Browsing the archives for the the "on" series category.

Dostoevsky on almost dying

death, the "on" series, writers' lives

dostoevskyIn 1849 Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested, along with the rest of the informal, progressive/revolutionary Petrashevsky Circle, which opposed the serf system and Tsarist rule. The members were to be executed - shot by a firing squad in threes. Dosty was in the second grouping, and as he watched the guns point at the first three, waiting for his turn, a stay of execution was given (they would be sent to hard labor in Siberia).

Upon returing to his cell, he wrote a letter to his brother. It read, in part:

When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul - then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness!

I am neither downhearted nor discouraged. Life is everywhere, life is in ourselves, not in the exterior. I shall have human beings around me, and to be a man among men and to remain one always, not to lose heart and not to give in no matter what occurs - that is what life is, that is its task, I have become aware of this. This idea has entered into my life and blood.

{quotes from Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal , 1850-1859.}

See also: Katherine Anne Porter on almost dying

Katherine Anne Porter on almost dying

death, the "on" series, writers' lives

In October 1918, Katherine Anne Porter nearly died from the Spanish flu during the pandemic. In a 1963 interview, she said:

It just simply divided my life, cut across it like that. So that everything before that was just getting ready, and after that I was in some strange way altered, ready. It took me a long time to go out and live in the world again. I was really ‘alienated,’ in the pure sense. It was, I think, the fact that I really had participated in death, that I knew what death was, and had almost experienced it. I had what the Christians call the ‘beatific vision,’ and the Greeks called the ‘happy day,’ the happy vision just before death. Now if you have had that, and survived it, come back from it, you are no longer like other people, and there’s no use deceiving yourself that you are.

Sing it, sister.

Great minds….

the "on" series, writers' lives

flaubert“How true it is that concern with morality makes every work of the imagination false and stupid!”

–Gustave Flaubert, 1854


picasso“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”

–Pablo Picasso, c. 1957


Sources. Flaubert: letter to Louise Colet, January 2, 1854, in Madame Bovary: A Norton Critical Edition (second edition), edited by Margaret Cohen, p 308. Letter translated from the French by Francis Steegmuller. Picasso: Quote Magazine, March 24, 1957. Cited here.

Bolaño on dreams, death, Huck, Dick, and favorite books

fiction, poetry, the "on" series, writers' lives

bolanoBelow are extracts from “The Savage Detective,” a long look at Roberto Bolaño by his friend, the Argentine writer Rodrigo Fresán. Published in The Believer, March 07 (only a small portion is available online). Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

“Then what is quality writing? The same thing it’s always been: knowing how to stick your head into the dark, knowing how to leap into the void, knowing that literature is basically a dangerous profession.”

“Writers are worthless. Literature is worthless. Literature only exists for literature’s sake. That’s enough for me.”

“Dreams are like psychiatrists, curing you every night.”

“I’d rather not die, of course. But sooner or later the great lady comes. The problem is that sometimes she’s no lady, never mind great, but a hot slut, as the poet Nicanor Parra says, which is enough to make even the bravest man’s teeth chatter.”

[O]ne of his recurring ideas was his suspicion that he had died ten years earlier, in a hospital in Gerona, where he was diagnosed with a severe case of pancreatitis, and that everything that had happened to him in the last decade - children and wife and books - was just his final hallucination, the merciful prolongation of the last seconds of a dying man. On more than one occasion, Bolaño confessed that he wished he were “a fantasy writer, like Philip K. Dick.” And it’s clear that Bolaño’s foremention obsession is an obviously and perfectly Dickian obsession.

Bolaño himself thought of The Savage Detectives as belonging to the genre of roman-fleuve and wrote, “I think I see it as yet another reading of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, one of the many that have followed in its wake; the Mississippi of The Savage Detectives is the flow of voices in the second part of the novel.”

Fresán also relates Bolaño’s favorite books:


Don Quixote

Satyricon (Petronius)

“the complete works of Borges”

A Confederacy of Dunces (Toole)

Life: A User’s Manual (Perec)

The Trial and The Castle (Kafka)

Hopscotch (Cortázar)

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Wittgenstein)

the works of Philip K. Dick, especially Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb

O’Connor on poets

canon, poetry, the "on" series

From the New York Times review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor:

She propelled herself to both the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at times when life at both places was eventful, but she managed to steer clear of trouble. When her friend Robert Lowell began exhibiting extreme behavior at Yaddo, she recalled: “I was too inexperienced to know he was mad, I just thought that was the way poets acted.”

Camus on war & stupidity

the "on" series, war

When a war breaks out, people say: “It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.” But though a war may well be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.

