Author quotes

Book Review: The Broom Of The System by David Foster Wallace


“You can trust me,’ R.V. said, watching her hand. ‘I’m a man of my'”

– Final, incomplete sentence of The Broom Of The System, by David Foster Wallace

_________

Dang.

I was really eager to like this book…

As someone who has only ever read maybe 50 pages of Infinite Jest and an essay or two, my perspective wasn’t one of comparison on this read. But with all the hype surrounding someone as intelligent and well-received as David Foster Wallace, you feel like a real loser for not wholly enjoying his work. He reputation is openly built on pretense by his fans, bringing with it an aire or fear of intelligentsia snobbishness. Alas, while tuning the risk of being accused of “not getting it,” I still can’t help but admit disappointment with the way this one ended.

The characters Wallace employees are amusing and he does a fantastic job of fleshing them out. Just about every character is shown to be somehow complex and altogether shallow. It’s a striking and honest indictment of innate human hypocrisy and disconnection. The absurdity of the names and language all hark back to Wittgenstein and language games and I really enjoyed these elements as well. Most of the crazy circumstances throughout the plot are also really enjoyable. Overall, the plot and elements were dense and dripping with possibilities to make deeper connections and bring about some sort of fully developed concepts, but ultimately the only satisfying elements seemed to be the character studies.

I suppose, as I think about it, that most of my dissatisfaction with this novel comes from its post-modernness. It sets up about a thousand hilarious elements and characters. It contains about as small of a world as one could dream up, as every character ends up with previous connections among the cast. It rolls along on a ridiculous, often sidetracked plot, but as connections are made, nothing comes of them. In the end, the book goes nowhere. People’s fragile realities are crushed, they lean further into their insecurities and psychological issues, and then it just ends.

I enjoyed the book enough to keep plowing through, eagerly hoping for a grand, inspired finale somewhere between Flann O’Brien and John Kennedy Toole. I really expected an impressive and equally absurd resolution to come together, perhaps like A Confederacy Of Dunces. I expected to be dazzled. But there was no point. That was the point.

The last sentence of the novel is poignant in itself, but it would make more sense if followed by a trailing pen line. . .it feels completely unfinished. I suppose the only point is that there is none. When you search for answers from Wittgenstein in the midst of deep relational distrust and psychological breakdown, your story rightly ends by dismantling itself. Makes complete sense, but it’s not every satisfying.

_________

David Foster Wallace On Empathy

Bill Watterson On The Importance Of Playtime

J.R.R. Tolkien On Creativity And Death

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A Poem By Landor, Revised


While reading through The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham, I came across a reference to this short poetic work.

_________

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm’d both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

_________

I loved it immediately and, after thinking on it a few minutes, decided that I would have only changed it slightly to find it perfect.

_________

 

I strove with none, my strife found aim at none.
Nature I loved and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm’d both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

A Revision Of Landor, by M. Landers
_________

 

Further Reading

Author Quotes: W. H. Lewis’ First Impressions of Lord Of The Rings


Long before The Lord Of The Rings reached publication it was read aloud, chapter by chapter as completed, to Tolkien and Lewis’ little band of creatives, the Inklings. A group of mainly scholars and professors from the Oxford area, the Inklings met on Tuesday mornings and Thursday nights for a pint of beer or cider, a good debate over whatever subjects came to minds, and often a reading of someone’s poem, essay, or story. It was to this group that Tolkien, or more often his son and fellow Inkling Christopher, first read what was then referred to simply as “The new Hobbit”.

Here is the diary entry of Major Warren H. Lewis following his reading of the completed manuscript.

