The gentle Turgenev (and one of our masters, surely

The gentle Turgenev (and one of our masters, surely, if we love this arrogantly modest art), writing about Fathers and Children—writing about himself—said: ‘Only the chosen few are able to transmit to posterity not only the content but also the form of their thoughts, and views, their personality, which, generally speaking, is of no concern to the masses.’ The form. That is what the long search is for; because form, as Aristotle has instructed us, the soul itself, the life in any thing, and of any immortal thing the whole. It is the B in being. The chosen few … the happy few … that little band of brothers … Well, the chosen cannot choose themselves, however they connive at it.

—William H. Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (preface).

Amend my misliving. And everything in me then said: I want to be like that

Amend my misliving. And everything in me then said: I want to be like that—like that aching phrase. So, oddly at a time when no one any longer allowed reading or writing to give them face, place, or history, I was forced to form myself from sounds and syllables: not merely my soul, as we used to say, but guts too, a body I knew was mine because, in response to the work which became whatever of me there was, it angrily ulcerated.

I read with the hungry rage of a forest balze.

I wanted to be a fireman, I recall, but by eight I’d given up that very real cliché for an equally unreal one: I wanted to be a writer.

a what? Well, a writer wasn’t whatever Warren was. A writer was whatever Malory was when he wrote down his ee’s: mine heart will not serve me to see thee. And that’s what I wanted to be—a string of stresses.

… a what?

The contemporary American writer is in no way a part of the social and political scene. He is therefore not muzzled, for no one fears his bite; nor is he called upon to compose. Whatever work he does must proceed from a reckless inner need. The world does not beckon, nor does it greatly reward. This is not a boast or a complaint. It is a fact. Serious writing must nowadays be written for the sake of the art. The condition I describe is not extraordinary. Certain scientists, philosophers, historians, and many mathematicians do the same, advancing their causes as they can. One must be satisfied with that.

—William H. Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (preface)

That romantic disease, originality—from The Recognitions, by William Gaddis

“That romantic disease, originality, all around we see originality of incompetent idiots, they could draw nothing, paint nothing, just so the mess they make is original … Even two hundred years ago who wanted to be original, to be original was to admit that you could not do a thing the right way, so you could only do it your way. When you paint you try not to be original, only you think about your work, how to make it better, so you copy masters, only masters, for with each copy of a copy the form degenerates … you do not invent shapes, you know them, auswendig wissen Sie, by heart …”

—The Recognitions, by William Gaddis.

From William H. Gass’s introduction to The Recognitions, by William Gaddis

Because there is plenty to listen to here; because we must always listen to the language; it is our first sign of the presence of a master’s hand; and when we do that, when we listen, it is because we have first pronounced the words and performed the text, so when we listen we hear, hear ourselves singing the saying, and now we are real readers, we are participating in the making, we are moving the tune along the line, because no one who loves literature can follow these motions, these sentences, half sentences, of William Gaddis, very far without halting and holding up their arms and outcrying hallelujah there is something good in this gosh awful god empty world.

—William H. Gass, introduction to Dalkey Archive edition of The Recognitions, by William Gaddis.

fucked yes and damn well fucked too up my neck

Ill put on my best shift and drawers let him have a good eyeful out of that to make his micky stand for him Ill let him know if thats what he wanted that his wife is fucked yes and damn well fucked too up my neck nearly not by him 5 or 6 times handrunning theres the mark of his spunk on the clean sheet I wouldnt bother to even iron it out that ought to satisfy him if you dont believe me feel my belly unless I made him stand there and put him into me Ive a mind to tell him every scrap and make him do it out in front of me serve him right its all his own fault if I am an adultress

—from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, Ulysses, by James Joyce (1922).

Joan Didion’s packing list

To Pack and Wear

2 skirts
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pairs of shoes
stockings
bra
nightgown, robe, slippers
cigarettes
bourbon
bag with:
shampoo
toothbrush and paste
Basis soap
razor, deodorant
aspirin, prescriptions, Tampax
face cream, powder, baby oil

To Carry:

mohair throw
typewriter
2 legal pads and pens
files
house key

This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those yeats when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture. Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room. Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.

It should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative. There is on this list one significant omission, the one article I needed and never had: a watch. I needed a watch not during the day, when I could turn on the car radio or ask someone, but at night, in the motel. Quite often I would ask the desk for the time every half hour or so, until finally, embarrassed to ask again, I would call Los Angeles and ask my husband. In other words I had skirts, jerseys, leotards, pullover sweater, shoes, stockings, bra, nightgown, robe, slippers, cigarettes, bourbon, shampoo, toothbrush and paste, Basis soap, razor, deodorant, aspirin, prescriptions, Tampax, face cream, powder, baby oil, mohair throw, typewriter, legal pads, pens, files and a house key, but I didn’t know what time it was. This may be a parable, either of my life as a reporter during this period or of the period itself.
The White Album, by Joan Didion (1979).

Joan Didion on Jim Morrison and The Doors

…the fourth Door, the lead singer, Jim Morrison, a 24-year-old graduate of U.C.L.A. who wore black vinyl pants and no underwear and tended to suggest some range of the possible just beyond a suicide pact… It was Morrison whoo wrote most of The Doors’ lyrics, the peculiar character of which was to reflect either an ambiguous paranoia or a quite unambiguous insistence upon the love-death as the ultimate high.

The White Album, Joan Didion (1979)