- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

“The creative impulse, Eros breathing and dreaming within us, is radical to the core.”

Happy birthday, Rikki Ducornet! 76, today! Addressing “our culture’s disdain for the artist,” Rikki Ducornet, in my podcast with her said, “I think it’s simply a fear of the creative imagination, which is that place of acute subversion always. And it can’t be pinned down; it can’t be reduced; unless you reduce the person.” Here are some more quotes from this superb writer.

“[T]o create a fictional world with rigor and passion, to imagine a character of any sex, place, time, or color and make it palpitate and quiver, to catapult it into the deepest forests of our most luminous reveries, is to commit an act of empathy. To write a novel of the imagination is a gesture of tenderness; to enter the body of a book is a fearless act and generous.”

“I approach the novel as a place to think, as a practice of the unfettered imagination, as a journey into territories occluded and unmapped.”

“It seems to me that rigor—aesthetic, intellectual—is the paradox at the heart of creative work. But what I call rigor resists definition because it cannot be reduced to one small bone; it is not palpable, but intuited. Every artist worth her salt knows what I mean—either one chooses the well-trodden path, platitude, sentimentality, the current orthodoxy, whatever, or one blazes a trail which is, no matter the nature of the work, part of the process of becoming. I think rigor implies trusting inner experience, investigating inner experience, and so investigating the work of courage. In this way the artist reveals the darkness and the wild beauty at the heart of things. Such a revelation can be a profound aesthetic experience and, simultaneously, a transgressive, a regenerating experience.”

“What are books but tangible dreams? What is reading if it is not dreaming? The best books cause us to dream; the rest are not worth reading.”

“A book is a private thing, citizen; it belongs to the one who writes it and to the one who reads it. Like the mind itself, a book is a private space. Within that space, anything is possible. The greatest evil and the greatest good.”

It is the hidden significance of things that both explains and propels us forward with an eager intelligence. The paradox of hidden knowledge is that it recognizes—in ways that are wordless and intimate—an embrace as old as time, older than language. And yet it is also the force that leads to the impulse of word-making.”

“If naming and listing leads to a certain disarticulation of the world, it also articulates the experience of the ineffable; it allows us to consider and articulate causes and effects and even to cherish the anomalous, because when known patterns are disrupted, we are forced to consider (and to reconsider) the meanings of things.”

“I think of a novel as an unfolding landscape, an entire country waiting to be deciphered.”

“The creative impulse, Eros breathing and dreaming within us, is radical to the core.”

“The human imagination poses searching riddles, and the moment it does, poetry and science, philosophy and cosmology are born.”

“Hating and fearing the body, we turn away from knowledge of the other.”

“Thankfully, art pays no attention and continues to subvert pieties and expectations, to rile fuddy-duddies and ride a brighter air.”

“A world worth wanting cherishes the risks of wildness.”

“I fear we are undergoing a ‘fascistization’ of culture and one indication of that is the idea that beauty is elitist, or somehow ‘soft.’ As if beauty didn’t belong to all of us. And the idea that truth is a lump of bloody human cartilage attracting flies and not the ‘living being.’ What I am attempting to describe here is the process toward understanding, and if I speak of rigor and imagination so much it’s because I think we cannot function as free beings, as ‘imagining’ beings, unless we have the courage to perceive the world and to name what we see, to choose clarity over opacity.”

“Like the moon, the novel is a symbol and a necessary reality. Ideally it serves neither gods nor masters. Philosopher’s Stone, it sublimates, precipitates, and quickens. House of Keys, it opens all our darkest doors. May the Pol Pot persons of all genders and denominations take heed: to create a fictional world with rigor and passion, to imagine a character of any sex, place, time or color and make it palpitate and quiver, to catapult it into the deepest forests of our most luminous reveries, is to commit an act of empathy. To write a novel of the imagination is a gesture of tenderness; to enter into the body of a book is a fearless act and generous.”

“But if we are to understand who we are and what we are capable of, we need to listen. In our culture, especially at this time, there is a great deal of emphasis on forgetting and not understanding. It seems to me that we must acquire the practical courage of an informed and fearless memory if we are to progress and if we are to survive.”

“The child is born speaking the languages of birds; the child has horns and scales and wings; it has a beak; it has a cloven hoof. He is the sum of all creatures: the ones that swim, the ones that soar, the ones that leap, the ones that maze the earth with burrows.”

“All things pass, all things, that is, but mystery.”

“I’m saying the side of life is the primary subversion.”

“We come into the world wired to make art. The creative imagination is what drives us, nourishes us, gives us the taste and the capacity for life.”

“When I teach writing, I always begin by asking my students to banish all dogmatisms—political, religious, theological, neurotic—in order to write from a truly thoughtful place. Writing well is about thinking fearlessly. Else why bother? And thinking fearlessly is by its very nature subversive.”

