American Fictions (1999)
[Modern Library, ISBN 0-375-75482-2]
- Manhattan is not altogether felicitous for fiction. It is not a city of memory, not a family city, not the capital of America so much as the iconic capital of this century. It is grand and grandiose with its two rivers acting as a border to contain the restless. Its skyscrapers and bleak, rotting tenements are a gift for photographic consumption, but for the fictional imagination the city's inchoate density is a special challenge.
- "Locations: An Introduction" (p. xvi)
- There's a leveling homogeneity in America today created by television. Each day it passes over the vast land mass, over the states nudging each other like the sovereignties of the Balkans, creating a unifying cloud of aesthetic properties and experience. East and West, North and South are wrapped in a sort of over-soul of images, facts, happenings, celebrities. This debris is as sacred to our current fiction as gossip about the new vicar was to Trollope. And there it is on the page, informing the domestically restless households, father off somewhere, mother chagrined. Sons and daughters writing the books.
- "Locations: An Introduction" (pp. xix-xx)
- Gertrude Stein, all courage and will, is a soldier of minimalism. Her work, unlike the resonating silences in the art of Samuel Beckett, embodies in its loquacity and verbosity the curious paradox of the minimalist form. This art of the nuance in repetition and placement she shares with the orchestral compositions of Philip Glass.
- "Gertrude Stein" (p. 103)
- Letters are above all useful as a means of expressing the ideal self; and no other method of communication is quite so good for this purpose. In conversation, those uneasy eyes upon you, those lips ready with an emendation before you have begun to speak, are a powerful deterrent to unreality, even to hope. In art it is not often possible to make direct use of your dreams of tomorrow and your excuses for yesterday.
In letters we can reform without practice, beg without humiliation, snip and shape embarrassing experiences to the measure of our own desires — this is a benevolent form. The ideal self expressed in letters is not a crudely sugary affair except in dreary personalities; in any case the ideal is very much a part of the character, having its twenty-four hours a day to get through, and being no less unique in its combinations than one's fingerprints.
- The private and serious drama of guilt is not often a useful one for fiction today and its disappearance, following perhaps the disappearance from life, appears as a natural, almost unnoticed relief, like some of the challenging illnesses wiped out by drug and vaccines.
- "Guilt, Character, Possibilities" (p. 227)
- Sex, without society as its landscape, has never been of much interest to fiction.
- Guilt, Character, Possibilities" (p. 235)
- Writing is not "the establishment of a professional reputation" as if one were a doctor or lawyer; it is not properly in the sentence with creation of a family and the purchase of a home.
- "Cheever, or, The Ambiguities" (p. 244)
- Biographers, the quick in pursuit of the dead, research, organize, fill in, contradict, and make in this way a sort of completed picture puzzle with all the scramble turned into a blue eye and the parts of the right leg fitted together.
- "Katherine Anne Porter" (p. 299)
- How certain human beings are able to create works of art is a mystery, and why they should wish to do so, at a great cost to themselves usually, is another mystery. Works are not created by one's life; every life is rich in material.
- "Katherine Anne Porter" (p. 300)
- She never liked the constant presence of her husbands or lovers and did not like, she soon found out, to be alone — a dilemma in one shape or another common to most of mankind.
- "Katherine Anne Porter" (p. 302)