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2 ?1984 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System . he seemed to be tapping into an ongoing process of self-scrutiny. and his thoughts regarding their interrelationship. even erotic. qualities of language-"the soul inside the sentence"-and of the self-referential integrity of the literarytext. Gass has consistently argued that language undergoes an ontological change when it is incorporated into literature.50/0 Contemporary Literature XXV. William Gass has earned the reputation of being one of the most accomplished stylists of his generation. who was dressed to accommodate a typically stifling summer day in St. and that "language is the vehicle of the upper self. He is a principal advocate of the central importance in literature of the physical. Gass's criticism is represented by two influential collections. staunchly defending the aesthetic and moral value of innovative form. Louis. A professor of philosophy at WashingtonUniversity. The author is clearly his own most diligent critic." Both as an essayist and as a writer of fiction. to apologize for his peculiar manner of "insulating" his home. As he does in his writing. prompting Gass. while the notion of a realistic imagination is an oxymoron that prevents us from appreciating the literary achievement for what it is: the creation of a verbal object that is not a description of reality but an addition to it. Saltzman William Gass's upstairs study struck me as an extratextual equivalent for the self-contained world of words that is so prominent a theme in his writing: books covered three walls and stood in waist-high stacks on the floor. Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970) and The Worldwithin the Word 0010-7484/84/0002-0121 $1. As Gass spoke about his fiction.AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM GASS Conducted by Arthur M. his speculative essays. befitting his belief that the word is a formidable event in its own right. Gass shaped his answers with precision and care. Gass has also won notoriety as a practitioner of and a spokesman for technical experimentation in recentAmerican fiction.

The in a varietyof periodicalsover the past Tunnel. Dreiser.Whenthat'sdone. They tend to get distancedand to become objects of contemplation. thereare two elements here.not belief. (1978). not whether belief.OnBeingBlue(1976).and expressive ideas and attitudesand interests. process. but I don't think it's enoughto justifyit. they becomeartistically peopledon'tsharethemand arenot persuaded. sexuality. A.and the a novel.but he can'twrite. it is attractive or true. Is havinga point to make about the world a valid reason for writingfiction? Certainlythere are many novelistswho hope to teach us somethingabout the world. Therearelots of personalreasonswhyone writes. the moreyou tend to makeyour opinionsartistically the less rhetorical interesting. of the word over the convictionis knowingwhat to do with artists who aregenerally acceptedas important. said that and are you beauty morality aspectsof form ratherthan of and what matters is that whatyou say is well said.Thereis the notionof a construction thatyou might 122 lection of stories. effectivenessthey tend to have. a pioneeringcolof literary multi-generic.In fact. Now the questionis whetheror not you can succeedin forming your opinionsor attitudesin such a way that they are artistically viableeven if interesting. certainly historically important. In 1981you did an interview with Jan GardenCastroin which Q.evengreat. a | CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . Is that desireapplicableto the way literatureaffects us? A. too. for example. philosophical a highlypoetic ruminationon the natureof color. the relentlessly metafictional Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife (1971). typographically playfulinvestigation language itself.Again.His fictionincludes reading which may be read as an intricatelytexturedreassessment of many of the fundamental themesof Americanliterature.andby the extended inquiry. In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968).whichhave appeared fifteen years.but who perhaps are not so stylisticallyelegant. I don'tthinkDreiseris worthbothering with. but theseexistfor peoplewho arenot writing. and several sections of a mammoth work-in-progress.I am wondering wherea writer's beliefsdo belong in his art. and they may includea messageor attitudeor self-expression-there aremillionsof possibilities. Certainlythat's a motive for writing. Omensetter's Luck(1966). exceptas a social He's of phenomenon. Oneof the problems I havein comingto termswiththe primacy Q.

