March 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Gabriel García Márquez is eighty-seven today.
You describe seemingly fantastic events in such minute detail that it gives them their own reality. Is this something you have picked up from journalism?
That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used. I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies. When I was very small there was an electrician who came to the house. I became very curious because he carried a belt with which he used to suspend himself from the electrical posts. My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies. But when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it.
—Gabriel García Márquez, the Art of Fiction No. 69
February 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Michel Houellebecq is fifty-eight today.
You’ve said that you are “an old Calvinist pain-in-the-ass.” What do you mean?
I tend to think that good and evil exist and that the quantity in each of us is unchangeable. The moral character of people is set, fixed until death. This resembles the Calvinist notion of predestination, in which people are born saved or damned, without being able to do a thing about it. And I am a curmudgeonly pain in the ass because I refuse to diverge from the scientific method or to believe there is a truth beyond science.
—Michel Houllebecq, the Art of Fiction No. 206
February 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Happy fiftieth birthday, Jonathan Lethem!
You don’t seem to have bothered to rebel against your parents’ milieu—their bohemianism, their leftism.
I tried. It’s very hard to rebel against parents whose lives are so full and creative and brilliant—the option is my generation’s joke: the rebel stockbroker. That wasn’t for me. I wanted what my parents had, but I needed to rebel by picking a déclassé art career. My father came from the great modernist tradition, and so I found a way, briefly, to disappoint him, to dodge his sense of esteem. Very briefly. He caught on soon enough that what I was doing was still an art practice more or less in his vein.
I felt I ought to thrive on my fate as an outsider. Being a paperback writer was meant to be part of that. I really, genuinely wanted to be published in shabby pocket-sized editions and be neglected—and then discovered and vindicated when I was fifty. To honor, by doing so, Charles Willeford and Philip K. Dick and Patricia Highsmith and Thomas Disch, these exiles within their own culture. I felt that was the only honorable path.
—Jonathan Lethem, the Art of Fiction No. 177
February 18, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
The poet A. R. Ammons was born on this day in 1926.
I know that you worked in your father-in-law’s biological glass factory as a vice president in charge of sales. Were you interested in the work or was it dull?
It wasn’t dull. I have a poem somewhere explaining how running a business is like writing a poem. In business, for example, you bring in the raw materials and then subject them to a certain kind of human change. You introduce the raw materials into a system of order, like the making of a poem, and once the matter is shaped it’s ready to be shipped. I mean, the incoming and outgoing energies have achieved a kind of balance. Believe it or not, I felt completely confident in the work I was doing. And did it, I think, well.
—A. R. Ammons, the Art of Poetry No. 73
February 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Not long ago President Reagan, who should be remembered only for his jokes because his jokes I think are really very good, was asked how it was he could have managed eight years as president and still look so wonderful. Did you see this?
It was in the Times. He said, “Let me tell you the story about the old psychiatrist being admired by a young psychiatrist who asks, ‘How come you still look so fresh, so free of anxiety, so little worn by care, when you’ve spent your entire life sitting as I do every day, getting worn out listening to the miseries of your patients?’ To which the older psychiatrist replies, ‘It’s very simple, young man. I never listen.’ ” Such sublime, wonderful, and sincere self-revelation on the part of Reagan! In spite of all one’s horror at what he has done or failed to do as President, it takes one’s breath away with admiration.
—Harold Bloom, the Art of Criticism No. 1
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I’ve often said that someone trying to write satirically in this country faces the problem of writing something sufficiently bizarre so that it might not come true while his article is on the presses. The Reagan Administration was difficult that way. Once, at a reception for big-city mayors in Washington, President Reagan was approached by his own Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and the president said, Hello, Mr. Mayor, how are things in your city? Now, what does that leave for me?
—Calvin Trillin, the Art of Humor No. 3
February 13, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
All my life I ate noodles. Because my mother used to repair old lacework. And one thing about old lace is that odors stick to it forever. And you can’t deliver smelly lace! So what didn’t smell? Noodles. I’ve eaten basinfuls of noodles. My mother made noodles by the basinful. Boiled noodles, oh, yes, yes, all my youth, noodles and mush.
—Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the Art of Fiction No. 33