the underclass'), have remained just that; and for that reason they have gone largely unrecognized. This is not because we lack the capacity for empathy. It's that we have no collective reference for grief, terror and privation. Private wounds elicit no larger public resonance: the individual's history has nothing in common with the tribal history." — Sven Birkerts

"All I can find of interest to say about my work is to mention the key role in the process of writing played by my subconscious. It knows far better than I what should be written and how it should sound in words." — Paul Bowles

"And so I have remained, in cruel pursuit of truth and excellence, an inhumane executioner of the bogus, an abomination to all but those few people who have overcome their aversion to truth in order to free whatever is good in them."

Louise Brooks

"The world is full of shipping clerks who have read the Harvard Classics."

Charles Bukowski

"To read until one no longer understands a single sentence. That alone is reading." — Elias Canetti

"To possess a telescope without its other essential half-the microscope-seems to me a symbol of the darkest incomprehension. The task of the right eye is to peer into the telescope, while the left eye peers into the microscope." — Leonora Carrington

"Bullshit on all that artistic suffering, agonizing over the empty page, canvas . . . Anyone who agonizes over their work isn't a genius. Anyone who agonizes for a living is an idiot." — Jonathan Carroll

"I have a dog. He's called Success
Follows me wherever I run
Sometimes I call him Failure
He answers to either one." — Nick Cave

"All you have to do is try, with meaningful words, properly and effectively arranged, to honestly unroll your sentences and paragraphs, clearly, sensibly, just explaining what you're up to as well and as powerfully as you can. Let your ideas be understood without making them complicated or obscure. And see, too, if your pages can make sad men laugh as they read, and make smiling men even happier; try to keep simple men untroubled, and wise men impressed by your imagination, and sober men not contemptuous, nor careful men reluctant, to praise it . . . do this, and what you've accomplished will be no small affair." — Miguel de Cervantes, 1605

"When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball."

Raymond Chandler

"Thus, the arriving poet, university trained to begin with, joins a university faculty, publishes primarily in university subsidy, under university editorship, reads primarily the poetry and criticism that the universities sanction or have themselves developed, and when he publishes his own slim volume (quite possibly in a university press imprint) finds it reviewed for praise or damnation by universitymen in university magazines.

John Ciardi, 1956

"Art is not a pastime but a priesthood." — Jean Cocteau

“It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something.”
Ornette Coleman 

"Whether or not books and other traditional literary technologies survive, the dominant medium in the foreseeable future will be electronic, digital, with the Internet the probable universal provider. I anticipate that literary artists will gravitate toward this powerful medium, but if they do not, if literature does not in fact find a place there, then the vast majority of the human race will simply do without it, and thus, whether the new generations know it or not, they (all of us) will be greatly impoverished."

Robert Coover

"Among poets, most rewards are reserved for con-artists and wheeler-dealers, or are fortuitous accidents." — Judson Crews, Poetry Now

"In the 1950's people looked out for each other, not just the writer for the writers, but all artists for each other. Money doesn't make up for that mutual aid. Instead, with each art struggling for a share of the Arts Endowment pie, we're pitted against each other. Or even among ourselves — a bunch of magazines competing for $800 from CCLM! It makes first for a cutthroat atmosphere, and second for a generation of poet bureaucrats." — Diane di Prima

"Biberkopf ist ein kleiner Arbeiter. Wir wissen, was wir wissen, wir habens teuer bezahlen mussen." — Alfred Doblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz

"What I'm saying is that you're doomed to write what you write. And you're doomed to either commercial success or artistic success. You can't say you're going to write well and going to have survival value. No one can guarantee survival value. After all, Dostoevsky sold extremely well. Hemingway sold well. The only thing is to be fascinated and interested and dedicated and enjoy the work you're doing." — William Eastlake

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a
miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

"An artist is now much more seen as a connector of things, a person who scans the enormous field of possible places for artistic attention, and says, 'What I am going to do is draw your attention to this sequence of things . . .' You have made what seems to you a meaningful pattern in this field of possibilities . . . This is why the curator, the editor, the compiler, and the anthropologist have become such big figures. They are all people whose job it is to digest things, and to connect them together." — Brian Eno

"By creating a 'poet-professor' middle class, the writing programs have played into the hands of poetry's traditional enemies: education and entertainment. The slams and open-mike readings are offsprings of, or reactions to, the creative writing classes and courses based on Norton anthologies. It is wonderful for students to have contact with writers but I continue to believe that such contact should not take place in workshops dominated by student work and response. All of a student's time in literature should be involved with getting a small percentage of it under his belt, and coming to terms with what, in my view, poetry is really about: the extending of human consciousness, making conscious the unconscious, creating a symbolic consciousness that in its finest moments overcomes the dualities in which the human world is cruelly and eternally, it seems, enmeshed."

Clayton Eshelman

"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist's way of scribbling 'Kilroy was here' on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass." — William Faulkner

"My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward." — F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story."
F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Anything incomprehensible has a sexual significance to many people under 35."

Zelda Fitzgerald

"A poet is a nasty cur even when he isn't having a fit." — Ford Madox Ford

"To me, any novel which doesn't have something to say on the subject of whether and why the characters are authentic or unauthentic is difficult to take seriously. It is merely an entertainment." — John Fowles

"The writer is afraid of feelings that are not suited to publication; he takes refuge then in irony; all he perceives is considered from the point of view of whether it is worth describing, and he dislikes experiences that can never be expressed in words. A professional disease that drives many writers to drink." — Max Frisch, Montauk

“Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”

– Allen Ginsberg

"It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." – Herman Goering, at the Nuremberg Trials

“There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money,
either.” —Robert Graves

"Will the wind ever remember
the names it has blown in the past?
And with its crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, 'No, this will be the last.' " — Jimi Hendrix

“He’s the president of Europe and he’s talking to the dead. They’re the only ones who listen or believe a single word he says.” – Robyn Hitchcock

“Little minds are interested in the extraordinary; great minds in the commonplace.”

Elbert Hubbard

“Nothing like a lot of distracting saber-rattling to get you to take your eyes off the shell with the pea under it.” – Molly Ivins

"As long as we are not chased from our words, we have nothing to fear. As long as our utterances keep their sound, we have a voice. As long as our words keep their sense, we have a soul." — Edmond Jabès

"Art matters not merely because it is the most magnificent ornament and the most nearly unfailing occupation of our lives but because it is life itself. From Christ to Freud we have believed that, if we know the truth, the truth will set us free: art is indispensable because so much of this truth can be learned through works of art and through works of art alone--for which of us could have learned for himself what Proust and Chekov, Hardy and Yeats and Rilke, Shakespeare and Homer learned for us? and in what other way could they have made us see the truths which they themselves saw, those differing and contradictory truths which seem nevertheless, to the mind which contains them, in some sense a single truth?" — Randall Jarrell

"Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." — Jesus

"Literary talent in America has often been precocious, as many of our greatest novels were written by men around thirty--Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury, and The Sot-Weed Factor while a few masterpieces were produced by writers even younger--The Sun Also Rises and Lie Down in Darkness; but never before have so many young writers seemed so professionally mature." — Richard Kostelanetz, The End of Intelligent Writing

". . . the recognition that really counts comes not from a writer's elders but from his chronological peers and successors." — Richard Kostelanetz

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” – Sinclair Lewis, 1935, "It Can't Happen Here"

"Meaning is not in things but in between; in the iridescence, the interplay: in the interconnections; at the intersections, at the crossroads. Meaning is transitional as it is transitory, in the puns or bridges, the correspondence." — Mallarmé

“They must find it difficult … Those who have taken authority as the
truth rather than the truth as the authority.” —Gerald Massey

“Reading a great book is like going for a multi-day hike through a national park of language.”– Jeffrey McDaniel

"When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental–men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand.
           

