The Instinct is to Kill It

Joy Williams, “Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223” by Paul Winner, The Paris Review 209 (Summer 2014)

I wonder if understanding the dream is really what must be done. Can we incorporate and treasure and be nourished by that which we do not understand? Of course. Understanding something, especially in these tech times, seems to involve ruthless appropriation and dismantlement and diminishment. I think of something I clipped from the paper and can’t lay my hands on. This peculiar aquatic creature who lives deep within the sea — it looked like a very long eel — came up to the surface, where it was immediately killed and displayed by a dozen or so grinning people on a California beach. Didn’t have a chance to evolve, that one. Curiosity by the nonhuman is not honored in this life. For many people, when confronted with the mysterious, the other, the instinct is to kill it. Then it can be examined.

Unhoused

Andrea Barrett, “Andrea Barrett, The Art of Fiction No. 180″ by Elizabeth Gaffney, The Paris Review 168 (Winter 2003)

INTERVIEWER
Do you think this feeling of not being at home is part of what made you into a writer?

BARRETT
Sure. I’ve never known a writer who didn’t feel ill at ease in the world. Have you? We all feel unhoused in some sense. That’s part of why we write. We feel we don’t fit in, that this world is not our world, that though we may move in it, we’re not of it. Different experiences in our lives may enforce or ameliorate that, but I think if they ameliorate it totally, we stop writing. You don’t need to write a novel if you feel at home in the world. We write about the world because it doesn’t make sense to us. Through writing, maybe we can penetrate it, elucidate it, somehow make it comprehensible. If I had ever found the place where I was perfectly at home, who knows what I would have done? Maybe I would have been a biologist after all. No great loss if that had been the case, but it didn’t work out that way.

See Mary Ruefle.

The Direct Gaze Upon the World

Yves Bonnefoy, “The Art of Poetry No 69,” interview by Shusha Guppy, The Paris Review 131 Summer 1994

I completely agree with you that poetry is also a formal use of language. Indeed, only form allows us to hear the tone of the words, and it is precisely because verse is sonorous reality that words in it are no longer subject to the sole authority of conceptual thought. This enables us to perceive reality otherwise than through language. Form in poetry silences the conceptual meaning of words; it is therefore the condition of the direct gaze upon the world.

Negating Everything That Causes Us to be Dead While Alive

Mark Leyner, “The Art of Fiction N° 219” by Sam Lipsyte The Paris Review 204 (Spring 2013)

Bro, we’re living in the Kali Yuga, a Dark Age of petite bourgeoisie ideology, a petite bourgeoisie ideology whose resources and ruses are infinite and which ubiquitously permeates the world — high culture, low culture, bienpensant media, prestige literature, pop music, commerce, sports, academia, you name it. The only reasonable response to this situation is to maintain an implacable antipathy toward everything. Denounce everyone. Make war against yourself. Guillotine all groveling intellectuals. That said, I think it’s important to maintain a cheery disposition. This will hasten the restoration of Paradise. I’ve memorized this line from André Breton’s magnificent homage to Antonin Artaud — “I salute Antonin Artaud for his passionate, heroic negation of everything that causes us to be dead while alive.” Given the state of things, that’s what we need to be doing, all the time — negating everything that causes us to be dead while alive.