to Trollope or someone else whose writing. because he's the one with the language. but as soon as it becomes more than that. I believe that there is a God. look what this Being is doing! What happens to Furber is that his rhetoric is brought home. is a different kind of thing. It was tolerable as long as it was held in rhetorical abeyance. Furber is confronted by the fact that his own system of ideas might really be true. You've mentioned elsewhere that Furber was your about somewhat independently of the particular words used to form a story like An American Tragedy.. He's aware of it. if there really were a Being controlling the world. while it may not be line-by-line distinguished. I don't find much of that in someone like Dreiser. The hero is the one with the good lines. it was okay to believe it as long as it really wasn't so. That's true for a lot of people. it seems to me. or are there imperfections inherent in the system that confrontation with Omensetter merely emphasizes or brings to light? A. say. And there'sa point at which he's unable to do that. What happens when you have a characterwho has the capacity Q. I think that if something happened to make people believe that there was a God. And of course. Beliefs are held in a very strange way. is nuanced and careful and has constructions of interest. is to the coherence of his system. For instance. certainly. Is that the case with all literature? GASS S 123 .. so that you can measure differences. of course. . That is. the latter. Furber is just very good at it. for imposing his rhetorical constructions on the world? A. as opposed. yes. I mean. what everybody does. and so I don't put my hand in it. I believe that fire burns. An author's responsibility Q. because he's confronted by somebody who apparently has no rhetoric at all. I'm going to paraphrase you now. As this theory applies to Omensetter's Luck. it becomes intolerable. We notice the contradictions in people's behaviors-they believe this and they do that. even though it's deeply held. and he tries to slip by problems by creatingmore rhetoric. but then I do all kinds of things which suggest that my belief. really. But for my money. then the confrontation with the consequences of that would be terrifying. work like that. . least your main character. I mean. or at Q. what is it that leads to Furber's breakdown in that novel? Is it that his system is somehow fractured by contact with Omensetter. Oh.

Here the narrator is present and is creating characters. Both of those things are the case. What is it that finally separates Gass the artist from Furber Q. but just tacked a character's name on his own language. All the language belongs to that character. You've spoken of Satan before. Does that suggest a pessimistic view of the world. in the sense that that's what we really believe in. because the author hasn't given a language to a character. succeed mainly because the rhetoric succeeds. pivotal characterbecause he has the best lines. That's simply an explicit statement of what's a hidden problem when the author is not present but is creating characters. Furber is the hero. A. for example. and of Iago. I actually was working this morning on just that idea. changes of heart. or giving to the character. the narrator of the new novel is not. rhetorically minded characters in your work? A. but we do believe in our villains. The superiorimportance of evil. as an organizational structure? A. Q. all sorts of things happen which are inexplicable. and people have been puzzled about that because it moves him toward a heroic status. If he couldn't. That's a problem I have in the novel I'm working on presently. was that there are no heroes we can really believe in anymore. or is it ratherthat Nazism in The Tunnel is interestingas a formal challenge. The rhetorical stance I was taking. with language intact. There's only one character. Even though they are attractive by virtue of their language. Yes. And yet. except that if the speech is good enough. Psychological shifts. nation of evil. the artist. I was just reading a book on the origins of eloquence-it was talking about the Elizabethan period -and the point being made in that book is that a great many of the dramaticmoments in Shakespeare. it works. The differentiation has to do with whether or not an author can take characters with varying points of view and lend them appropriate language.A. The same thing is true in the way I go at things. In this inverted way. many of your most effective characters are not attractive personally. certain characters have to emerge. and of the fasciQ. 124 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . No. or from the other obsessive. He is certainlythe central. though not in any ordinarysense. within that system. then one would have to ask if this is a character or if this is the author. You are drawn to it in your own writing as well.

