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Posts Tagged ‘1968’

Enlarge and Linger

November 14, 2014 | by

On William Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.

gass

William Gass teaching at Washington University, 1974. Photo: Washington University Magazine

In the heart of the heart of William Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, deep inside the title story, the narrator contemplates his cat, Mr. Tick: “You are a cat—you cannot understand—you are a cat so easily.” The confident Mr. Tick, unlike the narrator, does not worry over his mortality or think about the burden of self-consciousness. He does not care that the past is past. He does not fear possibility or imagine himself as anything other than the cat he is. Mr. Tick spends his time murdering birds and walking across rooftops. Content just to be alive, he moves elegantly, “his long tail rhyming with his paws,” leaving our forlorn narrator to fend off loneliness on his own, with the only weapon he has at his disposal: words.

Words are free, there for the taking, and William Gass makes sure we are aware of their infinite potential. Words can be used to command, to describe, to denigrate. They can be strung into sentences and bellowed in a song “in such a way that from a distance it will seem a harmony, a Strindberg play, a friendship ring.” We understand nuance and learn how to prepare for consequence with the help of words. We can make beautiful things with words. Those inclined can dare to treat the medium of language as an inexhaustible source of art.

Art is the business of serious writers, Gass insists. A brilliant essayist as well as one of this nation’s most important novelists, he argues in his essay “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction” that the task for a serious writer is twofold: “He must show or exhibit his world, and to do this he must actually make something, not merely describe something that might be made.” In his emphasis on making, Gass, who turned ninety this year, is proposing that the meaning generated by a work of fiction goes beyond its mimetic familiarity. The purpose of an imaginative narrative isn’t to confirm what we think we already know about reality; rather, it offers “a record of the choices, inadvertent or deliberate, the author has made from all the possibilities of language.” A fictional cat may reflect qualities of a real cat, but it is better appreciated as a product of the author’s agile mind. Read More »

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The Equinox Reality Check

March 20, 2014 | by

spring

Image via Giphy

Feel that? It’s the vernal caress of the equinox, its breeze seeming to whisper, There, there, your misery will soon fade, spring is here, the world is in bloom, cast off your gloves and scarves, put down the whiskey, lower your firearm, you’ve made it out alive.

In 1968, The Paris Review published a poem for just this occasion, kind of. Diane di Prima’s “Song for Spring Equinox” does indeed celebrate the first day of spring—it begins, “It is the first day of spring, the children are singing”—but it also boldly admits, and indeed seems to bask in, a truth most of us are trying to ignore: things are still really brown outside. As di Prima puts it, “nothing is blooming / nothing seems to bloom much around farms, just hayfields and corn / farms are too pragmatic.”

Well. Bummer. It’s probably no coincidence that this poem appeared in a fall issue, not a spring one.

Still, you can and should read the entire poem, which unfolds in a kind of free-associative frolic, touching on crossword puzzles, hydrangeas, and pioneers. Consider it a corrective, not a rebuke; any poem that includes the line “will I hate the Shetland pony we are buying” won’t harsh your springtime buzz too much.

 

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Václav Havel: Outtakes from an Interview

December 20, 2011 | by

My first memory of Václav Havel is of watching the news as a kid, after the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and seeing pictures of Havel in his living room: a prison of stuffed bookshelves. For me, Havel was the image of a literary hero, an ideal of literature as integrity.

I’ve always, in other words, been a sucker for the questions of Pragueespecially Prague in the era of Soviet Communism, probably because these questions all relate to a larger problem: a writer’s responsibility and resistance to political life, the serious business of being flippant. In the setups of his farcical plays andfollowing his imprisonment in 1977 for involvement in a human-rights charterthrough the patient linguistic analysis of his essays, Havels subject was always the same: how language can be made to connive in unreality. But he also believed that words could be renovated, that a politics was possible. And this hope led him, for instance, to the courage of the following statement in his 1977 trial: there were certain words, he said, “which recur continually in the indictment and which one would describe as loaded, words like subversion, lies, malice, illegal organizations, anticommunist centers, vilification, hatred and so on. However, when one looks closely at these words, one finds that there is nothing behind them.” Just as it made him read Bellows libertine Herzog, in prison, in these dissident terms: “A professional with ‘words’ goes mad in a situation where words have no weight. He clearly lacks what we do not, which is to say a situation in which words have so much weight that you must pay quite dearly for them.”

This was why, in the summer of 2010, I found myself proposing a Paris Review interview to Havel. I wanted to ask him my own series of Prague questions, about his love of Bohumil Hrabal’s stories, the cinema of the Czech New Wave, his intuition of farce ... These questions, basically, were one big question: What was it like for a writer, as he did, to end up in the Presidential Palace?

The Interview, however, turned into a melancholy comedy of its own. Read More »

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Posters from the Paris Protests, 1968

October 6, 2011 | by

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New York Photographs 1968–1978

November 3, 2010 | by

What turned me away from painting was a realization that the streets and parks of Boston provided me with subject matter that I could not conjure up in my studio. At that point, a blank canvas drew nothing but a blank stare. So, with a newly purchased 35mm Leica loaded with tri-x film, I began my forays into downtown Boston to photograph. The kind of photographs I took then related to my art school days, when I would amble around the city making quick pencil sketches of people on park benches and subways.

After roaming around Vermont in the summer of 1964, I decided to move to Cambridge, MA where I took a full-time job in a commercial art studio. I was by this time married to my first wife and our plan was to save up enough to live for a year in Europe. Instead we wound up in New York, arriving by U-Haul in the summer of 1967. Rents were cheap, and we could now get by on my part-time work in advertising studios. I had abundant free time, and I took full advantage of it.

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