"So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost ... All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre – the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.
           

"The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

H. L. Mencken, in the Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1920

"I tend to be close to Dr. Williams' idea that writing is a disease. If you can get along without it, you're really much better off. I have a hard time getting this across to other writers. When I finish a major work, I say, Thank God that's done, I don't ever want to have an idea again. I don't want to go through this ordeal again." — Paul Metcalf

“Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.”     – John Stuart Mill

“People read to be amused, to pass the time, or to be instructed. Now I never read to pass the time, I never read to be instructed; I read to be taken out of myself, to become ecstatic. I'm always looking for the author who can lift me out of myself.” – Henry Miller

"Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there." — Henry Miller

"Writing is not a game played according to rules. Writing is a compulsive and delectable thing. Writing is its own reward." — Henry Miller

"To write must be an act devoid of will. The word, like the deep ocean current, has to float to the surface of its own impulse. A child has no need to write, he is innocent. A man writes to throw off the poison which he has accumulated because of his false way of life. He is trying to recapture his innocence, yet all he succeeds in doing is to inoculate the world with the virus of his disillusionment. No man would set word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in." — Henry Miller, Sexus

“The gulf between knowledge and truth is infinite.” —Henry Miller

“There’s no retirement for an artist, it’s your way of living so there’s no end to it."
Henry Moore

"Piglet sidled up to Pooh behind.
"'Pooh!' he whispered.
"'Yes, Piglet?'
"'Nothing,' said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. 'I just wanted to be sure of you.' "
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

“As though naturally erasers would speak the language of pencils.”
Howard Nemerov

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.” – Anais Nin

"Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason." — Novalis

"I have very little to say about short-story writing. It's one thing to write short stories and another thing to talk about writing them, and I hope you realize that your asking me to talk about story-writing is just like asking a fish to lecture on swimming. The more stories I write, the more mysterious I find the process and the less I find myself capable of analyzing it." — Flannery O'Connor

“Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder
respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
George Orwell

"Why do I do this every Sunday? Even the book reviews seem to be the same as last week's. Different books--same reviews." — John Osborne, Look Back in Anger

“Well, I suppose there isn't probably much difference between a sex addict and a writer. But when it's behavior that anesthetizes–come to think of it, writing anesthetizes, doesn't it? Okay, there's no difference whatsoever.” – Chuck Palahniuk

"People who say they love poetry and don't buy any are a bunch of cheap sons-of-bitches." — Kenneth Patchen

“With great difficulty, advancing by millimeters each year, I carve a road out of the
rock. For millenniums my teeth have wasted and my nails broken to get there, to the other side, to the light and the open air. And now that my hands bleed and my teeth tremble, unsure, in a cavity cracked by thirst and dust, I pause and contemplate my work: I have spent the second part of my life breaking the stones, drilling the walls, smashing the doors, removing the obstacles I placed between the light and myself in the first part of my life.” —Octavio Paz, Eagle or Sun?

"The possibilities open to one are infinite. So why not do something Shakespeare, and Doestoevski and Faulkner didn't do, for after all they are nothing more than dead writers, members of this and that tradition, much-admired busts on a shelf. A dead writer may be famous but he is also dead as a duck, finished." — Walker Percy

Those who think of themselves as supporters of the arts seldom support the literary arts as they do the ballet companies, orchestras, or museums. Reading a magazine--even one with a track record like Kenyon Review or Ploughshares--doesn't score a person a lot of points. It's not a members-only gala or an opening night; it's something you can do in your pajamas! And yet, the literary magazines are the presenters and preservers of a major art form--perhaps the major art form, for what distinguishes us from the so-called beasts if not our ability to shape and manipulate language? The literary magazines are the stages and museums presenting the great authors of this century. Every young writer publishing for the first time does so in the pages of a little magazine; what new Eliot is languishing on the pages of Io or Chelsea or River Styx for lack of readers? . . . . If literary magazine publishing isn't a major art form, I'd like to know what is.

