Tuesday, October 21, 2008


And there is the face, which is the most important experience for me and which seems to escape me. I am waiting for someone to arrive on the train. It is toward the end of the afternoon. The train is late. The taxi driver leaves his cab. He is youngish. There is really nothing very specific about him. If he ever went to a dance - which I doubt he would - he would have trouble getting a date. So, to this stranger, whom I very likely will never see again, I bring a bulky and extended burden of anxieties like the baggage train of some early army. Does he live with his wife, his girl, his mother, his drunken father? Does he live alone? Does he have a small bank account, a big cock, is his underwear clean? Does he throw low dice, has he paid his dentist's bills - or has he ever been to the dentist's? We see the light of the approaching train in the distance, burning gratuitously in the full light of day. At this sight, he takes a comb out of his pocket and runs it through his hair...What I do see in this gesture is the man - his essence, his independence; see in his homely face the beauty of a velocity that does not apprehend the angle of repose. Here in this gesture of combing his hair is a marvel of self-possession, and the thrill is mutual, it seems, the key to this time of life.

Journals, John Cheever

Monday, October 20, 2008

As I Lay Dying

I learned that words were no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn't care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride.

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Mind of the Novel

The novel, the self, and the knowable are all limited systems, all limited worlds; engaging one set of limits, the narrator (and author, and reader) implicitly engages the others. Although it is debatable whether the human self is created linguistically, it is certain that the textual self is, and it is compelling to consider the limits of self-awareness within a completely linguistic system.

The Mind of the Novel: Reflexive Fiction and the Ineffable, Bruce Kawin


Love never fails. As for prophesyings, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will lose it meaning. For our knowledge is fragmentary, and so is our prophesying. But when the perfect is come, then the fragmentary will come to an end. 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, but on becoming a man I was through with childish ways. For now we see indistinctly in a mirror, but then face to face. Now we know partly, but then we shall understand completely as we are understood.

-Paul, I Corinthians 13, 8-12

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Art of Subtext

It may seem strange to say so, but the great fallacy of most written dialogue in fiction of our time is that all the characters are listening. But everyone knows we have become a nation of nonlisteners. What gives the writing of Eugene O'Neill, Tony Kushner, Lorrie Moore, Paula Fox, and William Gaddis its particular distinction is the notice it has taken of what people do not notice. In truly wonderful writing, the author pays close attention to inattentiveness, in all its forms.

In fiction, the forms of evasion are every bit as interesting, conversationally, as truth telling.

The Art of Subtext, Charles Baxter


The kindly flirtation between the two of them reminds me of something familiar that I have almost forgotten. It seems to be something shadowy, about language being secondary to the way it is used. The forgotten thing is about the nuances of sounds that only employ words as ballast for the flight of pitch and intonation. It is the pitch, and the intonation, that carries meaning. I had forgotten this.

Crabcakes, James Alan McPherson