Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William H. Gass, 2012

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Photo by Frank Di Piazza

It’s probably too easy a move to begin my very brief remarks about Gass’s use of architecture as a metaphor by trotting out the old horse of a quote about language being the house of Being, before flogging it to death once and for all; but it seems appropriate, nevertheless, to do so, especially when I think about Gass’s positing that the sentence is a container of consciousness. Actually, the quote from Heidegger is useful only when held in contrast with Gass’s ideas about language. Whereas Heidegger placed speech, that is, the continuum of speech, which includes talking, listening, and silence, at the center of his theory of language, Gass does not see writing as a mere supplement to speech. The continuum of writing includes four modes: persuasive, expository, expressive, and literary; and two hybrid modes: argumentative (a fusion of persuasive and expository) and critical (a fusion of expository and expressive) modes. Of these modes, it is the literary that receives the primary focus in Gass’s critical writing. And so, one might perhaps properly say that, for Gass, writing, or, rather, the sentence is the house of becoming. And what is it exactly that becomes in a sentence? For Gass, the sentence is a container of consciousness, a “verbal consciousness, of course, one built of symbols, not sensations; yet one of perceptions all the same: perceptions followed by thoughts like tracking hounds, and infused throughout by the energies of memory and desire, the moods emotions foster, and the reach, through imagery and other juxtapositions, of imagination…” (“The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence”). Like any house, this container can take any number of forms:

[S]entences must be understood to contain all sorts of unused syntactical space; places that could be filled with more words, but, in any specific instance, aren’t…Sentences are like latticework, like fences, to be left open or prudently closed, their boards wide or narrow, pointy or level, the spaces between them, ditto….A sentence can sometimes give its reader such a strong sense of its overall character that it provokes a flight of fancy, a metaphorical description: it’s like a journey of discovery; it’s like a coil of rope, a triumphal column; it’s like a hallway or a chapel; it’s like a spiral stair. To me, for instance, Sir Thomas Browne’s triplet—“Grave stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oak.”—with its relentlessly stressed syllables (seven strong to one weak in the first row, seven to two in the second course, and six to one in the last) resembles a wall. I can even locate spots (the weak stresses) where its stones have crumbled. Families come to pieces the way the word does.

Yes, architecture is a theme running throughout William Gass’s oeuvre, not only in his critical work but in his fictions as well, particularly in The Tunnel, where tunnel-as-metaphor is used as the very structure from which the novel is built.

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Dan Wickett’s “Literary Pillars”

If this were truly an honest list, there’d be around 34 Dzanc titles and the other 16 titles would have a healthy sprinkling of Dzanc imprint titles. I’m going to hold those off the list though. Mostly.

1. One Penny Black by Edwin Palmer Hoyt – it’s a book on stamp collecting, which I was into back in the second grade. I believe the record will show in the P.D. Graham Elementary School Library that I might have checked this book out for a couple of consecutive school years, showing early signs of some of the literary obsessions I’d show later on.

2. The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald – another book from that time period, one that I probably read a couple hundred times.

3. World’s End by T. C. Boyle – the first of his work that I read, shortly after a write-up in Rolling Stone. If this isn’t his best novel, it’s right up in the top 2 or 3, and remains my favorite to this day.

4 and 5. Best American Short Stories 1987 and Norton Critical Anthology of Short Fiction – I’m lumping these two together because they were the two “text” books for two classes I took in the Fall of 1988 and because of them (and my lack of memory at what authors were from which title) discovering authors like Ralph Lombreglia, Mark Costello, Elizabeth Tallent, Madison Smartt Bell, Robert Coover and many others.

6. Pricksongs & Descants by Robert Coover – Spinning from reading “The Babysitter” most logically from the aforementioned Norton anthology, I found the collection from which it was published and reading through was eye-opening as to what fiction could be, how it could stretch, etc.

7. Keeneland by Alyson Hagy. Honestly, it’s not my favorite of her works, though I like it a lot. It’s here because without that novel, there was no Emerging Writers Network, without the EWN, I never meet Steven Gillis and we have no Dzanc Books that I’m a part of.

8. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Undoubtedly the book that I’ve read more times as an adult than any other.

