Young Farmers (August Sander, 1914)

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From Christian Weikop’s essay: “The three young farmers are perhaps aping poses they may have seen in adverts or in the silent movies shown in storefront cinemas in small towns and cities. With its mock-urban, dandy-like poses set against an out-of-focus marshy barren landscape, Young Farmers certainly has a strange cinematographic quality, and captures what cultural historian Michael Jennings has described as the ‘momentum of the transition away from the land and into the cities’.”

Paul Auster on the act of writing

The Believer, 2005: “ Writing is physical for me. I always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind. I write in longhand, and the pen is scratching the words onto the page. I can even hear the words being written. So much of the effort that goes into writing prose for me is about making sentences that capture the music that I’m hearing in my head. It takes a lot of work, writing, writing, and rewriting to get the music exactly the way you want it to be. That music is a physical force. Not only do you write books physically, but you read books physically as well. There’s something about the rhythms of language that correspond to the rhythms of our own bodies. An attentive reader is finding meanings in the book that can’t be articulated, finding them in his or her body. I think this is what so many people don’t understand about fiction. Poetry is supposed to be musical. But people don’t understand prose. They’re so used to reading journalism—clunky, functional sentences that convey factual information—facts, more than just the surfaces of things.”

Eva Brann on teaching freshmen

…”I do love teaching freshmen. The reason I love it is because the difference between September and May is huge. For those who have read their readings, attended regularly, spoken in seminar … the difference in articulateness is tremendous. [There's a] difference in thoughtfulness, or even in knowing that you’re supposed to think about things in a certain way and not just say the words, and the ability to do something with the reading. You know, freshmen don’t usually know how you get a lot out of a page that is really thick with meaning, and that’s what they learn—that reading doesn’t always apply to books, it applies to human beings and to the whole world. The freshmen that come in are of course somewhat influenced by what the world is talking about, but before long, they lose that. They talk about the Program.”

"All great excellence in life or art..."

"All great excellence in life or art, at its first recognition, brings with it a certain pain, arising from the strongly felt inferiority of the spectator. Only at a later period, when we take it into our own culture, and appropriate as much of it as our capacities allow, do we learn to love and esteem it."

Goethe, ed. John Stuart Blackie. The Wisdom of Goethe. W. Blackwood, 1883. 113.

"Virginia Woolf? Snob! Richard Wright? Sexist! Dostoyevsky? Anti-Semite!"

“I think we’d all be better readers if we realized that it isn’t the writer who’s the time traveler. It’s the reader. When we pick up an old novel, we’re not bringing the novelist into our world and deciding whether he or she is enlightened enough to belong here; we’re journeying into the novelist’s world and taking a look around.”

[…] “And maybe, without overlooking or forgetting about Wharton’s blind spots, we’d be able to appreciate the riches she had to offer — her aphoristic wit; her astonishingly well-wrought sentences; her subtle sense of how moral strength and weakness coexist in each of us; her criticisms of the cruelties of her historical moment, which are not unlike the cruelties of ours.”

(Brian Morton for the New York Times)

"...the Hemingway-Copland-Steinbeck-Ives America I loved..."

George Saunders in the preface to CivilWarLand

“In retrospect I was lucky—lucky to have my lame, black-and-white, museumish idea of literature, in which it was always 1931, denied me. This sent me in search (in spite of myself) of a prose style that wasn’t full of shit given the life I was leading, a style that felt truly American— that took into account the Hemingway-Copland-Steinbeck-Ives America I loved (red, white, and blue bunting draped above a white-painted porch, a marching band playing in the distance) but also this new America in which I was just becoming a full participant: a place where paucity reduced a person, fear of failure produced neuroses, where everyone became a freak via material obsession, where there were no artifacts of previous cultures, no ancient ruins, just expedience-formed vistas (the old mill was now a Starbucks, and when the Starbucks kids went out for a smoke, they did so leaning against the fence of the pioneer graveyard, the shadow of a tall stone angel slicing across the parking stripes), a style as angular, comic, dorky, and heartfelt as the Rochesterians I saw falling asleep on the bus, or living up near Kodak Park in the shadow of the methylene chloride pipes, or plunking around in their snowy yards wielding roof rakes as I sped by on the canal path in my goggles and spaceman boots.”