- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Angela Carter on Writing, Reading, Books, Desire, Love, and More.

 

Happy birthday, Angela Carter! Here are some quotes from her writing:

 

“Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure.”

 

“Reason cannot produce the poetry disorder does.”

 

“[N]othing is a matter of life and death except life and death.”

 

“Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people.”

 

“My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

 

“A book is simply the container of an idea—like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.”

 

“Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.”

 

“Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. And I think that all fiction should be open-ended. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms. And therefore it’s impossible to quantify what the reaction should be. I went for a long time thinking that perhaps really I should write agitprop, but I couldn’t see how I could. It would come out very odd, it would come out most peculiar. It would come out in such a way that I couldn’t imagine anybody enjoying reading it. And this seemed to cut away, to pull the carpet out from under myself.”

 

“Is not this world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody.”

 

“For most of human history, ‘literature,’ both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written—heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.”

 

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.”

 

“Well, I’m basically trying to find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society, in our culture, really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semireligious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them.”

 

“Something that women know all about is how very difficult it is to enter an old game. What you have to do is to change the rules and make a new game…”

 

“Speculative fiction really means that, the fiction of speculation, the fiction of asking ‘what if?’ It’s a system of continuing inquiry. In a way all fiction starts off with ‘what if,’ but some ‘what ifs’ are more specific. One kind of novel starts off with ‘What if I found out that my mother has an affair with a man that I thought was my uncle?’ That’s presupposing a different kind of novel from the one that starts off with ‘What if I found out my boyfriend had just changed sex?’ If you read the New York Times Book Review a lot, you soon come to the conclusion that our culture takes more seriously the first kind of fiction, which is a shame in some ways. By the second ‘what if’ you would actually end up asking much more penetrating questions. If you were half way good at writing fiction, you’d end up asking yourself and asking the reader actually much more complicated questions about what we expect from human relationships and what we expect from gender.”

 

“I want to make images that are personal, sensuous, tender, and funny.”

 

“One of the difficulties of writing fiction that’s supposed to have a lot of meaning and can be read as allegory, is the tension between what people expect from the fiction, which is rounded three-dimensional characters that they can believe in, have empathy with, and the fact that that kind of character doesn’t carry all that much meaning. They can’t carry all that much freight of meaning. They can’t be all that, unless you can try very hard and make them move out of character a lot. It’s a problem that Brecht grappled with, quite successfully.”

 

“I think it’s one of the scars in our culture that we have too high an opinion of ourselves. We align ourselves with the angels instead of the higher primates.”

 

“Yes, I suppose I do. There’s a line in a poem of my youth, a poem by Allen Ginsberg called Howl in which he issues this dreadful warning: ‘America, I am putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.’ But that sense of weighty responsibility with which some writers approach this fills me with a kind of wild terror. I don’t think art is as important as all that and I don’t think you can do all that much with fiction. It does seem to me that artists, far from being the unconscious legislators of mankind, tend to be parasitic upon those in productive labour. And therefore we really have a big responsibility to deliver the goods. I mean most people would prefer to be artists than to work for Ford in Dagenham after all. Therefore there is a responsibility to deliver the goods, to cheer people up by suggesting that possibly there is hope. I feel that if we all put our queer shoulders to the wheel together, it may be possible to move it an inch, a quarter of an inch, a centimetre, shake it. But it’s very difficult knowing where to start because a certain kind of bland quietism seems to have taken over the intelligentsia.”

 

“I don’t dream. Rather, I never remember my dreams and on the rare occasions when I do, they are completely banal. Last night, for example, I dreamed that I woke up and went to the bathroom.

But this resemblance to dreams is deliberate, conscious as it were. I have studied dreams extensively and I know about their structure and symbolism. I think dreams are a way of the mind telling itself stories. I use free association and dream imagery when I write. I like to think I have a hot line to my subconscious.”

 

“There is a striking resemblance between the act of love and the ministrations of a torturer.”

 

“I desire therefore I exist.”

 

“Love is desire sustained by unfulfilment.”

 

“Love is the synthesis of dream and actuality; love is the only matrix of the unprecedented; love is the tree which buds lovers like roses.

 

“We must all make do with the rags of love we find flapping on the scarecrow of humanity.”

 

“Despair is the constant companion of the clown.”

 

“For all cats have this particularity, each and every one, from the meanest alley sneaker to the proudest, whitest she that ever graced a pontiff’s pillow—we have our smiles, as it were, painted on. Those small, cool, quite Mona Lisa smiles that smile we must, no matter whether it’s been fun or it’s been not. So all cats have a politician’s air; we smile and smile and so they think we’re villains”

 

“Like the wild beasts, she lives without a future. She inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair.”

 

“If women allow themselves to be consoled for their culturally determined lack of access to the modes of intellectual debate by the invocation of hypothetical great goddesses, they are simply flattering themselves into submission (a technique often used on them by men). All the mythic versions of women, from the myth of the redeeming purity of the virgin to that of the healing, reconciliatory mother, are consolatory nonsenses; and consolatory nonsense seems to me a fair definition of myth, anyway. Mother goddesses are just as silly a notion as father gods. If a revival of the myths gives women emotional satisfaction, it does so at the price of obscuring the real conditions of life. This is why they were invented in the first place.”

 

“To be the object of desire is to be defined in the passive case. To exist in the passive case is to die in the passive case—that is, to be killed. This is the moral of the fairy tale about the perfect woman.”

 

“A free woman in an unfree society will be a monster.”

 

“In his diabolic solitude, only the possibility of love could awake the libertine to perfect, immaculate terror. It is in this holy terror of love that we find, in both men and women themselves, the source of all opposition to the emancipation of women.”

 

“In a world where women are commodities, a woman who refuses to sell herself will have the thing she refuses to sell taken away from her by force.”

 

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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