Most of the things are laid out. a character is really a voice and a source of language. which is inexcusable. It starts giving you the words. Q. To see some bad in Albert Schweitzer is usual. I know what its structure is. It's coming along pretty well now. and I wonder if Q. the gestures. That occupation creates a voice. how long it's going to be. But I've got to make that seem convincing for the reader at the time. and that is find a voice. It's a source of language. What happens to them once we see a novel as a selfcontained referential system? Do such traditional means of evaluating fiction still hold up? A. somehow. GA SS 125 . what is going to be bad about my narrator's problem is that I have probably written a book in which he sees some good in Hitler. If one has really created a character. I don't think they drop out at all. You've spoken of "character"several times. and more knowledge will not take our dislike of Attila the Hun or Hitler away. and can back off and undercut them if I need to.They are more substantial. uttering the cynicism of an extreme character-but I hope I know what the weaknesses of those arguments are. Otherwise. I've overextended the case. I think that what Stanley does is something a lot of us do. a matter of staying in the book continuously for maybe another year. everything. A. It's a matter of finally executing them. Yes. terms such as "character"and "plot" retain their relevance in your literary theory. Words are going to come out from that source either as direct speech or as a means of dictating the language you use in the third person to describe scenes or that individual from outside. the character doesn't seem to be feeling these things. As a writer. then he knows that that character is going to have its language and will be speaking in a certain way. In fact. What I have the narrator start talking about is evil's greater stature in our reality. which then creates a character. For me. They get redefined. I'm giving it to Kohler-he is thinking this. Is The Tunnel near completion? Q. A. But I think what Stanley does is find an occupation and then let the occupation speak. and gives him his book. Although I don't write like Stanley Elkin at all. There are levels of structure in which those things are very important.

And yet for many writers. Shakespeare doesn't do it. but it is also illusory. language is either a barrier or a shield. Both are perfectly reasonable decisions of a thoroughly technical sort. The fact is that language creates a world that protects us and that we can live in. or you can decide to restrict it in certain ways. "Representation and the War for Q. All mental acts are dependentupon being constructedin words before we are able to make use of them. To say a plumber must speak in a certain way is part of a tradition that you can accept. A. You can choose to release your language for all your characters. Depending on one's point of view. One of the things that'sinvolved in the idea of The Tunnelis the attempt to get outside language. the appearance of factual reality in works of literature-are these results of mistaken impressionsabout what art truly is? A. You could do it if you wanted to. that's just antirealism. It is certainly not adequate. characters seem to have this propensity for highly lyrical language. I think of Henry James'shousekeepers. But it's only a convention. They don't at all. It's as if this kind of writer wants to do justice to his situation by giving every charactera vocabulary. I tried to cut the vocabulary down because I had a character of a limited vocabulary. it solves hardly anything. This is also true of emotions. You've called literary realism a contradiction in terms. It may make life bearable. No. is 126 [ CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . Faulkner doesn't do that. but it also bamboozles us. In a recent essay of yours. But it doesn't seem in any way necessary. of specification. thing. Does that compromise the effect of his novel? A. Art is not the solution to everyIn fact. Dickens doesn't do it. Solidity Q. which is a perfectly legitimate mode. and formal alternatives which reject it. I would not want to suggest that because there are beautiful things all the moral problems go away. But I still wanted poetry.too. The only real difference between literary realism. Reality. I am curious to know if the beauty of the verbal world is your adequate compensation for not being able to get at the physical world more directly. No. including Elkin and yourself. It is perfectly legitimate to make that restriction as a formal problem. It's a matter of attitude how we deal with this inevitability."you arguein part that human consciousnesscannot apprehend reality without the interference of language. all the Q. Now I don't try to do that. Love is wonderful while you're in it. In the first story I wrote. and the same thing happens with language. I think it's not adequate.

