My friend Dan Chaon (author of Stay Awake) illustrates the problem with modern lit: everybody wants to be a writer, and nobody wants to be a reader.
The writing community is full of lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t read the magazines that they…
Literature is, in that way, a solitary act of being with your own conscience. And yet, reading is also a conversation — it’s a conversation over the ages. You are speaking to the brightest and the best without the cumbersomeness of their presence… We begin with the solitude of reading which leads to the necessity of leaking, as it were, the pleasure you have to friends and the people around you, which then leads us back again to going deeper into the work… Sometimes I think I would say that we should live with these things ourselves, and not in the public realm. But I can’t keep myself from conversation. I urge you to read in solitude, but I also want to pull you out of that solitude and create some sort of dialogue.
True heroism is you, alone, in a designated work space. True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world. Just you and the job, at your desk.
From The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, “I should sit here and I should be entertained.” And the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true.
Zadie Smith (via lyras)
William Gass on David Foster Wallace from Vol. 14, Number 2 of Tin House:
“He had great abilities. I think he needed to tame them. I think he was so good that he should’ve wanted to be better.”
“He was popular with the college crowd. Not a good sign. But he knew his math and philosophy. A good sign.”
There’s also a great Wallace Stevens quote in the same interview which is raised by the interviewer, Greg Gerke:
“Those of us who understand that words are thoughts and not only our own thoughts but the thoughts of men and women ignorant of what it is that they are thinking, must be conscious of this: that, above everything else, poetry is words and that words, above everything else, are, in poetry, sounds.”
Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though:
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow,
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year
“For me, essays are about brevity and also personality, a feeling that you’re being taken on an intellectual or emotional journey by a particular person who you get to know along the way. Essays root ideas in personal experience.”
Literature portrays reality better than any other discipline, even better than reality portrays itself. Reality, as we regularly perceive it, is such a jumbled mess we can’t make complete sense of it until after the present events have passed. By then, though, these events can be seen as related to other events, but they are not experienced with the same intensity without the assistance of a tool like the written word. Literature is the way we finally see the world. We mix our past experience with the author’s and engage in the kind of guided meditation only books can deliver.