the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for July, 2011

quotes: simic on process

Posted by rigorousm on July 31, 2011


INTERVIEWER – I once interviewed Allen Ginsberg, and asked him why he wrote the way he did—to which he replied, “Just because I do!” Is there much more to be said by poets about why they write the way they do?


SIMIC – Probably not. I write to annoy God, to make Death laugh. I write because I can’t get it right. I write because I want every woman in the world to fall in love with me. One can try to be clever like that, but in the end it comes down to what Ginsberg said.


INTERVIEWER – How would you characterize the way your style has evolved over the forty years you’ve been writing poetry?


SIMIC – In the early poems, the idea was to make poems entirely of images, not caring too much about sound, using the simplest possible vocabulary. I think my poems eventually got to be more careful about language and music. There are more autobiographical elements, more narratives. I became a country poet as much as a city poet. Naturally, I still have my obsessions, my bad habits, my blind spots. Like all poets who have written this long, I repeat myself. I wish I didn’t. Then again, like all insomniacs, I tend to brood and dwell over the same old things night after night.


Art of Poetry No 90, Charles Simic


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quotes: smith on forster

Posted by rigorousm on July 28, 2011

Negative Capability is one of the creakiest concepts in the literary theory closet, but I submit it is time it poked its head through the door again. There is a serious vision here of the truth of human relations; and for Forster and his manydescendants it was complicated and made richer by the Freudian influence. Forster is of the first literary generation to inherit the idea that our very consciousnesses are, at root, faulty and fearful, uncertain and mysterious. Forster ushered in a new era for the English comic novel, one that includes the necessary recognition that the great majority of us are not like an Austen protagonist, would rather not understand ourselves, because it is easier and less dangerous.

The heart has its own knowledge in Forster, and Love is never quite a rational choice, as it was for Austen. Elizabeth Bennet needs to be convinced of Darcy’s virtues. Lucy never sees anything rational to convince her of George’s, unless back-flipping into a pond can be counted virtuous. Elizabeth Bennet’s claim at her epiphanic moment is made to herself. It is: “Until this moment, I never knew myself!” Lucy’s claim concerns another person, Mr Emerson. She explains that he “made her see the whole of everything at once”. The first is a rationalist’s self-awakening. The second is a mystic’s awakening to the world.

— Zadie Smith, “Love, actually”

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quotes: winterson on writing

Posted by rigorousm on July 15, 2011

WINTERSON – Writing sermons is very good discipline because you have a limited amount of time and a chosen subject, and you have to convince your audience. And if you fail, you fail—I mean, you can see you’ve failed by looking out at them. So it teaches you a particular economy of style. It not only teaches you tricks of the trade, of ordinary rhetoric and how to use language for a very specific purpose to make sure that you are saying exactly what you want to say, but also to use images and symbols. One of the good things, I think, about the Christian faith is that it draws on such a wealth of images and symbols, which even the least church-minded of us still recognizes. We are two thousand years of Western Christianity. That’s in our body and our blood, which is partly why the symbolism of the East, although it expresses the same truths just as well, doesn’t work for us quite as it ought to. You have to have your own symbols and myths to express your collective past. That’s why I am a bit dubious about ransacking the East, as we’re so fond of doing at the moment, because there is something rather desperate and also rather faddish in it, as though we feel that we’ve made redundant all our own pictures and metaphors, which is simply not true. They still have that depth charge; I think it is a question of writers using them.  

… the narrative function of the novel has been overtaken and done much better now by television and cinema. For instance, when photography was invented, a great many painters thought that they would be out of a job, and a great many of them were. But not painters like Picasso, who rejoiced in photography and took a lot of pictures himself, who thought that this would lead to a new freedom for painters because they would no longer have to represent what was there. Instead, they could paint much more subjectively and, as he thought, more honestly. They would no longer be bound to the narrative of fact. Now I can’t see why for us as writers it shouldn’t be the same thing. If television and cinema can mop up that need for narrative drive, for life as it is lived, for a picture of the everyday, then great! Let it. Because it is a function and people need it, that should free up words into something far more poetic, something about the inner life, the imaginative life …  .

… Well, there are only three possible endings—aren’t there?—to any story: revenge, tragedy or forgiveness. That’s it. All stories end like that. There aren’t any that don’t. I suppose it depends temperamentally on which ones you want to choose.

