Culture isn’t knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes.
Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.
– Gustave Flaubert
[stolen from Peony Moon]
The nations requires anthems, flags. The poet offers discord, rags.
Beware the writer who sets himself or herself up as the voice of the nation. This includes nations of race, gender, sexual orientation, elective affinity. This is the new Behalfism…. The New Behalfism demands uplift, accentuates the positive, offers stirring moral instruction. It abhors the tragic sense of life. Seeing literature as inescapably political, it replaces literary values with political ones.
It is the murder of thought. Beware.
Nationalism corrupts writers, too…. In a time of ever more narrowly defined nationalisms, of walled in tribalisms, writers will be found uttering the war cries of their tribes.
“Notes on Writing and the Nation”, Harper’s Magazine, September 1997
[J]ust as wine becomes for a good number of intellectuals a mediumistic substance which leads them towards the original strength of nature, steak is for them a redeeming food, thanks to which they bring their intellectualism to the level of prose and exorcise, through blood and soft pulp, the sterile dryness of which they are constantly accused.
Roland Barthes, “Steak and Chips”, in Mythologies, (Vintage, 2000; orig. English transl. 1972; orig. French 1957)
There’s a writing self which is not quite your ordinary social self and which you don’t really have access to except at the moment when you’re writing, …. To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else.
“[T]he novel is a formidable mass, and it is so amorphous – no mountain in it to climb, no Parnassus or Helicon, not even a Pisgah. It is most distinctly one of the moister areas of literature – irrigated by a hundred rills and occasionally degenerating into a swamp. I do not wonder that the poets despise it, though they sometimes find themselves in it by accident. And I am not surprised at the annoyance of the historians when by accident it finds itself among them.”
E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 1927
“What is a poet who has no longer a language of his own?”
- Ceslaw Milosz
“The shame of being a man – is there any better reason to write?”
- Gilles Deleuze
12 April 2007
“We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”
– Franz Kafka in Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida