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.”

Randall Jarrell on Yvor Winters

From David Yezzi in the New Criterion:

“From one side of his mouth he pronounced in The New York Times that “Winters’ clear, independent and serious talent has produced criticism that no cultivated person can afford to leave unread.” And from the other, in an unpublished lecture lately exhumed for an issue of The Georgia Review, Jarrell suggests that Winters’s criticism

should be classified, in his own terms, as a startlingly neoprimitive variety of neoclassicism, since in it he pretends to a simplicity, a simple-mindedness, that is not naturally his but that has been imported from another age at the great cost of everyone concerned. Mr. Winters’ critical method reminds me of Blake and his wife sitting naked in their garden, pretending to be Adam and Eve.

Of Winters’s “The Experimental School in American Poetry,” which Jarrell notes has “been praised as the critical feat of the time,” he gripes, “There is a sort of brutal frivolity about it: it is so disorganized, arbitrary, and obviously inadequate as to be unworthy both of the subject and Mr. Winters.”

"You may also like..."

Justin E. H. Smith for The Point — “It is one thing to target infants with material that presumes no well-constituted human subject as its viewer; it is quite another when thirty-somethings with Ph.D.s are content to debate the merits of the Marvel vs. the DC Comics universe or whatever. If I were an algorithm, and I encountered an adult human happily watching Spiderman, I would greet that human with a “You may also like…” offer to next watch “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa” on a ten-hour loop. That is how worthless and stunting I think this particular genre of cultural production is.”

Further reading: Smith’s follow-up to critics.

The café: not to be noticed, but remembered

“What is yet unpredicted has to consolidate into something obvious, so obvious that the guest may ask: for this you really needed an architect? Which indeed is the greatest compliment possible. After all, a café is not to be noticed, but remembered. It should be precisely to the point, and not annoy by pretentious ambitions.”

—Hermann Czech, in Christoph Grafe and Franziska Bollerey (Ed.): Cafés and Bars. The Architecture of Public Display; New York-London (Routledge) 2007, p. 94-96.