William H. Gass (b. 1924) is an essayist, novelist, and literary critic. He grew up in Ohio and is a former professor of philosophy at Washington University. Among his books are six works of fiction and nine books of essays, including Tests of Time (2002), A Temple of Texts (2006), and Life Sentences (2012). New York Review Books will republish his story collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968) in 2014. Gass lives with his wife, the architect Mary Gass, in St. Louis.

Learning from a Modern Master

M.H. Abrams, Ithaca, New York, 2008
During the days I spent in Cornell’s philosophy department as a graduate student in the late 1940s, I thought poorly of English departments, and believed myself, concerning literature, beyond instruction. However, after the first humbling year among the mathematically minded, I needed some relief.

The Hovering Life

In St. Louis a warm wind had unexpectedly arrived to draw moisture from the cold ground and cover runways with layers of dense fog. The flight boards in LaGuardia said “Canceled” for Chicago, too. Detroit was socked in, Cleveland growing gray, so there’d be no back door through which I …

Being and Dying

Danilo Kiš was born in Subotica. To my Western ears, the name seems that of an imaginary city. It is located in Yugoslavia, a country put together out of bits and pieces like Dr. Frankenstein’s notorious experiment: impressive that it can walk at all, but making any move with difficulty.

Johns

S.I. Newhouse shifted his left hand slightly, Larry Gagosian responded to the sign by making a small one of his own, and John Marion then announced another $250,000 advance in the bidding for Jasper Johns’s 1959 canvas called False Start. However, it was finally not a wave from the publisher …

Portrait of the Artist

The A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts were inaugurated by Jacques Maritain in 1952, and in subsequent years, Kenneth Clark, Herbert Read, Etienne Gilson, E.H. Gombrich, and Siegfried Giedion gave public talks at the National Gallery which, expanded and rewritten for publication in the Bollingen Series, made significant theoretical …

The Polemical Philosopher

In an early, autobiographical essay, written for school, Friedrich Nietzsche recalled that he found Naumburg overly busy—dusty and indifferent as well as bewilderingly various—after the close, quiet, neighborly life of Röcken, the tiny country village in Saxony where he was born. Naumburg would shrink as his own mind woke and …

Three Photos of Colette

There is a much folded photograph reproduced in Yvonne Mitchell’s charming and richly illustrated biography of Colette which shows Monsieur Willy and his wife at lonely table.[^1] A white rail of the sort you might find in a Baroque church divides the dining room from the rest of the apartment.

Theatrical Sartre

Enter, Stage Left ….. Exit, Stage Right Act One The curtain rises, and Sartre, coming forward to address his audience, says: The chief source of great tragedy—the tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles, of Corneille—is human freedom. Oedipus is free; Antigone and Prometheus are free. The fate we think we find …

The Battered, Triumphant Sage

What it Did Controversy Rivalry Envy Forgetfulness Suspicion I dolatry Jealousy Obfuscation Resistance The only memorable scene in HD’s otherwise muzzy, self-absorbed memoirs of the Professor, mainly taken from two series of meetings she had with him in 1933-1934 when Freud was seventy-seven, occurs during an analytic session. Evidently the …

The Anatomy of Mind

How It Begun Nuns Maids Virgins Barren Women Widows Robert Burton has set it down in Part. 1, Sect. 3, Memb. 2, Subs. 4 of his Anatomy, with respect to the melancholies of maids, nuns, and widows, in a way unimprovable, thus: …the most ordinary symptoms be these, a beating …

Mr. Blotner, Mr. Feaster, and Mr. Faulkner

Be attentive: Mr. Feaster is emerging from his bath. There he has spent some fifteen minutes soaking, the warm gray water high as his collar. He has been considering what the heat of his tub has done to his sperm, for he has read that such heat kills, penetrating even …

Malcolm Lowry’s Inferno: II

LAS MANOS DE ORLAC CON PETER LORRE Several leaves from one of Lowry’s little notebooks are reproduced in Douglas Day’s fine biography, and on one we can decipher: The psychology & horror of the shakes. The real horror is in the hands. All the poison to go down into the …

Malcolm Lowry’s Inferno

¿LE GUSTA ESTE JARDIN?[^*] ¿QUE ES SUYO? ¿EVITE QUE SUS HIJOS LO DESTRUYAN! There is no o’clock in a cantina. They are dim as a church is dim, often candle-lit or momentarily illuminated by sudden dusts of light from slits in dirty unscheduled walls, and there is the frequent murmur …

The Sporting News

At this writing the St. Louis Cardinals have broken from the Great Gate like a lame horse, losing, with an ineptitude that is almost creative, fourteen of their first sixteen games, and one momentarily wonders whether the Ruppert Mundys, Philip Roth’s imaginary clot of last placers, have come back from …

Gertrude Stein, Geographer: II

Life is repetition, and in a dozen different ways Gertrude Stein set out to render it. We have only to think how we pass our days: the doorbell rings, the telephone, sirens in the street, steps on the stairs, the recurrent sounds of buzzers, birds, and vacuum cleaners; then as …

Gertrude Stein, Geographer: I

When Gertrude Stein was a young girl, the twentieth century was approaching like a distant train whose hoot you could only just hear. A whole age was about to end. Nations would rededicate themselves, an entire generation bite into a fresh loaf, turn over a new leaf…tremble, pray. Despite this …

The Doomed in Their Sinking

Crane went sudden as a springboard. The Gulf gave nothing back. My mother, I remember, took her time. She held the house around her as she held her bathrobe, safely doorpinned down its floorlength, the metal threads glinting like those gay gold loops which close the coat of a grenadier, …

The Stylization of Desire

Why is it that philosophers have always felt obliged to think badly of the basic biological functions? They may believe in a life-force; they may even applaud its ferocity; but they do not inquire whether it keeps its chin clean at table. It almost seems as if to come near …

Imaginary Borges

Among Paul Valéry’s jottings, André Maurois observes the following: “Idea for a frightening story: it is discovered that the only remedy for cancer is living human flesh. Consequences.” One humid Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1969, in a slither of magazines on a library table, I light like a …

In the Cage

From Rye, where he has taken up residence in Lamb House, Henry James wires to London: “Are you utterly absent or can you dine with me Friday at seven to go afterwards with three others to the theatre?” James has passed his pale bescribbled paper across the counter toward the …

The Evil Demiurge

The neck, Plato tells us in the Timaeus, was fashioned by the Demiurge as a kind of isthmus between the head, which houses the higher soul, and the damper, softer regions given to the appetites and passions. This was done in order to protect the mind from their pollutions. Since …

From Some Ashes No Bird Rises

It was a miserable war, a dirty war, a war fought low in the loins, in his tubercular chest, in the loving, bitter household of himself, the pits, in the flame he liked to fancy was an image of all honest healthy phallic life; his sharply burning beard and head …

Mirror, Mirror

The train stands still. The world is moving. Objects shatter into points of light, reflections are observant, shadows follow us like menacing dogs. All the visual qualities of things, and these predominate, are hard and impersonal. Everything’s a mirror or an image in a mirror; depth is space upon a …

The Leading Edge of the Trash Phenomenon

Comanches are invading the city. The hedges along the Blvd Mark Clark have been barbed with wire. “People are trying to understand.” This is “The Indian Uprising,” the finest story in Donald Barthelme’s new collection. There’s fruit on the table, books, and long-playing records. Sylvia, do you think this is …