Tag Archives: Reading

Mystery, Manners, Warnings

“I don’t know how the subject is handled now, or if it is handled at all, but when I went to school I observed a number of ways in which the industrious teacher of English could ignore the nature of literature, but continue to teach the subject.

The most popular of these was simply to teach literary history instead. The emphasis was on what was written when, and what was going on in the world at that time. Now I don’t think this is a discipline to be despised. Certainly students need to know these things. The historical sense is greatly in decay. Perhaps students live in an eternal present now, and it’s necessary to get across to them that a Viking ship was not equipped like the Queen Mary and that Lord Byron didn’t get to Greece by air. At the same time, this is not teaching literature, and it is not enough to sustain the student’s interest in it when he leaves school.

Then I found that another popular way to avoid teaching literature was to be concerned exclusively with the author and his psychology. Why was Hawthorne melancholy and what made Poe drink liquor and why did Henry James like England better than America? These ruminations can take up endless time and postpone indefinitely any consideration of the work itself. Actually, a work of art exists without its author from the moment the words are on paper, and the more complete the work, the less important it is who wrote it or why. If you’re studying literature, the intentions of the writer have to be found in the work itself, and not in his life. Psychology is an interesting subject but hardly the main consideration for the teacher of English.

Neither is sociology. When I went to school, a novel might be read in an English class because it represented a certain social problem of topical interest. Good fiction deals with human nature. If it uses material that is topical, it still does not use it for a topical purpose, and if topics are what you want anyway, you are better referred to a newspaper.”

                                              –Flannery O’Connor, “The Teaching of Literature”

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Delight and Liberty, the Simple Creed

“There is a dreadful justice in such voraciousness having proved to be self-destructive: the teaching of poems, plays, stories, and novels is now supplanted by cheerleading for various social and political crusades. Or else, the artifacts of popular culture replace the difficult artifices of great writers as the material for instruction. It is not ‘literature’ that needs to be redefined; if you can’t recognize it when you read it, then no one can ever help you to know it or to love it better.”

                                                                                                  –Harold Bloom

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“We will not consider submissions that include prejudice, racism, xenophobia, classism, sexism, ableism, fat-shaming, homophobia, gratuitous violence, etc. We reserve the right to reject such submissions outright and no longer read submissions from that author. We also reserve the right to remove content from our journal if an author is known to be harassing or abusive.”

Welcome, censorship.


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Proper Modesty

“It’s just that I’ve played such a quantity of piano. Three hours a day in childhood, about six hours a day in college, and at least six hours now. With that, I could afford to develop slowly. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned with feeling being the generating force.”

                                                                                                        –Bill Evans

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“It seems to me that the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgments rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgment is easy and knowledge is difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgments reflect a vision of himself which in his ignorance and pride he would impose upon the world. I implore you, do not become a moralist; you will destroy your art and your mind.”

                                                                                  –John Williams, Augustus

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What are you reading?

“If you are…from a dominant cultural group (white, male, wealthy, etc.), we will of course still consider your work…”

How exactly is this determined based on the writing?

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“…we’re especially interested in poems, short stories, or essays that throw shade at the institutions that have whitewashed our literature and history, be they laws or events or texts authored by dead old cisgender white supremacist misogynistic homophobes.”

“The death of the author, proclaimed by Foucault, Barthes, and many clones after them, is another anticanonical myth, similar to the battle cry of resentment that would dismiss ‘all of the dead, white European males’—that is to say, for a baker’s dozen, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Montaigne, Milton, Goethe, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Kafka, and Proust. Livelier than you are, whoever you are, these authors were indubitably male, and I suppose ‘white.’ But they are not dead, compared to any living author whomsoever.” (Harold Bloom)

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A Little Learning

“I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so.”

–Sydney Smith


“Students are refreshing. Andrea said that she is writing a thesis on architecture and music. In the course of our conversation (we were painting side by side) I discovered that she had never heard of Mahler, Stravinsky, or Vivaldi. To name but three, I suppose. There’s a whole generation in college now that has heard of nothing.”

                                                                                                      –Guy Davenport

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Formal Folly

“He’s a great reader—I don’t think you can be a writer otherwise.” (Guy Davenport)

“We regret to inform you that your submission hasn’t been selected for publication. Thanks for sending us ‘————.’ While this work isn’t a fit for us, as fellow writers, we share in the rigors of the submission process and wish you the best.”

Where to begin? Nobody died, nobody died. Not in the making, the offering, the declining.

As for rigors, I’m not exactly expending many calories sitting in a chair, clicking a button.

I have yet to receive a proper rejection: “As fellow readers…”

“I took ‘creative writing’ at Duke, under Bill Blackburn, in a class with Bill Styron and Mac Hyman (No Time for Sergeants). The result was that I was paralyzed for years, until I saw that if I wanted to write I would have to do it the way I wanted to, without thinking of myself as ‘a writer’ (I still don’t).

The breakthrough came when I realized that I mustn’t write about anything from my own experience, or anybody I’ve known, but to work with pure imagination, and to work with that hiatus between the mind and the world in which the pragmatic always fails and the imagination has to take over.” (Guy Davenport)

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“How pleasant it is to respect people! When I read books I am not concerned with how the authors loved or played cards. I see only their marvelous works.”


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