that literary realists make the mistake of thinking that the world is like that. When she has a new problem. Even now you have people like Robbe-Grillet. and the problem then gets molded. as do many of the architects I admire. but this is the way it really is. According to the terminology of "Representationand the War for Reality." Yet we will read either if they are good enough writers." does that make you a "thin" rather than a "thick"? From that direction. Now the real artists among the great realists didn't allow that to happen. yes. but it's not all there-you have to push. and I couldn't get on without those things. eration'sbest writerssee themselvesas moving closer to their conception of realism. Often the passage suggests its shape. Do you ever begin in this fashion? If it's a single short story. Q. who's an architect. like the site plan for a school she's working on now. Often it's not an arbitrarychoice. He also talks about setting himself formal tasks. so that realism is actually a very fluid. It has to squeeze itself into the abstractions. very definite distinction between those who favor design and those GASS I 127 . subjective notion. That's one reason I'm interested in rhetorical tropes and schemes. while I would come at the problem. I do that constantly-page after page almost. They are ordering processes." Ronald Sukenick said something to the effect that every genQ. "Ah. and then force it. That is a mistake. A. He creates a world that is nothing like Dickens's. and that this justifies the constructions they make. He will have a guiding rhythm or metaphor for a storyan arbitrarybeginning to generate language. even as a convention for literature. It struck me how in that article you seemed to be claiming a Q. not because they may happen to create a world which moves us to say it's "the real thing. there will be several of those choices. that choice may dominate all the A. way through. and not the other way around. So you foist a possibility on it. They're really the syntax of paragraphs and longer formulas. I have an interesting exchange at times with my wife. You start to work with a particularpassage. and it hasn'tgot any shape. who is a realist-he just has a different conception of reality. I would be a thin. right down to the shaping of paragraphs. if it's a novel. but both might think. So it's an exchange. quite independently of the problem. with all kinds of geometrical potentialities sitting there quite abstractly. she tends to approach the problem with all sorts of considerations.

Roses. Noses. It sounds as though any connections it may have with external. The world suddenly is what Beckett says it is in the play. He's accepting that system. Rose. It's a matter of the reader's willingness to entertain that additional real claim. somebody tends to be regarded as a realist if he is working in a mode that people around him recognize as Reality. Both are real. system. It's a question of how wisely we do it. This is one of the perplexities of the self-referential language Q. I'm inclined to say. . He has the possibility of making some changes within the basic framework. Oh. Again. But if he really changes the way the world is apprehended . "Look at that snowman's nose. Q. and I tend to move from the abstract end. We can take the rearrangement of consciousness that you get in Beckett and then suddenly see things in the world. Does the concept of a self-contained system limit the potential for confronting the world? A. I'm also reminded of your essay "Carrots. You've argued that the artist's ultimate effect on society is a Q. Just from the sociopolitical side A. Mary tends to move from the other. how playfully we do it. I think we do it all the time. buying it. You've got a model. A. No." which says that words undergo an ontological transformation when placed in a context like a carrot in a snowman's face. both parts of it are natural. and when you leave that play. he's changing them within that system of perceiving things." which doesn't let go of either end of the carrot's reality. of it.who admit data in a comparativelyunqualified way. how skeptically we do it. So what 128 | CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . but it's a matter of which end you move from." Is this a more qualified effect than what the social realist hopes to achieve? Mine is a more radical stance. revolution of consciousness. You can always tell where one arrives from. sociopolitical realitycall into question the artwork's integrity. You're moving to the center position. Now there's a clever use of a carrot. but it's a consequence of great art. the world is still a little bit what it is in the play. Snow. that's a much more radical move. It seems that both are natural aspects of the human mind. Now that isn't what makes Beckett a great artist. sure. This appears to be the burden of your essay "The Artist and Society. its self-sufficiency. If he is trying to change things. . A. it seems to me.

That's why I have an historian in the've created is another model. Sure. I think of Krapp luxuriating in the word "spool"-it's far more real to him than the spool that sits in front of him on the table. It makes you as an artist very influential. It is a very tempting doctrineto suppose that history is basicallylinguistic. and it does the job. I've never been very fond of Sartre. for instance. language. I think that holds true for art. a rich and wonderful model. I would hold that there is in fact a reality that grounds our doctrines. This is why. It gives you political Q. When you mistake artistic values for ethical ones . Q. Well. You've said that what keeps his characters alive is the flow of Q.. A. the motives for writing are manifold. and it is not impossible to write beautifully and have a point of view-it seems very likely that you have to have responsible ones. and his characters often become so obsessed with language that it replaces the world. It's one of the topics of The Tunnel. because I take him to be frivolous. That's why.. you simply have power plays. what with having to support Stalin and then Mao . A. although in the moral sphere. Very. A. GASS | 129 . To the degree that you want to promote political ideas in your work-as I say. That means that as soon as you remove that ultimate ground. not only theoreticallybut personally. you have the same political responsibility as any citizen to keep from believing stupidities. Something like anti-Semitism can be awfully coherent. James was worried about this. you look at his life-he really didn't do it. It's not just a kind of relativism between systems. He had power and influence and used it frivolously. With all that stuff about commitment. That's potentially dangerous. and that's irresponsible. . A lot of the French intellectual tradition from Pascal on is infected with a kind of gamesmanship that I associate with art. because artistic systems are not trying to make those statements. It's a constant tension in art. I think it is one of the things Valerysaw very well. Indeed. very clearly. He adopted points of view that were dramatic and went from one silliness to another. and by which we can correct them. although I'm very interested in alternative theory construction in philosophy.. And therefore immediately attractive. responsibility.

