Happy birthday, Robert Coover! 87, today, and still kicking fiction’s keister!
Here are some quotes from a writer whose densely lyrical, thoroughly irreverent, oft-bawdy, and imaginatively outrageous engagements with history, politics, pop culture, etc., is constant inspiration.
“We need myths to get by. We need story; otherwise the tremendous randomness of experience overwhelms us. Story is what penetrates.”
“Because art blows life into the lifeless, death into the deathless. Because art’s life is preferable, in truth, to life’s beautiful terror. Because, as time does not pass (nothing, as Beckett tells us, passes), it passes the time. Because death, our mythless master, is somehow amused by epitaphs. Because epitaphs, well-struck, give death, our voracious master, heartburn. Because fiction imitates life’s beauty, thereby inventing the beauty life lacks. Because fiction is the best position, at once exotic and familiar, for fucking the world. Because fiction, mediating paradox, celebrates it. Because fiction, mothered by love, loves love as a mother might her unloving child. Because fiction speaks, hopelessly, beautifully, as the world speaks. Because God, created in the storyteller’s image, can be destroyed only by His maker. Because, in its perversity, art harmonizes the disharmonious. Because, in its profanity, fiction sanctifies life. Because, in its terrible isolation, writing is a path to brotherhood. Because in the beginning was the gesture, and in the end to come as well: in between what we have are words. Because, of all the arts, only fiction can unmake the myths that unman men. Because of its endearing futility, its outrageous pretensions. Because the pen, though short, casts a long shadow (upon, it must be said, no surface). Because the world is re-invented every day and this is how it is done. Because there is nothing new under the sun except its expression. Because truth, that elusive joker, hides himself in fictions and must therefore be sought there. Because writing, in all space’s unimaginable vastness, is still the greatest adventure of all. And because, alas, what else?”
“People, fearing their own extinction, are willing to accept and perpetuate hand-me-down answers to the meaning of life and death; and, fearing a weakening of the tribal structures that sustain them, reinforce with their tales the conventional notions of justice, freedom, law and order, nature, family, etc. The writer, lone rider, has the power, if not always the skills, wisdom, or desire, to disturb this false contentment.”
“Writing students are notoriously conservative creatures. They write stubbornly and hopefully within the tradition of what they have read. Getting them to try out alternative or innovative forms is harder than talking them into chastity as a life style.”
“I spoke of the tragic illusion of perpetuity, but, no, my friends, it is a comic one. The ludicrous plot in which we are all trapped. The ancient Greeks referred to plot as mythos, attributing the random drift of human affairs to some sort of unknowable but glimpsable divine motion, attempting to attach a certain grandeur to it, the delusion of meaning. But we are characters who do not exist, in a story composed by no one from nothing. Can anything be more pitiable? No wonder we all are grieving.”
“Black holes are the seductive dragons of the universe, outwardly quiescent yet violent at the heart, uncanny, hostile, primeval, emitting a negative radiance that draws all toward them, gobbling up all who come too close. Once having entered the tumultuous orbit of a black hole, nothing can break away from its passionate but fatal embrace. Though cons of teasing play may be granted the doomed, ultimately play turns to prey and all are sucked haplessly―brilliantly aglow, true, but oh so briefly so―into the fire-breathing maw of oblivion. Black holes, which have no memory, are said to contain the earliest memories of the universe, and the most recent, too, while at the same time obliterating all memory by obliterating all its embodiments. Such paradoxes characterize these strange galactic monsters, for whom creation is destruction, death life, chaos order. And darkness illumination: for, as dragons are also called worms, so black hole are known as wormholes, offering a mystical and intimate pathway to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, thus bring light as they consume it.”
—from A Child Again
“Language is the square hole we keep trying to jam the round peg of life into. It’s the most insane thing we do.”
—from Gerald’s Party
“History my god. An incurable diarrhea of dead immortals.”
“Strange, the impact of History, the grip it had on us, yet it was nothing but words. Accidental accretions for the most part, leaving most of the story out. We have not yet begun to explore the true power of the Word, I thought. What if we broke all the rules, played games with the evidence, manipulated language itself, made History a partisan ally? Of course, the Phantom was already onto this, wasn’t he? Ahead of us again. What were his dialectical machinations if not the dissolution of the natural limits of language, the conscious invention of a space, a spooky artificial no-man’s land, between logical alternatives. I loved to debate both sides of any issue, but thinking about that strange space in between made me sweat.”
—from A Public Burning
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.