Jeanette Winterson interviewed by Audrey Bilger, Paris Review,  Art of Fiction 150

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Quotes: Carson on becoming

Posted by rigorousm on July 15, 2011

CARSON – I think that for a long time, I was just a solipsist. It’s not really that I was not a feminist, or didn’t understand feminism—I didn’t understand masculinism either—but that I just didn’t understand being human. And it’s a problem of extended adolescence: You don’t know how to be yourself as a part of a category, so you just have to be yourself as a completely strange individual and fight off any attempt others make to define you. I think most people go through that by the time they’re seventeen, but for me it extended to about forty. Until recently, I didn’t have friends I could relax around and be just as weird as I wanted to be. Now I do—people who didn’t leave the relationship as a result of me being weird.

— Paris Review

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quotes: carson on stains

Posted by rigorousm on July 15, 2011

INTERVIEWER – I was wondering about your preference for things that are old and battered, flawed and tattered.

CARSON – In surfaces, perfection is less interesting. For instance, a page with a poem on it is less attractive than a page with a poem on it and some tea stains. Because the tea stains add a bit of history. It’s a historical attitude. After all, texts of ancient Greeks come to us in wreckage and I admire that, the combination of layers of time that you have when looking at a papyrus that was produced in the third century BC and then copied and then wrapped around a mummy for a couple hundred years and then discovered and put in a museum and pieced together by nine different gentlemen and put back in the museum and brought out again and photographed and put in a book. All those layers add up to more and more life. You can approximate that in your own life. Stains on clothing.

Paris Review – The Art of Poetry No. 88, Anne Carson

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quotes: proust on loving ugly men

Posted by rigorousm on July 12, 2011


The Marquis de Forestelle’s monocle was minute and rimless, and, by enforcing an incessant and painful contraction of the yee over which it was incrusted like a superfluous cartilage, the presence of which there was inexplicable and its substance unimaginable, it gave to his face a melancholy refinement, and led women to suppose him capable of suffering terribly when in love. But that of M. de Saint-Cande, girdled, like Saturn, with an enormous ring, was the centre of gravity of a face which composed itself afresh every moment in relation to glass, while his thrusting red nose and swollen sarcastic lips endeavoured by their grimaces to rise to the level of the steady flame of wit that sparkled in the polished disk, and saw itself preferred to the most ravishing in the world by the smart, depraved young women whom it set dreaming of artificial charms and a refinement of sensual bliss; and then, behind him, M. de Palancy, who with his huge carp’s head and goggling eyes moved slowly up and down the steam of festive gatherings, unlocking his great manidbles at every moment as though in search of his orientation, had the air of carrying about upon his person only an accidental and perhaps purely symbolical fragment of the glass wall of his aquarium….

— Proust p 251

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quotes: proust on useful forgetting

Posted by rigorousm on July 12, 2011

…let us bear in mind also the travellers who come home enraptured by the general beauty of a tour of which, from day to day, they have felt nothing but the tedious incidents; and let us then declare whether in the communal life that is led by our ideas in the enclosure of our minds, there is a single one of those that make us most happyt which has not first sought, a very parasite, and won from an alien but neighboring idea the greater part of strength that it originally lacked.

— Proust p 369

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quotes: proust on people-watching

Posted by rigorousm on July 12, 2011


And at night they did not dine in the hotel, where, hidden springs of electricity flooding the great dining-room with light, it became as it were an immense and wonderful aquarium against whose wall of glass the working population of Balbec, the fishermen and also the tradesmen’s families, clustering invisibly in the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch, gently floating upon the golden eddies within, the luxurious life of its occupants, a thing as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fishes or molluscs (an important social question, this: whether the wall of glass will always protect the wonderful creatures at their feasting, whether the obscure folk who watch them hungrily out of the night will not break in some day to gather them from their aquarium and devour them…).

— Proust, p 517.

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quotes: proust on revolutions

Posted by rigorousm on July 12, 2011

… like a kaleidoscope which is every now and then given a turn, society arranges successively in different orders elements which one would have supposed to be immovable, and composes a fresh pattern.

 – Proust, p 394

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quotes: proust on imagining the beloved

Posted by rigorousm on July 12, 2011


The questing, anxious, exacting way that we have of looking at the person we love, our eagerness for the word which shall give us or take from us the hope of an appoirtnment for the morrow, and, until that word is uttered, our alternative if not simultaneous imaginings of joy and of despair, all these make our observation, in the beloved object’s presence, too tremulous to be able to carry away a clear impression of her. Perhaps, also, that activity of all the sense at once which endeavours to learn from the visible aspect alone what lies behind it is over-indulgent to the thousand forms, to the changing fragrance, to the movements of the living person whom as a rule, when we are not in love, we regard as fixed in one permanent position. Whereas the beloved model does not stay still; and our mental photographs of her are always blurred.

— Proust, p375

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