Photo credit: William H. Gass
- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

“What’s any artist, but the dregs of his work? the human shambles that follows it around.”

 

Happy birthday, William Gaddis! Here are some quotes from the writer:

 

“If it is not beautiful for someone, it does not exist.”

 

“Fearful of missing anything, he read on, filled with this anticipation which was half terror, of coming upon something which would touch him, not simply touch him but lift him and carry him away.”

 

“There’s much more stupidity than there is malice in the world…”

 

“Stupidity’s the deliberate cultivation of ignorance, that’s what we’ve got here.”

 

“—I really prefer books. No matter how bad a book is, it’s unique, but people are all so ordinary.
—I think we really like books that make us hate ourselves.”

 

“‘Merry Christmas!’ the man threatened.”

 

“Everybody has that feeling when they look at a work of art and it’s right, that sudden familiarity, a sort of…recognition, as though they were creating it themselves, as though it were being created through them while they look at it or listen to it…”

 

“What’s any artist, but the dregs of his work? the human shambles that follows it around. What’s left of the man when the work’s done but a shambles of apology.”

 

“How real is any of the past, being every moment revalued to make the present possible…”

 

“I, it’s just, listen, criticism? It’s the most important art now, it’s the one we need most now. Criticism is the art we need most today. But not, don’t you see? not the ‘if I’d done it myself.’ Yes, a, a disciplined nostalgia, disciplined recognitions.”

 

“They write for people who read with the surface of their minds, people with reading habits that make the smallest demands on them, people brought up reading for facts, who know what’s going to come next and want to know what’s coming next, and get angry at surprises.”

 

“Tragedy was foresworn, in ritual denial of the ripe knowledge that we are drawing away from one another, that we share only one thing, share the fear of belonging to another, or to others, or to God; love or money, tender equated in advertising and the world, where only money is currency, and under dead trees and brittle ornaments prehensile hands exchange forgeries of what the heart dare not surrender.”

 

“How…how fragile situations are. But not tenuous. Delicate, but not flimsy, not indulgent. Delicate, that’s why they keep breaking, they must break and you must get the pieces together and show it before it breaks again, or put them aside for a moment when something else breaks and turn to that, and all this keeps going on. That’s why most writing now, if you read it they go on one two three four and tell you what happened like newspaper accounts, no adjectives, no long sentences, no tricks they pretend, and they finally believe that they really believe that the way they saw it is the way it is…it never takes your breath away, telling you things you already know, laying everything out flat, as though the terms and the time, and the nature and the movement of everything were secrets of the same magnitude. They write for people who read with the surface of their minds, people with reading habits that make the smallest demands on them, people brought up reading for facts, who know what’s going to come next and want to know what’s coming next, and get angry at surprises. Clarity’s essential, and detail, no fake mysticism, the facts are bad enough. But we’re embarrassed for people who tell too much, and tell it without surprise. How does he know what happened? unless it’s one unshaven man alone in a boat, changing I to he, and how often do you get a man alone in a boat, in all this…all this…Listen, there are so many delicate fixtures, moving toward you, you’ll see. Like a man going into a dark room, holding his hands down guarding his parts for fear of a table corner, and…Why, all this around us is for people who can keep their balance only in the light, where they move as though nothing were fragile, nothing tempered by possibility, and all of a sudden bang! something breaks. Then you have to stop and put the pieces together again. But you never can put them back together quite the same way. You stop when you can and expose things, and leave them within reach, and others come on by themselves, and they break, and even then you may put the pieces aside just out of reach until you can bring them back and show them, put together slightly different, maybe a little more enduring, until you’ve broken it and picked up the pieces enough times, and you have the whole thing in all its dimensions. But the discipline, the detail, it’s just…sometimes the accumulation is too much to bear.”

 

“[H]as it ever occurred to any of you that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you’re not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of the knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from the outside. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos…”

 

“Human, we treat them as we treat others, take for granted services to which they did not pretend. But we force telephones to corrupt intimacy while they pretend to preserve it by keeping alive only its dangerous immediate symptoms. Say a word, say a thousand to me on the telephone and I shall choose the wrong one to cling to as though you had said it after long deliberation when only I provoked it from you, I will cling to it from among a thousand, to be provoked and hurl it back with something I mean no more than you meant that, something for you to cling to and retreat clinging to. There, now we are apart!”

 

“Images surround us; cavorting broadcast in the minds of others, we wear the motley tailored by their bad digestions, the shame and failure, plague pandemics and private indecencies, unpaid bills, and animal ecstasies remembered in hospital beds, our worst deeds and best intentions will not stay still, scolding, mocking, or merely chattering they assail each other, shocked at recognition. Sometimes simplicity serves, though even the static image of Saint John Baptist received prenatal attentions (six months along, leaping for joy in his mother’s womb when she met Mary who had conceived the day before): once delivered he stands steady in a camel’s hair loincloth at a ford in the river, morose, ascetic on locusts and honey, molesting passers-by, upbraiding the flesh on those who wear it with pleasure. And the Nazarene whom he baptized? Three years pass, in a humility past understanding: and then death, disappointed? unsuspecting? and the body left on earth, the one which was to rule the twelve tribes of Israel, and on earth, left crying outMy God, why dost thou shame me? Hopelessly ascendent in resurrection, the image is pegged on the wind by an epileptic tentmaker, his strong hands stretch the canvas of faith into a gaudy caravanserai, shelter for travelers wearied of the burning sand, lured by forgetfulness striped crimson and gold, triple-tiered, visible from afar, redolent of the east, and level and wide the sun crashes the fist of reality into that desert where the truth still walks barefoot.”

 

“And that is why people read novels, to identify projections of their own unconscious. The hero has to be fearfully real, to convince them of their own reality, which they rather doubt. A novel without a hero would be distracting in the extreme. They have to know what you think, or good heavens, how can they know that you’re going through some wild conflict, which is after all the duty of a hero.”

 

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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