Carol J. Pierman

"Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated--the only life in consequence which can be said to be really lived--is literature. . . ." — Marcel Proust

"Don't do anything but write." — Raymond Queneau

"In Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye suggested that over decades and centuries genres go through seasonal cycles, evolving from romance in their spring to comedy in their summer to tragedy and realism in their fall and then to two things in their winter. First, the forms become ironic; they play against their own characters, their own worlds, their own ideas. 'Oh,' one character says to another. I wouldn't this be great if it happened in a novel!' Self-reflexive preciosity was a marvel when Laurence Sterne did it in Tristram Shandy but it has become a mental twitch in our 'postmodernist' age. We see it everywhere as characters wink at the camera, tweak their own antecedents, and invite us to laugh both at the present and the past of the worlds of art. This is bitter, although often funny, but it is becoming tedious indeed. Second, Frye suggested, genres return to myth, to the stories that found worlds, that create the very landscapes within which, later, we may find romance, and then comedy, and tragedy. And modern, or even postmodern, myth, it seems to me, need not be tedious. I point to Finnegans Wake." — Eric Rabkin

“A language is a map of our failures.” —Adrienne Rich

". . . tend to view Washington and the government – they cannot tell the difference – as monstrous, murderous and dumb." — Paul Richard

"Psychologically we are attuned only to what we grow up with; the experiments of strict contemporaries possess a transferable or contagious quality which flows in our blood. Few people can project this receptivity on to the next generation." — W.G. Rogers

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” – Theodore Roosevelt

"Every writer should grab hold of the nettle of reality; and then show it all: the muddy black roots; the viperous poison-green stalk; the gaudy flower(y pot)." — Arno Schmidt

“Perhaps the ideal place to think about the literature of the last fifty years is in a library surrounded on all sides by rows of shelves well stacked with bound copies of old literary magazines. One can probably spend months there in some corner without being noticed, choking on dust, turning the yellowed, crumbling pages, lingering over some poem or story, and even sneak in Chinese food and an occasional bottle of wine to get rid of the blues.” – Charles Simic

"No great writers have emerged from writing school and probably none ever will."

Harry Smith, Small Press Review

“A capitalist society requires a culture based on images.  It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex.”– Susan Sontag

“I think as long as the USA has only one political party – the Republican Party, a branch of which calls itself the Democratic Party – we aren’t going to see a change of the current policy. It’s the end of the republic and the beginning of the empire.” – Susan Sontag

"You only add books, you never subtract or divide them and any book that is printed is a book. It is nice that nobody writes as they talk and that the printed language is different from the spoken, otherwise you could not lose yourself in books and of course you do, you completely do. I always do. I always remember all the detail in the book, no matter what the book is and therefore it is necessary to begin it at the beginning to lose myself in it when I read it again, just as I had to when I read it first." — Gertrude Stein

"It does appear, on present and manifestly preliminary evidence, as if certain electro-chemical and neuro-chemical processes of mental life might be 'semantically' structured. Sensory input, storage, scanning, and subsequent response seem to occur in some kind of syntactical sequence; neither the neuro-chemistry of the human brain nor any human language seems to contain what modern linguists call "structure-independent operations." This may be an important clue. There seems to be, in a sense more than imagistic, a
grammar of life-processes, an organic templet from whose sequential organization and genetic activity in man language naturally arises. Language, in turn, reacts on, feeds back to, its physiological matrix. Or, to put it another way, the use of language of itself activates the substratum of linguistic potentiality. More and more synapses, more and more fibers of interrelation are woken into being. In the use of metaphor-a fact of language which Plato recognized as somehow crucial to human excellence — the neuro-physiological and the verbal seem to touch very closely. Metaphor ignites a new arc of perceptive energy. It relates hitherto unrelated areas of experience; such new relation may have a direct organic counterpart as hitherto separate centers of memory and scanning in the cortex are brought 'into circuit.' " — George Steiner

