Periodically I develop a sudden, rabid obsession with a writer I had never read before but had heard about for a long time and had always socked away in a mental cupboard full of the names of writers I one day plan on reading. William H. Gass was one of those guys, before I recently started having a serious Gass attack. I had the honor of meeting him once, very briefly, in 2006, when he was given the Truman Capote award for Literary Criticism (in Iowa City) for A Temple of Texts. I wish I’d read him then, but unfortunately I hadn’t. His criticism is brilliant; his sentences are linguistic kaleidoscopes. I’ve been reading his criticism, though I’m planning on burrowing into his magnum opus, The Tunnel, at some point soon (it arrived on my doorstep the other day in a box so big I wondered if I’d gotten drunk and ordered a blender or something). It’s also weirdly refreshing, in a contemporary literary climate of limp feel-good-ism, to read the profound, earnest pessimism of such a nasty, cantankerous old fart.
Every once in a while you will hear the writing advice, “Never write from anger.” This has always smelled strongly of bullshit to me, and yesterday, in the collection of essays that won the Capote award, I found the best antidote to that worthless piece of advice I’ve ever read. He’s discussing Flaubert’s letters. Enjoy:
“… I also got to understand something of my own anger by studying Flaubert’s rage. I must say I trust hatred more than love. It is frequently constructive, despite the propaganda to the contrary; it is less frequently practiced by hypocrites; it is more clearly understood; it is painfully purchased and therefore often earned; and its objects sometimes even deserve their hoped-for fate. If you love the good, you have to hate evil. I cannot imagine a love so puerile and thin and weak-kneed it cannot rage.”
There’s a sentence deserving of memorization, worthy of repetition: “I cannot imagine a love so puerile and thin and weak-kneed it cannot rage.”