–Albert Camus, The Plague (translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert)

Flaubert on writing Madame Bovary

canon, the "on" series, writers' lives

I feel like a man who has fucked too much (forgive me for the expression) - a kind of rapturous lassitude.

flaubertFrom a letter Flaubert wrote to the poet and novelist Louise Colet, his sometime-lover, on December 23, 1853, at 2 AM:

I must write to you tonight, for I am exhausted. My head feels as though it were being squeezed in an iron vise. Since two o’-clock yesterday afternoon (except for about twenty-five minutes for dinner), I have been writing Bovary. I am in the midst of lovemaking: I am sweating and my throat is tight. This has been one of the rare days of my life passed completely in illusion from beginning to end. At six o’-clock this evening, as I was writing the word “hysterics,” I was so swept away, was bellowing so loudly and feeling so deeply what my little Bovary was going through, that I was afraid of having hysterics myself. I got up from my table and opened the window to calm myself. My head was spinning. Now I have great pains in my knees, in my back, and in my head. I feel like a man who has fucked too much (forgive me for the expression) - a kind of rapturous lassitude. And since I am in the midst of love it is only proper that I should not fall asleep before sending you a caress, a kiss, and whatever thoughts are left in me. …

Source: Madame Bovary: A Norton Critical Edition (second edition), edited by Margaret Cohen, p 307. Letter translated from the French by Francis Steegmuller.

Twain on Jane Austen

canon, the "on" series

She makes me detest all her people, without reserve. Is that her intention? It is not believable. Then is it her purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art. It would be worth while, too. Some day I will examine the other end of her books and see.

All the great critics praise her art generously. To start with, they say she draws her characters with sharp discrimination and a sure touch. I believe that this is true, as long as the characters she is drawing are odious.

From the essay “Jane Austen” by Mark Twain. Previously unpublished, it will be included in Who Is Mark Twain?, coming in April from HarperStudio. (For more information about the book, see “First look at new book of Twain’s unpublished writings.”)

Twain on missionaries

religion, the "on" series

I do not know why we respect missionaries. Perhaps it is because they have not intruded here from Turkey or China or Polynesia to break our hearts by sapping away our children’s faith and winning them to the worship of alien gods. We have lacked the opportunity to find out how a parent feels to see his child deriding and blaspheming the religion of its ancestors.

From “The Missionary in World-Politics” by Mark Twain. Previously unpublished, it will be included in Who Is Mark Twain?, coming in April from HarperStudio. (For more information about the book, see “First look at new book of Twain’s unpublished writings.”)

Spiegelman on art as therapy (or not)

art/graphics, interviews, the "on" series

Therapy, therapy is vomiting things up. Art is about eating your own vomit.

Comics legend Art Spiegelman (Maus) had this exchange with an interviewer from New York magazine:

I’ve always been intrigued by the amount of inner dialogue and self-analysis in your work. Is drawing a therapy of some sort for you?
She said on the phone, she asked yet again about art and therapy. He said in a fit of pique, as he had done to a journalist a mere month ago, “NO!” Therapy, therapy is vomiting things up. Art is about eating your own vomit.” There’s a therapeutic aspect to all making, but the nature of working is to compress, condense, and shape stuff, not to just expunge it. It’s not just an exorcism.

I hadn’t thought of it that way — therapy as vomiting.
I hadn’t either, until I snarled at someone asking me about therapy one time too many! I didn’t mean to give you a hard time. You asked about the meta, self-conscious awareness thing — I just went into an inner monologue, that’s all!

Schanberg on Kissinger on a Rope

media, politics/current events, the "on" series

“I don’t believe in capital punishment. But I’d travel anywhere to see Kissinger hanged.”

– Sydney Schanberg

Sydney Schanberg, you’ll recall, is the Pulitzer-winning reporter whose experiences in Cambodia, covering the bombing of the country and the rise of the Khmer Rouge for the New York Times, were turned into the film The Killing Fields.

If you’re unsure why Kissinger deserves the gallows, read “The Case Against Henry Kissinger” [part 1, part 2] by Christopher Hitchens, or the book based on these articles, The Trial of Henry Kissinger [excerpts here]. Or at least watch The Trials of Henry Kissinger [Google video].

Schanberg’s quote was recently revealed in All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t): Inside The New York Times Op-Ed Page [book site] by Jerelle Kraus, who was art director of the op-ed page for 13 years. She briefly mentions that Schanberg gave his thoughts on Kissinger during a lunch at Sardi’s. (Besides the op-ed page’s greatest hits and lots of juicy behind-the-scenes info, this heavily illustrated book includes artwork that was rejected by or altered at the insistence of the Times‘ editors.)

Stephen King on lit that scares him

canon, fiction, the "on" series

The newly published In the Shadow of the Master reprints a bunch of Poe’s best works accompanied by appreciative essays by 20 mystery and horror writers. In “The Genius of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’” Stephen King writes:

When I do public appearances, I’m often - no, always - asked what scares me. The answer is almost everything, from express elevators in very tall buildings to the idea of a zealot loose with a suitcase nuke in one of the great cities of the world. But if the question is refined to “What works of fiction have scared you?” two always leap immediately to mind: Lord of the Flies by William Golding and “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe.

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