Saturday November 12th, 1949

“I have just finished the MS. [of Tolkien’s] sequel to The Hobbit, Lord Of The Rings. Golly, what a book! The inexhaustible fertility of the man’s imagination amazes me. It is a long book, consisting very largely in journeys: yet these never flag for an instant, each is as fresh as the one before, new colors available in profusion, whether the journey be beautiful or terrible. Some of the scenes of horror are unsurpassed, and there is wonderful skill in the way which the ultimate horror–the Dark Lord of Mordor–is ever present in one’s mind, though we never meet him, and know next to nothing about him. The beauty of Lothlorien, and the slightly sinister charm of Fangorn are unforgettable. Frodo’s squire, Sam Gamgee and the dwarf Gimli are I think the two best characters. What is rare in a story of this type, is that there is real pathos in it; the relationship between Sam and Frodo in the final stages of their journey moved me greatly. How the public will take the book I can’t imagine; I should think T will be wise to prepare himself for a good deal of misunderstanding, and many crits. on the line that ‘this political satire would gain greatly by compression and the excision of such irrelevant episodes as the journey to Lothlorien’. Indeed, by accident, a great deal of it can be read topically–the Shire standing for England, Rohan for France, Gondor the Germany of the future, Sauron for Stalin: and Saruman in the ‘Scouring of the Shire’ for our egregious Mr. Silkin, the town planner (and destroyer)! But a great book of its kind, and in my opinion ahead of anything Eddison* did.”

*Referring to E.R. Eddison, author of The Worm Of Ouroboros(1922), a similar mythological work. Eddison met Tolkien and Lewis before his death in 1945.

Author Quotes: Mark Twain, Alcohol, and Amusement


Here is another absolute gem I came upon in Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals.  This time it is none other than Mark Twain being described by a personal friend.  

“In those days he was troubled with sleeplessness, or, rather, with reluctant sleepiness, and he had various specifics for promoting it. At first it had been champagne just before going to bed, and we provided that, but later he appeared from Boston with four bottles of lager-beer under his arms; lager-beer, he said now, was the only thing to make you go to sleep, and we provided that. Still later, on a visit I paid him at Hartford, I learned that hot Scotch was the only soporific worth considering, and Scotch whiskey duly found its place on our sideboard. One day, very long afterward, I asked him if he were still taking hot Scotch to make him sleep. He said he was not taking anything. For a while he had found going to bed on the bath-room floor a soporific; then one night he went to rest in his own bed at ten o’clock, and he had gone promptly to sleep without anything. He had done the like with the like effect ever since. Of course, it amused him; there were few experiences of life, grave or gay, which did not amuse him, even when they wronged him.”
*Bold emphasis mine.  

This little anecdote seems to summarize the popularity of Samuel Clemens’ work and a good many of his famous thoughts quite well. There is something very comforting and reassuring about an author (or any human) who is capable of sharp cultural and personal analysis while maintaining a good-humor. We trust people who are well aware of the travesties of humanity in general and their own brokenness while maintaining hopefulness and engaging others. We know the truth, we recognize it together, and we keep renewing our faith.

Author Quotes – Ingmar Bergman, Worship, and Artistic Motovation


I love Hitchcock, Wes Anderson, Truffaut and Rod Serling. I have a handful of shining favorite film makers who stand far above the rest, and they are all very different from one another. One of the newer (to me) yet most deeply moving of the whole bunch is Ingmar Bergman. His film Wild Strawberries is the most deeply personally-revelatory film I have ever seen. It means a little more to me each time I consider it.

Bergman’s films have a common theme of fear facing the inevitability of death which stands at nervous odds with a perception that God is there but faith is not sufficient to bolster the soul’s confidence. His characters find death so overwhelming that they can find no solace in what they see as a less overwhelming faith. I read this quote from Four Screenplays Of Ingmar Bergman and found his perspective even more complex than his films make it appear.

“Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’ and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case. The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.
The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death. The individualists stare into each other’s eyes and yet deny the existence of each other.”

Even for a man so troubled by the idea of so much blind faith, art for no sake but the individual doesn’t click. It does seem quite a fair assessment to me.

Author Quotes – Charles M. Schultz and Creativity Through Anxiety


As a child, I was obsessed with comic strips. I spent years filling spiral bound notebooks with fan fiction and rip-off strips of my own design, sprinkled throughout with drastic, emotional diary entries. I never got into comic books or super heroes, but I loved goofy, highly-stylized caricatures, political cartoons, and any form of a panel-based gag. I even indulged regularly in the eye-rolling puns of Garfield. Calvin and Hobbes was (and still is) more breath-taking and thought provoking with every reading, not to mention a great vocabulary expanding tool. Along side The Far Side, Baby Blues, Zits, Tintin, Family Circus, and many others of my preteen world were Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Charles M. Schultz.

The death of Charles Schultz was perhaps the first celebrity death I can recall impacting me. Schultz was the first person I ever researched and studied biographically from purely personal interest.

I’m not a die-hard Peanuts fan to be perfectly honest. I prefer a good simple twist in the third panel, and most of Schultz work stuck to self-deprecation or anxious social commentary in a way that most artists in the field had long abandoned. I loved him more for what he was than for attachment to his work. He was the last standing giant from an age of world-renown innovators in the field.

It was interesting then to read the following in Daily Rituals concerning Schultz.

“He would begin by doodling in pencil while he let his mind wander; his usual method was to ‘just sit there and think about the past, kind of dredge up ugly memories and things like that.‘”

And

“The regularity of the work suited his temperament and helped him cope with the chronic anxiety he suffered throughout his life.”

As I mentioned concerning Samuel Beckett, it continues to impress me that great art comes not from overcoming our troubles and idiosyncrasies  or ignoring them, but from exploring what they actually mean about us.

Author Quotes- C. S. Lewis and Fairy Tale Potency


Excerpts from the essay “On Three Ways Of Writing For Children,” by C.S. Lewis. (I highly suggest that you read it in its entirety.) I recently made and Author Quotes post which borrowed heavily from this C. S. Lewis article’s main thrust concerning books for children. Well, he went on so many valuable tangents that I thought I would make a secondary post concerned more with the general defense of fantasy and fairy tales for all ages. Let me know your thoughts

“The whole association of fairy tale and fantasy with childhood is local and accidental. I hope everyone has read Tolkien’s essay on Fairy Tales, which is perhaps the most important contribution to the subject that anyone has yet made. If so, you will know already that, in most places and times, the fairy tale has not been specially made for, nor exclusively enjoyed by, children. It has gravitated to the nursery when it became unfashionable in literary circles, just as unfashionable furniture gravitated to the nursery in Victorian houses. In fact, many children do not like this kind of book, just as many children do not like horsehair sofas: and many adults do like it, just as many adults like rocking chairs. And those who do like it, whether young or old, probably like it for the same reason. And none of us can say with any certainty what that reason is. The two theories which are most often in my mind are those of Tolkien and of Jung.

According to Tolkien the appeal of the fairy story lies in the fact that man there most fully exercises his function as a ‘subcreator’; not, as they love to say now, making a ‘comment upon life’ but making, so far as possible, a subordinate world of his own. Since, in Tolkien’s view, this is one of man’s proper functions, delight naturally arises whenever it is successfully performed. For Jung, fairy tale liberates Archetypes which dwell in the collective unconscious, and when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the old precept ‘Know thyself’. I would venture to add to this my own theory, not indeed of the Kind as a whole, but of one feature in it: I mean, the presence of beings other than human which yet behave, in varying degrees, humanly: the giants and dwarfs and talking beasts. I believe these to be at least (for they may have many other sources of power and beauty) an admirable hieroglyphic which conveys psychology, types of character, more briefly than novelistic presentation and to readers whom novelistic presentation could not yet reach. Consider Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows—that extraordinary amalgam of high rank, coarse manners, gruffness, shyness, and goodness. The child who has once met Mr Badger has ever afterwards, in its bones, a knowledge of humanity and of English social history which it could not get in any other way.”