I don't want it to be a "thin"notion. although you never know how much those things percolate. forming barriers. A. And. to escape. are Notes from Underground and Kafka's "The Burrow. And the ambiguity of it all denotes something common enough. and I was never struck by it.. which of course has been in progress for a long time. in my book. That wonderful section in Burckhardt on the State as a work of art is very attractive in a way . of course. the tunnel is itself the point. But if you then bring that out into the political arena and recommendbehavior on the basis of the merely dramatic. You're not going anywhere. to get beyond obstacles. Sure. Everybody has his own. I've paid attention to it.and was one of the reasons he hated Pascal. because a tunnel is presumably going from A to B in order to get through barriers. until you see how horrible it is. can't be penetrated by ghosts-they're presumably common psychological tactics. creating a private space that Q. but Q. Since I started the novel. . but I do think that the particular images that come to dominate a story have more significance for the writer than they would for the average person. Fascism is attractive in part because there is so much of the tendency to treat the world as a work of art. A. A. 130 | CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . I hadn't even read "The Burrow"when I started The Tunnel. Then I began to pick up all the literary examples that go along with it. But I think there's a great deal in my own background that would lead me in this direction. So you can manipulate your materials to fit your artwork. You even see that point of view being carried on in criticism: adopting for certain areas a kind of play that involves rhetorical drama. That's Fascism. But of course. there are all kinds of tunnels. I suppose as long as you do it in criticism it really doesn't matter. I read Notes from Underground as everybody does when he's a freshman. Burrowing in. Now Kafka's burrows aren't tunnels exactly.. if you try to carve up the world . of course." I wonder if those are deliberate echoes in your novel. you say dumb things about Flaubert and people survive it. it's immoral. Actually. But I can rememberback into my childhood enough about my kind of daydreams-the notions of tunnels were powerful images before much literary influence. . Two of the works that strike me as precursors to The Tunnel Q.

closed themselves in with whatever they had hoped to escape from. and it isn't all bad. It's true of Faulkner.Your characters seem to lock the door only to find that they've Q. and they are not divorced from all reality. it might be more conducive to the self-referentiality you seek. They constitute important historical forces. you said that poetry has Q. but never mind . but there are more people A. In the Partisan Review interview." Would you elaborate on your disparagement of poetry? If you think of poetry. One would associate it with Valery or Mallarme. .. One of the saddest moments in that book is when Furber makes love with the girl by imposing his shadow upon her. We've spoken before about the relative status in reality of hisQ. I'm pushing it. as the "purer"genre. although the novel is not simply that. I don't think the purpose of the novel is to create important nobodies who stand as significant figures for their time. then they are part of the American myth. We don't even know yet how important it's going to be. figures along the Mississippi. and certainly the highest explosion of American poetic impulses. Dickens did that . Alexander the Great because he is more fully realized in language? I certainly would. particularly in European literature. and this comes out of the Symbolist movement. If one understands Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn well enough. A. It's not unnatural that from Stevens we had lesser Lowells and Roethkes. grown careless. who lived with Huck as a real person-this may be a literary mistake. You can suffocate in your own fiction. We passed through a phase of perhaps the greatest set of lyric poets we've had in European culture. and the particular sociohistorical milieu in the United States in this way. hard and formal form. The purification rite is his obsession. Frequently the novelist creates the little people of the time. although his effect is no longer as dominant as it was. when the Faulkner characters people our historical consciousness.and who see childhood. I'm working with that in this book. as many critics do. leaving fiction as "the advanced. Any viable myths of this sort have a grip on something.still does for a number of people. Not only that. torical and literary figures. Even though he doesn't commit the physical act. But that does happen. A. It's just that at the present moment I think poetry is in a down phase. It would normally be. say. I think of Furber trying to purge himself of his carnal urges. and GAS S 131 .. Would you say that Huckleberry Finn is more "real"than.