9. Dune by Frank Herbert. In 7th grade I was plowing through books in a Science Fiction & Fantasy class and the teacher sent me to the librarian with a note–please find something challenging for Mr. Wickett to read and Dune is what she gave me and it was a solid choice–so many storylines and layers that over the next five to ten years I probably read it, and the subsequent (Frank Herbert authors at-least) Dune titles and maybe, just maybe by the last time understood everything Herbert was trying to do.

10. Erasure by Percival Everett. Again, it might not be my favorite of Everett’s work, but Mike Magnuson damn near demanded I read it, and in doing so unleashed a fervor on my part to find and read everything Everett has written, which is now up around 20 titles when you include the poetry collections. Thank goodness Erasure was as good as it was as it allowed me into this wonderful world of writing.
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Forward-Thinking Dzanc Books Once Again Outthinks the So-Called Majors

Robert Coover is one of the most important writers (among the many living, seemingly living, or otherwise writers), his work not only crossing genres but remaking them in his own peculiar, acerbic, lyrical, defamiliarizing image. The so-called major publishers have shied away from publishing Coover’s work for some years now, even sadly allowing his many books to go out of print, marking, once again, not only their poor judgment, but, ultimately, their cowardice.

So, I was very happy to hear the news that, come September 2013, Dzanc Books will publish Robert Coover’s novel The Brunist Day of Wrath, the sequel to his award-winning debut novel, The Origin of the Brunists. A Coover short story collection will be published in September 2014. Beginning in August 2012 and running on up through August 2013, “eBooks” of ten of Coover’s backlist titles will be released.

Bravo, Dzanc Books!

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Welcome to The Lit Pub . . .

Before I say anything else, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chris Newgent for all of the time and energy he has put into our efforts to bring you the next nine words: WELCOME TO THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF THE LIT PUBI’d like to also thank Matt Bell for his excellent advice during the early planning stages, and I especially need to thank my parents, without whose emotional and financial support this would never have been possible. A big round of applause for the guys and gal at Fuzzco, who helped make our website everything I hoped it could be. Many special words of gratitude to Lidia Yuknavitch, for believing in us before we even knew what we really were. And thank you also to Ethel Rohan, Mike Young, and Ofelia Hunt. Of course, gigantic hugs for the entire crew at TLP for all of their hard work and much-needed emotional support during these last few months (Mike Bushnell, thank you for listening, I am so grateful for your energy; Erika Moya, what would I do without you, seriously, my birthday twin!; Elizabeth Taddonio, you are going to manage the hell out of our community, I know it; Kristina Born, Mark Cugini, David Blomenberg, Nicelle Davis, Jacqueline Kari, Corey Beasley, Jordan Blum, M. M. Wittle, and Dave Kiefaber, I thank you for your belief in this; Richard Nash, Adam Robinson, Kevin Sampsell, Dan Wickett, Zach Dodson, and Michael Griffith, let me tell you how grateful I am for your guidance along the way). And thank you again and again and forever to my parents, who are really the unseen heros behind everything that we have accomplished thus far. Without them, I mean it, this would still be just an idea.

A Sentence About a Sentence I Love: An Anthology, of Sorts

A few months ago, in April, to be exact, I started a series of posts entitled “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love” with a sentence about one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s magnificent sentences. This concentration, or, rather, this obsession with the sentence may have come from my, at the time, recent readings of William Gass’s essays wherein he concentrates much of his attention on the sentence as a primary building block in poetry and prose. Essays by Gass like “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” “The Sentence Seeks Its Form,” “The Architecture of the Sentence,” take as their focus the centrality of the sentence toward the construction of thought, and particularly of thoughts within the parameters of fiction. In “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction,” Gass claims that sentences are “the most elementary instances of what the author has constructed….a moving unity of fact and feeling.” Moreover, sentences

must be sounded, too; it has a rhythm, speed, a tone, a flow, a pattern, shape, length, pitch, conceptual direction. The sentence confers reality upon certain relations, but it also controls our estimation, apprehension, and response to them. Every sentence, in short, takes metaphysical dictation, and it is the sum of these dictations, involving the whole range of the work in which the sentences appear, which accounts for its philosophical quality, and the form of life in the thing that has been made (Fiction and the Figures of Life, 14).

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Dan Wickett’s Best of 2009

First on my list for Best of 2009 would have to be seeing each of my three kids take another solid step forward with their lives, each maturing a bit, taking on different responsibilities than they had in previous years, etc.
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