What am I doing? I am writing a book.

This is how Hilary Mantel got started, from The New Yorker

“The first novel that Hilary Mantel wrote was about the French Revolution. It did not start out as a novel, exactly, nor did she start out as a novelist. It was 1975, and she was twenty-three, living in Manchester and selling dresses in a department store. She had realized that she didn’t have the money to finish her legal training, and, after a year working in a geriatric hospital, that she didn’t want to be a social worker. She was bored with selling dresses; she had started taking books about the French Revolution out of the library, one after another. Then she began taking notes. After she had been doing this for some time, she asked herself, What am I doing? And the answer came: I am writing a book.”

Destitute of all Decency

Phillip Roth on Trump:

“I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Going out with Don

Going out with Don

For the last day of this incomprehensible year of 2016 I have pulled together a few quotes from that master chronicler of the American condition, Don DeLillo.  I have not yet read his latest, a meditation on death and how to cheat it, Zero K (only dipped into it), but even as far back as the much earlier Great Jones Street (1973), DeLillo has consistently shown his fascination with that American obsession, death .. and how we think to cheat it.

“Television.  Maybe it was all a study in the art of mummification.  The effect of the medium is so evanescent that those who work in its time apparatus feel the need to preserve themselves, delivering their bodies to be lacquered and trussed, sprayed with the rest of pressurized jellies, all to one end, a release from the perilous context of time.  This is their only vanity, to expect to dwell forever in hermetic sub-corridors, free of every ravage, secure as old kings asleep in sodium.”
Don De Lillo, Great Jones Street (1973)

Making things difficult for the reader is less an attack on the reader than it is on the age and its facile knowledge-market.
Don DeLillo

When it comes to writers being obsessed, I have one notion. Obsession as a state seems so close to the natural condition of a novelist at work on a book, that there may be nothing else to say about it.
DonDeLillo, from the 1979 interview with Tom LeClair.

The future belongs to crowds -DonDeLillo, Mao II (1991)

Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators

From The Atlantic:

“I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”

Marina Warner on the Disfiguring of Higher Education

From LRB, 19 March, 2015

“Faith in the value of a humanist education is beginning to look like an antique romance. I flattered myself that by teaching I could perhaps make a difference, spark a young mind, foster an older, returning student’s aspirations, and act as the catalyst of that self-discovery described by Seamus Heaney in The Redress of Poetry when he writes, ‘we go to poetry to be forwarded within ourselves’; literature, Heaney says, gives ‘an experience that is like foreknowledge of certain things which we already seem to be remembering’. I think we could say that we go to education, too, for these experiences, to be forwarded in ourselves and to recognise things we only glimpsed dimly before. Despite the warnings against cruel optimism, I still hold fast to the life of the mind – its beauty, its necessity.

Rachel Cusk on Writing

This is from the LRB, 4 December 2014:

“She (Rachel Cusk) was reading Knausgaard, and coming to think that the whole idea and practice of fiction, as conventionally understood, is ‘fake and embarrassing .. utterly ridiculous’.  The real point of writing, her piece quotes Knausgaard as saying, is not to do with making things up, but with ‘drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows… Not what happens there, nor what actions are played out there, but the there itself’ — and this is where, in Cusk’s view, creative writing courses come in.  People come along as a first step in the effort to start uncovering and developing their own self-relations and their relations to the world.  ‘Very often a desire to write is a desire to live more honestly through language … The notion of “finding your voice”, simplistic as it may sound, is … a social goal.””