Author Quotes – C. S. Lewis, Reality, & Children’s Literature


Excerpts from the essay “On Three Ways Of Writing For Children,” by C.S. Lewis. (I highly suggest that you read it in its entirety.)

My first picture book, Wandlung, should be coming out within the next month. If you’re interested in understanding my philosophy on children’s literature (and children in general), these excerpts come as near to defining them as I could myself. I tore apart this essay to find the most impactful statements.

“Sentimentality is so apt to creep in if we write at length about children as seen by their elders. And the reality of childhood, as we all experienced it, creeps out. For we all remember that our childhood, as lived, was immeasurably different from what our elders saw. Hence Sir Michael Sadler, when I asked his opinion about a certain new experimental school, replied, ‘I never give an opinion on any of those experiments till the children have grown up and  can tell us what really happened.’

. . . I think we have stumbled on a principle. Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that, will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.

. . . I am not quite sure what made me, in a particular year of my life, feel that not only a fairy tale, but a fairy tale addressed to children, was exactly what I must write—or burst. Partly, I think, that this form permits, or compels you to leave out things I wanted to leave out. It compels you to throw all the force of the book into what was done and said. It checks what a kind, but discerning critic called ‘the expository demon’ in me. It also imposes certain very fruitful necessities about length.

. . . About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale. Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defence, as reading for children.

It is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did.

. . . The real victim of wishful reverie does not batten on the Odyssey, The Tempest, or The Worm Ouroboros: he (or she) prefers stories about millionaires, irresistible beauties, posh hotels, palm beaches and bedroom scenes—things that really might happen, that ought to happen, that would have happened if the reader had had a fair chance. For, as I say, there are two kinds of I longing. The one is an askesis, a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease.

A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as children’s literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened. I suffered too much from night-fears myself in childhood to undervalue this objection. . . They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.

. . . I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.

I feel sure that the question ‘What do modern children need?’ will not lead you to a good moral. If we ask that question we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask ‘What moral do I need?’ for I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age. But it is better not to ask the question at all. Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life. But if they don’t show you any moral, don’t put one in. For the moral you put in is likely to be a platitude, or even a falsehood, skimmed from the surface of your consciousness. It is impertinent to offer the children that. For we have been told on high authority that in the moral sphere they are probably at least as wise as we. Anyone who can write a children’s story without a moral, had better do so: that is, if he is going to write children’s stories at all. The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind.”

Author Quotes – Samuel Beckett & The Value of Depression


Excerpt from “Daily Rituals” by Mason Curry.

The siege began with an epiphany. On a late-night walk near Dublin harbor, Beckett found himself standing on the end of a pier in the midst of a winter storm.

Amidst the howling wind and the churning water, he suddenly realized that the ‘dark he had struggled to keep under’ in his life–and in his writing, which had until then failed to find an audience or meet his own aspirations–should, in fact, be the source of his creative inspirations. ‘I shall always be depressed,’ Beckett concluded, ‘but what comforts me is the realization that I can now accept this dark side as the commanding side of my personality. In accepting it, I will make it work for me.'”

In an age of anti-depressants we’re taught that to feel a certain emotion is to feel wrongly and need reparation, regardless of its legitimacy. I’m reminded of so many stories of WWII veterans who returned from war only to find that they had no way to voice the immensity of the horrors they experienced first hand. What is even worse is that no one back home actually wanted to know anything about it after it was over. Throughout my life, I’ve heard a constant stream of people reinforce the idea that a bleak outlook in this world is something to be overcome and left behind. Many of my own friends have voiced opinions that art that reflects anything overtly evil thereby implies that the artist is himself damaged or not to be trusted.

As you will probably find very quickly, I happen to believe that we should face the demons of this world honestly and boldly. I think appreciating the gravity and inevitability of death and the tragedies of humanity actually give us sobriety to step into life and chose to live.

If we cannot look boldly into the face of the oppressor, how can we claim to understand the gravity of our hope?