Gary Amdahl’s “Literary Pillars”

A great many grand and beloved books are missing from this list; I thought I’d try to draw up something like a “blueprint after the building.”

 

ARCHITECTURE OF THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE:

Dickinson’s poetry

Emerson’s essays

Thoreau’s journals

Hawthorne’s tales

Emerson is no longer fashionable in some English departments?  Greatness in American letters begins with him.  It was wounded in the Civil War, and died when Melville was forgotten by the last reader to remember him.  Faulkner raised the dead and animated the tombs, but dead is dead.  Still, as Stevens put it, the houses will crumble and the books will burn, but they are at ease in a shelter of the mind.

 

ARCHITECTURE OF THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE:

Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear

Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist

Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller

John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets”

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

Everything I am drawn to in the English language I can trace back to Elizabethan anarchism.

 

LONG-STANDING PILLARS OF PLEASURE:

Lowry’s Under the Volcano

White’s Riders in the Chariot and Voss

Laxness’s Independent People and Iceland’s Bell

THE PILLARS OF CHILDHOOD:

Novelizations of The Man from U.N.C.L.E

James Michener’s The Source

Cloak and Dagger: the Secret Story of OSS

THE PILLARS OF ADOLESCENCE:

Conan the Barbarian

Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

THE GREAT ARCHITECT

Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady

THE COOL ROOM IN LONG HOT SUMMER (1978)

Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

Melville’s Moby-Dick, or The Whale

Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy and The Sot-Weed Factor

Joyce’s Ulysses

McGuane’s 92 in the Shade

Matthiessen’s Far Tortuga

Barthelme’s Sadness and Snow White

Coover’s The Public Burning

Hawkes’s The Blood Oranges

 

One book led to another.  Fireworks.  Mind on fire.  (I was 22.)

 

AMONG THE RUINS OF 1987-88

Welch’s Winter in the Blood

Eastlake’s The Bronc People

The only good (along with some rolling memories drunk in a dinghy in the middle of Cayuga) to come out of a ridiculously abortive attempt to get an MFA at Cornell.

THE WARM ROOM  IN LONG COLD WINTER (2003)

Proust’s Search for Lost Time

Montaigne’s Essays

 

Great works that saved my life in a bad time.  I wanted to go deep deep deep into what I knew was good good good because I had been bad bad bad.

 

TWO WELL-BUILT CLASSROOMS OUT OF TWELVE YEARS OF TRYING

Oedipus the King

Hamlet

A Streetcar Named Desire

Waiting for Godot

The Curse of the Starving Class

Long Day’s Journey into Night

Between Man and Man

The Portable Nietzsche

Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death

The Persian Letters

Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo

I was in and out of college for twelve years.  I was a terrible student.  The first four books were the required readings in Arthur Ballet’s “Introduction to Theater” at the University of Minnesota.  Ballet was legendary as a teacher, influential in the off-off-Broadway movement, and in the development of regional theater.  Without him I doubt I would have had the desire to write plays, and probably would not have had the opportunity I had in Minneapolis and Saint Paul in the 80s to see them living on stages.  The last two plays in that set were the first plays I saw with a life in the theater in mind.  The second set of books were taught by a very old man whose name I cannot remember, in the long lost “Humanities Department.”  I’m pretty sure it was his class that convinced me that difficulty could be pleasurable.

PERSONAL PILLAR OF AFFECTION AND ADMIRATION

Airships

 

Admiration and affection abounding for this man and his work.

PILLARS I CLING TO IN TIMES OF DESPAIR

Krapp’s Last Tape (but effectively every word Beckett ever wrote)

The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens

 

This means these writers and their works are never out of my mind.

Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

2 thoughts on “Gary Amdahl’s “Literary Pillars”

  1. Pingback: Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William H. Gass, 2012 « BIG OTHER

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