It's easier to achieve a certain kind of pseudo-identity. I suppose.and I'm not sure why he did this .now we have lesser still. But when he was here. the kinds of books that are coming out. favorites-Barth. That hasn't helped matters. he's really revolutionizing writing. too. and everyone was a poet. . Whether you're reading a new novel by Calvino or Vargas Llosa . . All you have to do is look around the world and see what's A. Just from the power of the poetic impulse itself.. It seems. Fuentes to share my "hermeticism. That I think is a temporary phenomenon. And that kind of thing is happening all around . is so open Q. every performance was a work of art.or others still. to spontaneity in a bad sense. because along with so many of his compatriots. by being a poet.he 132 I CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . it's significant stuff that's coming out. But I don't think poetry is anywhere near the stature of fiction now. but of poets. traditional sense. it's important." A. who may write nothing like Hawkes or Barth . None of them were the major works of their authors. being produced. . all were different. it's a monumental effort. Coover. Barthelme. as though poetry. And in the sixties. Coover. I would stack up paragraphs of Hawkes. . It's an exciting time. Elkin.Fuentes was on the campus for about a month in April. The writers that you mention most often as personal Q. while the burden of significance was on the audience. the "poets"wouldn't stand a chance. A. I taught some contemporary novels last year in a philosophy and literature course-Fuentes's Distant Relations and Hawkes's Virginiewere two of the books. well. all the really fine poets now are writing fiction.stunningly good stuff. But it's also accompanied by the fact that there has been a great explosion. but at present we have an extraordinary period of great novels. The great figures will be back. or Gaddis against the better poets writing now. the quality they have. When you compare what is going on in poetry from the point of view of poetry in the larger. Hawkes. and it was exhilarating to be around him. not of great poetry. Elkin. the South American "magical realists"-are these the contemporaries who can be most directly identified with your own literary theories? I would not expect. When J R comes out. too.sensational writers who write quite differently. especially free verse. yet all were first-rate. of the genre of the novel. So you're not one who worries about the continuing efficacy Q.

who started out on the Left. It will get lost in the political climate. ture. But both Marquez and Fuentes know that if they'regoing to have the social effect that they want to have. but not one allied with any party. a realist. I've never been called an "engaged"writer before. I don't have the deeply emotional commitment of a Marquez or a Fuentes. that they're compatible in the classroom? A. while you end up sacrificing the end as part of the means. You write essays on the Bomb. I think what has happened with a lot of writers. Movements tend to falsify subtleties. during the sixties. It does often throw you back into a position of increasing impotence. affiliations? A. It's that sense of helplessness. their work won't be powerful enough. Perhaps I can get rid of it in a character. Too often. a withdrawal of their radicalism. in a very general sort of way. I felt it. I suppose. I tend to be a Kantian about things like that. but as I talked to him. Is it possible to accomplish what needs to be done without those Q. his conception of what one had to do as a writer was very similar to mine. but even then I had too much skepticism about all of this. I think we share an idea of things that need to be done. I use it to teach points of view that I don't share.people think of me as a Holocaust expert now-and you get weary of that side of it. You teach. a course in philosophy and literaQ. of course. I also regard myself as a radical. the Sartreanidea is that we have to give this up because the end is so important. Do you find that they work together easily. Otherwise. But I find it fun to treat novels on the premise that they are constructing worlds. Parties force you to give up your intellect. committed. when we were out marching and so on.made a point in his last lecture of referring to my views with approval maybe half a dozen times. Philosophy in literature is largely content analysis. won't last long enough. And that gets into my work. Part of that may have been courtesy.Fuentes. and that you can then ask what the philosophy of those worlds is . from parties.has been a shift the same way that I GA S 133 . you go to conferences on nuclear holocaust . So they are much more susceptible to that contradiction. or have taught. It's part of the reason that my work is as bitter as it is. and understanding his leftist leanings and so forth. You have to be careful not to let the exasperation poison things. as Calvino did . they're going to have to be artists first.