“Writers aren’t sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”  – Tom Stoppard

“My heart still belongs in Europe, and I find myself going back there more frequently now. And in the current political climate . . . I have a lot of friends that have left the country. There’s something happening here that is enormously dangerous and quite oppressive. Maybe it’s time to stand on that soapbox and put the word out, because there are becoming fewer and fewer options to speak out against what’s going on. And it has to be said.” – David Sylvian

"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home." — Twyla Tharp

"I've always admired stylists. I put the writers of bumphable, ready-to-wear prose, calculated to sell, guaranteed not to shock, in the same category as artists who can't draw. There is a lack of bravery and a lot of fraud in them. I have tried never to write a book that didn't attempt something new in the way of narrative technique. Writing is an assault on cliche. I find little to admire in writers who make no attempt at originality."

Alexander Theroux

All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

"I wish you'd buy more books." — Mark Twain (Huck Finn to Tom Sawyer)

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is
the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” —Mark
Twain

"Stupidity and poetry. There are subtle relations between these two categories. The category of stupidity and that of poetry." — Paul Valery

"Much contemporary literature, and much literature at any time, seems totally thoughtless--the authors don't write as though they had a brain; they fail to take seriously all the beautiful and painful and thoughtful things that great writers deal with — in tragedy and in comedy. Those two things add up to all there is." — Mark Van Doren

“All media and all politics are controlled by the great interlocking corporations, and that is why we may never discuss real politics as opposed to sex lives. What is real politics? In one sentence: Who collects what money from whom to give to whom to spend for what. This is the question that may not be asked in a militarized society where dissent is kept to the margins. Democracy? A form of government the U.S. has never tried. We began with a constitution created by well-to-do white males to protect their property. Others were later given the franchise but the original oligarchs and their avatars are still in place and none dares challenge them.” – Gore Vidal

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” – Kurt Vonnegut

"There's a world going on underground." — Tom Waits

"Language means less and less. It's been systematically strangled through technological misuse and cliche. We're entering into silence – the most noisy, chaotic silence. It seems to be dawning on the Western world that there really is not much we can say about anything, especially the prime movers – birth, existence, sex, death. Nature is certainly out of bounds for everyday language. But it is possible to indicate something about them through certain types of literature, poetry, and song; it's a question of edge work – a touch here or there – of very careful treading, until it reaches a kind of concentrated, formless, form." — Scott Walker

"An artist must be a reactionary. He has to stand out against the terror of the age and not go flopping along; he must offer some little opposition." — Evelyn Waugh

"One can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small things." — Edith Wharton

"The fault lines dividing the academic from the nonacademic, the capitalist from the anticapitalist, are not the only fractures that presently threaten the vitality of contemporary fiction. The most decisive issue concerns the rancorous split between the commercial presses and the independent presses. Since that blip on the screen which was the moment of the counterculture, when the American postmodern fiction canon--Barth, et al.--was established, the New York commercial publishing houses have, by keeping faith with their accountants only, jeopardized the meaningfulness of the literary past and the very possibility for a literary future. Marx once said that one of the principal products of capitalism was stupidity. The shit that has regularly cascaded from New York in the course of the last twenty years has performed admirably its task of keeping people stupid. What pride can be taken in a line which has given us Moral Fiction, Minimalism, the Literary Brat Pack, and now Generation X? Commercial publishing has, perhaps, not been as single-minded in this task as has television, but books have offered no one solace for, let alone an alternative to, the egregious cretinism of mass culture."

Curtis White

"A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist." — Oscar Wilde

" . . . we found great systems on the imagination and never trust to the hierarchies of the imagination itself." — William Carlos Williams

"There are three things important in life: honesty, which means living free of the cunning of the mind; compassion, because if we have no concern for others, we are monsters; and curiosity, for if the mind is not searching, it is dull and unresponsive." — Beatrice Wood

“Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is best.” – Frank Zappa

 

 

 

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