“I read hungrily and delightedly, and have realized since that you can’t write unless you read.”
“Yet it is only a symbol, a token of that vast maelstrom which has caught up states and stone-age peoples equally with the modern world. It is the technological revolution, and it has brought three things to man which it has been impossible for him to do to himself previously.
First, it has brought a social environment altering so rapidly with technological change that personal adjustments to it are frequently not viable. The individual either becomes anxious and confused or, what is worse, develops a superficial philosophy intended to carry him over the surface of life with the least possible expenditure of himself. Never before in history has it been literally possible to have been born in one age and to die in another. Many of us are now living in an age quite different from the one into which we were born. The experience is not confined to a ride in a buggy, followed in later years by a ride in a Cadillac. Of far greater significance are the social patterns and ethical adjustments which have followed fast upon the alterations in living habits introduced by machines.
Second, much of man’s attention is directed exteriorly upon the machines which now occupy most of his waking hours. He has less time alone than any man before him. In dictator-controlled countries he is harangued and stirred by propaganda projected upon him by machines to which he is forced to listen. In America he sits quiescent before the flickering screen in the living room while horsemen gallop across an American wilderness long vanished in the past. In the presence of so compelling an instrument, there is little opportunity in the evenings to explore his own thoughts or to participate in family living in the way that the man from the early part of the century remembers. For too many men, the exterior world with its mass-produced daydreams has become the conqueror. Where are the eager listeners who used to throng the lecture halls; where are the workingmen’s intellectual clubs? This world has vanished into the whirlpool.
Third, this outward projection of attention, along with the rise of a science whose powers and creations seem awe-inspiringly remote, as if above both man and nature, has come dangerously close to bringing into existence a type of man who is not human. He no longer thinks in the old terms; he has ceased to have a conscience. He is an instrument of power. Because his mind is directed outward upon this power torn from nature, he does not realize that the moment such power is brought into the human domain it partakes of human freedom. It is no longer safely within nature; it has become violent, sharing in human ambivalence and moral uncertainty.”
“Literacy does not involve knowing the meanings of words, or learning grammar, or reading books.”
–Wendell Berry, Preface: The Joy of Sales Resistance
“There is no end to machinery.…For all earthly, and for some unearthly purposes, we have machines and mechanic furtherances; for mincing our cabbages; for casting us into magnetic sleep. We remove mountains, and make seas our smooth highways; nothing can resist us. We war with rude Nature; and, by our resistless engines, come off always victorious, and loaded with spoils.”
“One must be an inventor to read well.”
“Words are perhaps the hardest of all material of art: for they must be used to express both visual beauty and beauty of sound, as well as communicating a grammatical statement.”
–T. S. Eliot
“Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music.”
“In a consumer society, there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.”
“I don’t think, even as an author, that I have knowledge to give to readers. Philosophers might and scientists can. It’s possible for me to express something that you can agree or disagree with, but certainly you will have heard it before. So I don’t think the ‘what’ distinguishes a good novel from a bad one but rather the ‘how’—the aesthetic quality of the sensibility of the writer, his craft, his ability to create and communicate.
I don’t have a philosophy of life, or a need to organize its progression. My books are not constructed to ‘say anything.’ When I was at college, in every literary discussion there was always such an emphasis on ‘What does he say? What’s the message?’ Even then I felt that very few authors had anything to say. What was important to me was ‘What does it do?’ This refutes, of course, the idea that the message is the objective of a novel. In fact, any ‘message’ becomes part of the texture, stirred so much that it’s as negligible as a teaspoon of salt in a large stew. Think of the number of artists who have done still lifes—a view of a river or a vase of flowers . . . there is nothing about the choice of subject that is going to startle anybody. What will distinguish one still life from another is what the artist brings to it. To a certain extent that is true of the novelist.”
“If the Muses could lobby for their interest, all biographical research into the lives of artists would probably be prohibited by law, and historians of the individual would have to confine themselves to those who act but do not make—generals, criminals, eccentrics, courtesans and the like, about whom information is not only more interesting but less misleading. Good artists—the artist manqué is another matter—never make satisfactory heroes for novelists because their life stories, even when interesting for themselves, are peripheral and less significant than their productions.”
–W. H. Auden
“The novel, which is a work of art, exists, not by its resemblances to life, which are forced and material, as a shoe must consist of leather, but by its immeasurable difference from life, which is both designed and significant, and is both the method and the meaning of the work.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson