- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

 

Happy birthday, George Saunders! 61, today!

 

Here are some quotes from Saunders about writing, etc.:

 

“To me, fiction is the ultimate form of ‘doing something.’ An idea or notion or image leaves the writer’s mind, goes directly into the reader’s, and has the potential to change what it finds there.”

 

“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

 

“I like the idea that a work of fiction is basically just some timeless human dilemma, dressed up in contemporary clothing.”

 

“An artist works outside the realm of strict logic. Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art.”

 

“Revising…is a form of increasing the ambient intelligence of a piece of writing. This, in turn, communicates a sense of respect for your reader. As text is revised, it becomes more specific and embodied in the particular. It becomes more sane. It becomes less hyperbolic, sentimental, and misleading. It loses its ability to create a propagandistic fog. Falsehoods get squeezed out of it, lazy assertions stand up, naked and blushing, and rush out of the room.”

 

“What I’ve found over my years of writing is that straightforward realism doesn’t get me where I want to go. I don’t have that gift. My realist writing feels too safe and reactionary—I feel more outrage in day-to-day living than a realist approach allows me to express. Or: when I think of what’s actually going on here—the briefness of life vs the ‘normalised’ way we go through our days (denying death, planning very sanely for everything, as if we’re going to live forever) it feels that conventional narrative is insufficient. It’s kind of like, if you see a snake and it scares the shit out of you, typing, ‘Suddenly I saw a snake’ doesn’t get it—has nothing to do with what you felt in that instant. How to use or exploit or get at that (having-seen-snake) energy? The energy of what you actually felt in that instant? That’s the question. And the answer—the prose that could achieve that—might have fuck-all to do with snakes, if you see what I mean.”

 

“We often think that the empathetic function in fiction is accomplished via the writer’s relation to his characters, but it’s also accomplished via the writer’s relation to his reader. You make a rarefied place (rarefied in language, in form; perfected in many inarticulable beauties—the way two scenes abut; a certain formal device that self-escalates; the perfect place at which a chapter cuts off); and then welcome the reader in. She can’t believe that you believe in her that much; that you are so confident that the subtle nuances of the place will speak to her; she is flattered. And they do speak to her. This mode of revision, then, is ultimately about imagining that your reader is as humane, bright, witty, experienced, and well-intentioned as you, and that, to communicate intimately with her, you have to maintain the state, through revision, of generously imagining her. You revise your reader up, in your imagination, with every pass. You keep saying to yourself: ‘No, she’s smarter than that. Don’t dishonour her with that lazy prose or that easy notion.’

And in revising your reader up, you revise yourself up too.”

 

“But it seems to me that if we want to look at, say, ‘love,’ using fiction as the lens, then we’d really want to challenge love: give it something to push back against; construct a situation in which it could show its true colors, so to speak.”

 

“A writer’s flaws are what he has to work with. To get any forward momentum, I have to make stories that have drama, which for me often means putting some overt threat in there. And I’m not subtle. To make ‘threats’ and thereby ‘drama’ I will justyou know, create a kindergarten teacher and then introduce an approaching Mongol horde. In the midst of a crisis is where we get the true measure of a character, and thus some new feeling about human tendency.”

 

“Anyway, what I really think good writing does: It enlivens that part of us that actually believes we are in this world, right now, and that being here somehow matters. It reawakens the reader to the fact and the value of her own existence.”

 

“I don’t believe at all in the Deep Dark Secret theory of literature: this idea that there is a right or a wrong about a given story or a given approach. My own pathetic output is proof that, at least in my case, Mastery is totally elusive. For me, every story is a whole new set of problems, expressed in a whole new language, plus my glasses are out of prescription, and its raining. So I am a very humble writer and a very humble reader, flinchy even.”

 

“I think a character who is basically like the writer and the reader (good, sensible, intelligent, well-intentioned, and so on) is going to produce a more deeply felt ride. Fiction gets most under our skin, I think, when we find it impossible to distance ourselves from the narrated dilemma. What creates distance is when we look at a character and think, ‘Nope, not me, I would never have reacted that way.’ Whereas if the character does pretty much what we would do in the given situation, and thinks the way we would thinkthen we can’t step away from him when the shit hits the fan.”

 

“There’s something very heartening about teaching, in a ‘There’s nothing new under the sun’ way: You realize that there have always been, and will always be, young artistic people in the world who, being relatively new to the world, are freshly amazed by its beauty.”

 

“There’s something wonderful about spending a day taking apart a Tolstoy story to see how it works, and then getting up the next morning, feeling like: Okay, I’m still alive, still writing, still part of that lineageand therefore there’s still a chance that, one day, I’ll do something good.”

 

“Well, just between you and me, I hate short stories. But I became addicted to the big bucks that being a career short story writer brings. But finally I’ve had enough and am going to write a novel, even if I have to take a pay cut and risk losing my audience and give up on movie rights and all of that. I don’t care, I’m all about the art.”

 

“So far it’s a lot of fun, and about every other day it seems like a big fiasco, a completely unviable train wreck, which, based on my experience with stories, indicates that it might be a worthy adversary.”

 

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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