“Like the moon, the novel is a symbol and a necessary reality. Ideally it serves neither gods nor masters. Philosopher’s stone, it sublimates, precipitates, and quickens. House of Keys, it opens all our darkest doors. May the Pol Pot Persons of all genders and denominations take heed: to create a fictional world with rigor and passion, to imagine a character of any sex, place, time, or color and make it palpitate and quiver, to catapult it into the deepest forests of our most luminous reveries, is to commit an act of empathy. To write a novel of the imagination is a gesture of tenderness; to enter the body of a book is a fearless act and generous.”

“My pen is the key to a fantastic bordello, and once the gate is opened, it ejaculates a bloody ink. The virgin paper set to shriek evokes worlds heretofore unknown: eruptive, incorruptible, suffocating.”

“I like to imagine that Adam’s tongue, his palate and his lips were always on fire, that the air he breathed was kindled to incandescence each time he cried out in sorrow or delight. If fiction can be said to have a function, it is to release that primary fury of which language, even now, is miraculously capable—from the dry mud of daily use. So that furred, spotted and striped, it may—as it did in Eden—scrawl under every tree as revelation.”

“Truth is a leper banished from the hearts of men and rotting away in exile. All that is left is corruption, a bad smell, some unnameable pieces of what was once a thing lucent and good.”

“Terrible things happen all the time […] but not today. Terrible things, beautiful things, things of such power, of such bewilderment, lucent and dark as tar. But right now the universe, restless beyond imagining, a universe of rock and flame, whose nature is incandescence—a universe that flickers, its impatient forms blinking like fireflies in the night—astounds and delights him.”

“An important memory is like a gravitational field—the mind is compelled to return to it again and again. It is like a moon; it lives in light and shadow.”

“Luckless is that country in which the symbols of procreation are held in horror!’ he wrote, ‘while the agents of destruction are revered!”

“The world is a translation of the divine, and its manifestation. To write a text is to propose a reading of the world and reveal its potencies”

“The world is brimming with plaster replicas, and the point is to smash them to bits, to create an upheaval so acute it cannot be anticipated or resisted.”

“And I cannot help but wonder as we navigate the realms of our own manufacture, will we remember how to cherish one another, or will these realms turn out to be far too self-referential, a kind of beautifully furnished tomb, a mind loop, a mirror reflecting a mirror—offering a vista that can only induce dizziness, longing, and loneliness?”

“The purpose of myth, therefore, is to both reveal and conceal. To tell what we have seen and disguise it, to mask God’s forked tongue.”

“I would say that books are mirrors—mirrors of the world, mirrors of ink. There are infinite meanings to be ferreted out. What makes [a] story interesting is the fact that so much is hinted at, so little actually said there are visions of distant horizons shifting, crevices and crags, unusual botanical specimens to be uprooted for a closer look.”

“In the tradition of Islam, the first word that was revealed to Mohammed was Igrá (Read!) The world is a translation of the divine, and its manifestation. To write a text is to propose a reading of the world and to reveal its potencies. Writing is reading and reading a way back to the initial impulse. Both are acts of revelation.”

“And writing about taboo subjects, to me that’s a fascinating thing. I do it often because it forces me to look at things in new ways. That’s also why I write about repression, because I really want to understand the mechanism, I want to know why people treat one another so badly. What goes on in a mind that is out to destroy a child’s integrity or capacity to dream? What is that all about?”

“Gaston Bachelard talks about digging life deeper, and it seems to me that that is exactly what art needs to do: dig life deeper, and ask important questions, you know: Why are we not more delighted with our existences? Why are we not more madly in love with one another? But you know, it’s a very cynical age, and you’re not supposed to engage problems of beauty and erotic life.”

“I realized that in some way I’ve been writing—often, again and again!—about coming to terms with the terrors of the world and its taboos and dogmatisms. In order to be fully human, in order to be fully autonomous, one has to learn to think for oneself, and so my work, for me, is about that personally—which means that whenever I engage in a book I’m hoping to push ideas further or take on issues in new ways: find a new language, new ways of thinking about determinisms, subverting dogmatic thinking, received ideas. This shows up also in terms of my characters’ lives one way or another, and I think that in some ways the books are very different, but in other ways they are always dealing with the fundamental problems of intellectual freedom.”

“The process of writing, for me, is one in acute isolation. And what I mean by that is I’m not thinking about readers. I’m the first reader. I’m just very aware of that—that I’m writing a book I want to read, writing a sentence I want to read, and in some ways—this may be disappointing and sound really odd—it’s a deeply intuitive process and embodied somehow and has a lot to do with a kind of music. I cannot, as Angela Carter did, listen to music when I’m writing because the music is on the page and I trust that. I’m attempting to write a rigorous music so that it’s very clear and things are in their place. I want to find a way to get that complexity down with elegance and grace, but I don’t want to simplify the ideas to make it easier. I just want to clarify to make it hang together and clear, and I’m doing it initially for myself because I do think writing is a place to think. When it’s acquired a pristine quality on the page, when the meaning rings true, and the vehicle is elegant, I am satisfied. But I can’t even define that elegance. It’s so much to having an ear for it somehow.”

