“Difficult to write without the proximity of books (perhaps an error to have separated my office and my library?), without feeling their presence, their weight, because they seem to exude phantom musics, they don’t only eye me from the height of their shelves, they flow in silent sentences, they copulate in proximity, they straddle one another, they fight, sometimes I am there arbiter, the new sentence decides between them.”—Herve Guibert The Mausoleum of Lovers
“All the characters in the very powerful stories of Flannery O’Connor are exposed: that is to say they are plain human beings in whose fractured lives the writer discovered an uncouth relationship with the lasting myths and violent passions of human life. The people are rooted in their scene, but as weeds are rooted.”—V. S. Pritchett from ‘Satan Comes to Georgia’ in The Tale Bearers: Essays on English, American and Other Writers
“Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it’s an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider’s web of the silken threads suspended in the chambers of the consciousness and catching every airborne particle in its issue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind.”—Henry James
“I was perplexed by this negation, or refutation, of time, in this case, in a piece of writing about Orbis Tertius, the most important axiom of the philosophical schools. According to this axiom, the future has no reality other than as a function of our present fears and hopes, and the past has no reality other than that of memory.”—Enrique Vila-Matas from Never Any End to Paris
“It is strange how much Larkin’s images of disillusion, fear, and self-betrayal have come to seem communal rather than personal, how the England he imagined—the drinking, the absences, the lost love, and the daily dread—have etched themselves into the general image of things. Thus many writers who dramatise English life have to tackle not only the substance of the world they inhabit or imagine, but the persistent shadows that Larkin left.”—Colm Toibin from ‘Going Beyond the Limits’ (The New York Review of Books, 10th May 2012)
“The passing of time exacerbates and intensifies any storm, even though there wasn’t the tiniest cloud on the horizon at the beginning. We cannot know what time will do to us with its fine, indistinguishable layers upon layers, we cannot know what it might make of us. It advances stealthily, day by day and hour by hour and step by poisoned step, never drawing attention to its surreptitious labours.”—Javier Marias from The Infatutations
“Life is, soberly and accurately, the oddest affair; has in it the essence of reality. I used to feel this as a child - could not step across a puddle once, I remember, for thinking how strange - What am I? etc. But by writing I don’t reach anything. All I meant to make is a note of a curious state of mind.”—Virginia Woolf from A Writer’s Diary
“He knew how to shape a sentence, how to make three lines breathe, delay a key piece of information, introduce a quirky adjective, hold the necessary verb until last. Just fitting in the requisite facts is a professional skill; giving the whole item form, elegance, wit and surprise, is an art.”—Julian Barnes on Felix Feneon’s faits divers column in Revue Blanche (London Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 19, October 2007)
“I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t… . I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of nighttime miracle, like the gifts of the Befana, which I waited for as a child… . True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known… . Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.”—Elena Ferrante (quoted in James Wood’s review ‘Women on the Verge: the Fiction of Elena Ferrante’, New Yorker, 21st January 2013)
“Burroughs’s use of chance and fortuitous accidents violated cherished notions of authorship, just as the horrifically explicit sexual metamorphoses in Naked Lunch and subsequent novels violated the codes of seemliness observed in literary fiction as well as the lubricious conventions of pornography. Widely overlooked in the shocked reception of Naked Lunch was its subversion of Anglo-American syntax, an excision of connective tissue that mimicked the scanning pattern induced by advertising.”—Gary Indiana ‘Predatory Sex Aliens’ from London Review of Books (Vol. 36, No. 9, 8th May 2014)
“Her work raises no interesting questions about the relationship of fiction to fact. Instead, it raises the more interesting question of how much a ficitonal story about a fictional self can shed, and still remain a story about a vivid self. The answer is almost everything, for two reasons: first because a fictional self needs only to be a voice, or a mouth, to have a presence on the page, and, second, because when the fictional self is stripped down in this way an authorial self fills some of the vacated self.”—James Wood from ‘Songs of Myself: Lydia Davis’ Very Short Short Stories’, The New Yorker, 19th October 2009
“You could say that selfishness, in every sense of the word, is [Lydia] Davis’ real theme: the overbearing presence of the self, the insistent internal volume of the self, the dunning inescapability of being who one is.”—James Wood from ‘Songs of Myself: Lydia Davis’ Very Short Short Stories’, The New Yorker, 19th October 2009
“Poets guard the language, poets are philologists, the historians, of language listening to the rustle of the hem of language as it travels liquidly across the page.”—James Wood Opening the Griffin Poetry Prize 2009 Awards Ceremony
“The senses are connected with the elements in a series of correspondences: the eyes is associated with water, which can absorb light, hearing with air, smell with fire, touch with earth.”—Aristotle from De Anima
“Unreliable narration is the name given to this kind of storytelling, the smudged hermeneutics whereby it is our task as readers to puzzle out the gaps and the slippages of a first-person account that knows less than it thinks it knows about itself.”—James Wood from a review of David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion in New Republic (9th August 2004)
“When Shakespeare commits lexical excess (by coining new words, by larding simple thought with plump dense sounds and metaphors, by hyper-enlivening every sentiment with figurative language), English becomes a body punctured by his violent actions. Example: ‘the murmuring surge / That th’unumb’red idle pebbles chafes / Cannot be heard so high.’ ‘Murmuring’ and ‘surge; and ‘unnumb’red’ present to the ear a glut of u and m and r sounds. And ‘idle’ and ‘pebble’, next to each other, create a pebble effect. With purple ripeness, low-pitched vowels (murmuring surge) ascend to high-pitched vowels (high). This apex of virtuosity - language creaming, ascending, and thickening.”—Wayne Koestenbaum from Humiliation
“I reached that odd point when you are no longer young, and yet you’re still not old. You become a kind of centaur: half the person you used to be, half somebody else; that point when there is more you do not care about and less and less you do - you are in no man’s land; you keep moving, but not because you will get anywhere.”—Benjamin Prado from Not Only Fire
“Am in the middle of a spreading light,
my hands inspired, the world beautiful.
Cannot stop looking at trees:
they’re so hopeful and so green.
A sunny pathway stretches beyond the mulberries,
I stand before the window in the prison hospital,
cannot smell the smell of medicine:
somewhere carnations must be in bloom.
That’s how it goes, my friend.
The problem is not falling a captive,
it’s how to avoid surrender.”—Nazim Hikmet ‘That’s How it Goes’ (Bursa prison, 1948) (trans. Taner Baybars)
“I went to the City Library and tried to write a poem to the dead man’s memory. Nothing came of it but a few pitiful lines which I tore up in shame. But out of that shame, out of that impotence and grief, something was born - something which I believe was the desire to become a writer; that is to say, to be able to tell of what it is to mourn, to have been loved, to be left lonely.”—Stig Dagerman
“Crafting a sexual position … always involves becoming haunted by what is excluded. And the more rigid the position, the greater the ghost and the more threatening it is in some way.”—Judith Butler in conversation with Peter Osborne
“It was only when I was growing up that I realised my mother’s need, her loneliness, which led her to try to keep me at home on a wet cold day. She felt that by going to school I was abandoning her. I have observed this attitude towards people who write or compose or paint or in any way desert the living and visible world to create a world of their own that is a threat to the existence and survival of the generally known world.”—Janet Frame from The Memorial Room