- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

John Hawkes on Writing, Fiction, Nightmare, and More

Happy birthday, John Hawkes! Here are some quotes from the author:


“‘Choice means variable, variable means discontinuity, discontinuity destroys hierarchy.'”


“I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting, and theme, and having once abandoned these familiar ways of thinking about fiction, totality of vision or structure was really all that remained.”


“For me, everything depends on language.”


“The writer should always serve as his own angleworm—and the sharper the barb with which he fishes himself out of blackness, the better.”


“Like the poem, the experimental fiction is an exclamation of psychic materials which come to the writer all readily distorted, prefigured in that inner schism between the rational and the absurd.”


“Everything I have written comes out of nightmare, out of the nightmare of war, I think.”


“What I really want to do is to create things that haven’t been created before, even though life itself seems sometimes totally cyclical and totally coherent. I find it very difficult to cope with the notion of being alive, being human; I’m not able to accept us very easily. I think we are so unaccountable. Life is also a constantly terrifying mystery as well as a beautiful, unpredictable, exfoliating, marvelous thing.”


“It is the desire for a terrestrial paradise, or immortality, or harmony and total beauty that are as much a part of my imaginative needs as the necessity of coping with the cruelest, most deformed, defamed aspects of life. I’m a very lyrical person as well as a maker of nightmares…”


“But as long as we have our physical being, there is no such thing as the imagination being used up, because the imagination is infinite, it makes up its own materials. I suppose a person could become so psychologically depressed or remote or unrewarded as to be dead in his life, so that he wouldn’t be interested in the imagination—he would forget it and wouldn’t use it. But that’s not using up its materials—an impossibility, as I see it.”


“One and all they are driven by the twin engines of ignorance and willful barbarism. You nod, you also are familiar with these two powerful components of our national character, ignorance and willful barbarianism. Yes, everywhere you turn, and even among the most gifted of us, the most extensively educated, these two brute forces of motivation will eventually emerge. The essential information is always missing; sensitivity is a mere veil to self-concern. We are all secret encouragers of ignorance, at heart we are all willful barbarians.”


“Some time ago I discovered that I could no longer speak aloud or read aloud from a stage, even for the sake of hearing the effect that my writer’s voice produced on listeners. Now, curiously, the more I merely try to live, the more reclusive I become, the vainer I am. At last I am as vain as the one who instantly voices his silence inside me.”


“Well, you understand that . . . I would prefer that the remains of our crash go undiscovered, at least initially. I would prefer that these remains be left unknown to anyone and hence unexplored, untouched. In this case we have at the outset the shattering that occurs in utter darkness, then the first sunrise in which the chaos, the physical disarray, has not yet settled—bits of metal expanding, contracting, tufts of upholstery exposed to the air, an unsocketed dial impossibly squeaking in a clump of thorns—though this same baffling tangle of springs, jagged edges of steel, curves of aluminum, has already received its first coating of white frost. In the course of the first day the gasoline evaporates, the engine oil begins to fade into the earth, the broken lens of a far-flung headlight reflects the progress of the sun from a furrow in what was once a field of corn. The birds do not sing, clouds pass, the wreckage is warmed, the human remains are integral with the remains of rubber, glass, steel. A stone has lodged in the engine block, the process of rusting has begun. And then darkness, a cold wind, a shred of clothing fluttering where it is snagged on one of the doors which, quite unscathed, lies flat in the grass. And then daylight, changing temperature, a night of cold rain, the short-lived presence of a scavenging rodent. And despite all this chemistry of time, nothing has disturbed the essential integrity of our tableau of chaos, the point being that if design inevitably surrenders to debris, debris inevitably reveals its innate design.”


“I will tell you in a few words who I am: lover of the hummingbird that darts to the flower beyond the rotted sill where my feet are propped; lover of bright needlepoint and the bright stitching fingers of humorless old ladies bent to their sweet and infamous designs; lover of parasols made from the same puffy stuff as a young girl’s underdrawers; still lover of that small naval boat which somehow survived the distressing years of my life between her decks or in her pilothouse; and also lover of poor dear black Sonny, my mess boy, fellow victim, and confidant, and of my wife and child. But most of all, lover of my harmless and sanguine self.”


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