in the sense that the text is raw material. Colette. I'd probably be inclined to do a New Critical approach because that's the way I was brought up. A. would you Q. What you have is a clear move on the part of the critic to usurp part of the creative function for the critic. I think that is very interesting. It's basically skeptical and uncommitted. A. so as to do the most justice to the language artifact? What method do you feel would show the fullest appreciation of what you try to accomplish in your work? I'm not sure. but a lot of it cops out. A lot of it is very would ask it about the world -and see what goes on in the system to convey it. The structure. and it can work. But I wouldn't make it a critical premise. Well. I don't think most of it is. but the question is whether or not it is written well enough. because of the attitudes behind it. I want a text to have levels and richness. and that's just the opposite of what my aim is when I'm creating a text. so behind it are plenty of attitudes and values that are absolute. When that critic approaches a text. If you were required to teach your own work. attempting to earn for the critic a creative status on other bases than creativity. I do it myself. rather than as something which is just occasioned by a work of art and is therefore of a second order of creation. Mine is generally a philosophy class more than a literature class. but I want it to have that. say. My attitude toward the reader is one of creative passivity. the text doesn't become me. It's been done in the past. I have no objection to that. he says that the reader is now in charge. A. I think what you would have to do with my work. although that's not what I do in the class much. is to pretend you were reading Montaigne. I understand it perfectly. I wonder how you react to poststructuralist and other recent Q. 134 I CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE . I want to become Colette. this critic is doing openly what critics have done for a long time covertly. brands of criticism that assert themselves as works of art. this type of critic wants to make the text malleable to his own manipulations. they are held with a great deal of skepticism. but in terms of the theoretical frame around them. Q. approach it as a diligent New Critic. Do you teach your own work? No. Also. the plot. That's not what I'm reading her for. What I believe is that when I'm reading. Generally.

" is not interested in the central problem as I see it. to move around. and not particularly skilled. it was all New Criticism. The same thing with Marxists: the early Marxist stuff worked best on junk. too. rather than the other way around. Do you hope to create a readershipby foisting demanding works upon them? In other words. A. A. complex process of decoding. It is a process. one way of getting students to respect the complexity of literatureproving it is accessible to formulas that are reminiscent of methods used in the sciences. It's as though the less successful work gives you more freedom Q. of giving yourA. He's interested in texts. just as the artist may see something ugly and make it beautiful when he writes it up. you get a sophisticated Freudian doctrine. of course. The problem is that of removing yourself to the extent that you allow the work to interpenetrateyour nature. It's one way of competing for respect these days. When I grew up. always talked about creatingan ideal readership. "All the better if it's not very good in itself-it's much more easily disarmed. And also. It's still the primary approach in literature surveys.And in WillieMasters' Lonesome Wife. If you don't have this point of view. then you cease to be as interested in quality.Is that the most beneficial way of approaching a text? Joyce Q. which seemed to work best on cheap romances. The critic who says. and that is the quality of the literary product. And teachers foster the sense that it takes a special expertise to read literature adequately. your consciousness. he chooses a lousy story by Balzac. Eventually. It seems as though I've lived through many generations of formulas. do I learn how to read a Gass work by reading enough of Gass to become "schooled" effectively? It's a process of schooling. It's Q. impatient. because you can make something out of anything. Even if Roland Barthes is going to develop a huge. GA S 135 . I think structuralists are still crude-you get some important insights. it's often simply more illustrative of what you are talking about. if Babs is language herself. but which did have something important to say. too. which sometimes was tiresome. That was true of early Freudianism. not in why one text is better than another. self to the work. but everyone has his own little formulas which will be refined only eventually. I think. as lovers of language we are depicted as dilettantish. One of the reasons is that he is going to confer upon the text the value that it will receive.