There is, sometimes in thunder, another person who thinks for you, takes in one’s mental porch furniture, shuts and bolts the mind’s window against what seems less appalling as a threat than as some distortion of celestial privacy, a shattering insanity in heaven, a form of disgrace forbidden mortals to observe too closely: but there is always a door left open in the mind—as men have been known in great thunderstorms to leave their real doors open for Jesus to walk in—for the entrance and the reception of the unprecedented, the fearful acceptance of the thunderbolt that never falls on oneself, or the lightning that always hits the next street, for the disaster that so rarely strikes at the disastrous likely hour, and it was through this mental door that Yvonne, still balancing herself on the log, now perceived that something was menacingly wrong. In the slackening thunder something was approaching with a noise that was not the rain.
From Under the Volcano (1947), the second novel by Malcolm Lowry and the last to be published during his lifetime.
There is a third sort of hedge that classic prose omits, which we will call hedges of worth. The classic writer spends no time justifying her project. The classic writer does not compare its worth to the worth of other projects. A classic writer will write about milk, for example, with no indication that there can be a question about the worth of writing about milk, no indication that the reader could entertain any doubt about the worth of writing about milk.
From Clear and Simple as the Truth by Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner.
“Nebensonne“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
I listen and the voice is of a world collapsing endlessly, a frozen world, under a faint untroubled sky, enough to see by, yes, and frozen too. And I hear it murmur that all wilts and yields, as if loaded down, but here there are no loads, and the ground too, unfit for loads, and the light too, down towards an end it seems can never come. For what possible end to these wastes where true light never was, nor any upright thing, nor any true foundation, but only these leaning things, forever lapsing and crumbling away, beneath a sky without memory of morning or hope of night. These things, what things, come from where, made of what? And it says that here nothing stirs, has ever stirred, will ever stir, except myself, who do not sir either, when I am there, but see and am seen.
From Molloy by Samuel Beckett
Moonrise by Stanislaw Maslowski,1884
A sleeping man holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads in a second the point of the earth he occupies, the time that has elapsed before his waking; but their ranks can be mixed up, broken. If toward morning, after a bout of insomnia, sleep overcomes him as he is reading, in a position quite different from the one in which he usually sleeps, his raised arm alone is enough to stop the sun and make it retreat, and, in the first minute of his waking, he will no longer know what time it is, he will think he has only just gone to bed. If he dozes off in a position still more displaced and divergent, after dinner sitting in an armchair for instance, then the magic armchair will send him traveling at top speed through time and space, and, at the moment of opening his eyelids, he will believe he went to bed several months earlier in another country.
From Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (trans Lydia Davis)
ELISEO ÁLVAREZ: Did your parents influence your love of literature, books?
ROBERTO BOLAÑO: No. In terms of genealogy, the truth is I come from two families: one that dragged with it 500 years of constant and rigorous illiteracy and the other, maternal, that dragged with it 300 years of laziness, just as constant and as rigorous. In that sense I’m the black sheep of the family. I suppose that they would have preferred any other thing. The truth is I’m fifty years old and knowing what I know now I wouldn’t want my child to be a writer either. That isn’t to say I would want him to continue with 500 more years of illiteracy, but why not 300 more years of laziness? It’s quite hard to be a writer, although, let’s not exaggerate.
A wry allusion to Marquez? I’d like to think so.
From Roberto Bolaño : the last interview & other conversations
But I was not made for the great light that devours, a dim lamp was all that I had been given, and patience without end, to shine it on the empty shadows. I was a solid in the midst of other solids.
from Molloy by Samuel Beckett.
How about an honorable bargain? ‘You always wanted to become a doctor. Now’s your chance. Why, you could have become a great healer and benefit humanity. What’s wrong with that?’ Just about everything. There are no honorable bargains involving exchange of qualitative merchandise like souls. Just quantitative merchandise like time and money. So piss off, Satan, and don’t take me for dumber than I look. As an old junk pusher told me, ‘Watch whose money you pick up.’
William S. Burroughs from “Words of Advice to Young People”
There is a loathsome recent online trend for our favourite dead writers, a great many of whom were complex and difficult characters, to say nothing of their work, to be reduced to glorified self-help therapists (“What Susan Sontag can teach you about your inner child”) or creative writing tutors (“Ten awesome writing tips from the weeping ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald”). Aside from my continued belief that Mephistopheles invented the listicle, the vacuous narcissism, spiritual horseshit and mercantile utilitarianism involved in such half-baked articles are sorry indictments of our times. This has led to reluctance on my part in acknowledging that any writer is or should be useful other than simply being free to write books. Usefulness is a censor’s way of thinking. Yet Burroughs, almost despite himself, is. Most obviously, he led by example in terms of what to do and what not to do. Long before Bowie (who he influenced with his cutup technique and subject matter), Burroughs, in a sense, wrote this life into existence.
From the wonderful essay “The Third Man: William S. Burroughs at One Hundred” by Darran Anderson, easily one of the best short pieces on the author that I’ve ever read. As the title suggests, this week marks the centenary of the literary experimentalist and Beat Generation provocateur. He was an important early influence on my writing and worldview, as he undoubtedly was and perhaps still is for many other self-proclaimed teenage misanthropes who harbor vague and misguided literary inclinations. A few years back, Publishers Weekly did a survey in which booksellers reported the titles most often stolen from their shops. Predictably enough, Burroughs appeared near the top of the list. At home, there’s a battered copy of Naked Lunch filled with all manner of doodles and laughable marginalia. I can’t remember whether I acquired it legally or not.