“There’s a great difference between being touched by the beauty of something one sees in a photograph, but there’s nothing like the living thing. I think what I’m feeling acutely is the burden of these losses. We share a genetic history with all the other creatures on the planet. We were sparked at the same moment from the beginning and have gone through this long, complex, and fascinating process of evolution. There are conversations that are now silenced, and this goes for the plant world as well. There is a species loneliness that has already reached us and we’re in mourning. I think our species is in mourning.”

“There are experiences that are very profound and we know that because we resonate in a deep way—not just in our minds, but in our bodies. As a writer, inevitably, one is going to want to return to those places, and I noticed when I became a writer, unexpectedly, that the initial impulse sometimes could be powerful and interesting, but that it really needs to be reconsidered. Every time I would return to a text and pull it through again, I would go deeper. There are exceptions of course, but I found that in order for the writing to really go to a place that’s really interesting and informing and engaging, I would have to pull it through again. In other words, I couldn’t be satisfied with the initial impulse. It’s just a way in.”

“Making people feel uncomfortable strikes me as being a legitimate aim for an artist. And in fact humor is often a very healthy response to horror […] Humor is one way of surviving.”

“One of the delights of travel is to discover that the world is full of stories. Heinrich Bleucher used to say: that man is mythmaker! Perhaps for me writing stories is a way of engaging in the infinite, the mutable, the ‘evocative’ world which is the world of the imagination.”

“I love the sensual world, I love the body, and I love the physical, natural world. And for me part of the delight of existence is the feast. The ideal day for me is to get a walk in nature, do creative work of some kind, and then prepare a feast at the end of the day.”

“[W}riting became a way to actually see, on the page, what the questions were that needed my attention. And the fact of seeing my inquiry written down revealed to me my own inadequacy, as well as my own fearlessness and even capacity for transcendence. The stories often made me catch my breath because they were revealing me to myself just as they were leading me deeper into the world of ideas. And they made me laugh. They were subversive and vivifying! In other words, my own experience of being a person in the world has been extended dramatically by the process of writing. I don’t think writing is the only way, but I do think it is a real gift. And the marvelous paradox is that when we are writing from an authentic place that is uniquely ours, others respond. Because that place is the holding ground of the breath of Eros, the place of essential reveries. It is uniquely human.”

“We need all of it. We need the public spheres; we need the sorts of friends who quicken us, who delight and amuse and touch us, who disrupt us, whose conversation empowers us; friends with whom to share waking dreams. Friends with whom we may dare be outrageous, ridiculous. Friends we need to walk away from, too. We need the cinema, the stage; we need to be shaken to the core by ideas, by beauty unlike anything we have known before; we need the silence and safety of our own rooms; we need the museums and we need the wilds. We need the wilds alive with the others, the creatures who are vanishing. Because they are embedded within us, not only our memories and our dreams, but our very blood and bones and marrow. We have shared an impossibly long and complex voyage together, and as those many respirations are snuffed out, we are ourselves overcome with losses. We are about to find ourselves terribly alone with one another and we cannot bear it. The only animals left will be the ones who have been bred to be our food or our companions, and the neurotic few who pace the world’s many cages. In other words, we need not only our own book, but the world’s book. What will we have to say to one another once all the others are gone?

“Writing is exhilarating, demanding, and lonely. But writers and readers are of the same tribe; we inform one another, we enter into a deep reverie together, we share a particularly exciting place in the wild wood, that place of far seeing and aesthetic adventure, of the unbridled imagination, of knowledge and transformation, of clairvoyance and delight! For me the journey into a book is no longer lonely because I know my tribe is there, has taken me in and I am really grateful.”

“The art I dream is always technically impossible, unless, perhaps, I knew how to work in virtual reality. Then I could recreate my dreams: things made of minerals, water and flames! For me the creative process is always about exploring new territories, blind and without a map. As with writing, I have no interest in repeating myself, although I do return to museums of natural history and old books on botany and biology for inspiration each time—just as I return to Gaston Bachelard when I am writing a novel. But each picture, each book, is its own creature. And if my painting is not driven by words, my writing owes a lot to painting—Vermeer’s luminosity, Goya’s deep shadows.”

“It breaks my heart when one writer tells another what she can or cannot do. I once knew a woman, a professor of literature, who said that Flaubert had no right to write Madame Bovary because he was a man. Such dangerous foolishness! This is just another form that dogmatic thinking takes. And it seems to me that the imagining mind—which is also a profoundly human mind—must be unfettered, boundless. To write from the perspective of another’s world demands a generous and a rigorous leap of the spirit; it demands empathy and mindfulness. Writing is so much about subverting dogmatisms of all kinds, above all the ones that insist you cannot go there! You must not say that! Writers need to go anywhere, to take anything on. And the only rule is to do it well.”

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.

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