Archive | Lexicon

Carl Phillips

Another way to think of restlessness: as a form of ambition. Unsatisfied with the given—the usual explanations, the usual goals for and trappings of a life—there are those who push past the given, are willing to enter into uncertainty—to take a risk—in order to get something presumably superior and/or preferable to “the old life.” I don’t mean corporate ambitions, the kind that can lead to and increase in money and power and material possessions—I mean the quest for meaning, for heightened feeling, for expanded vision, even if that should mean that we arrive at what disturbs, leaving us more unsettled, less at rest than we had been. This, I would argue, is the artist’s sensibility. And I’ll point out that it’s not a perverse desire for being disturbed; it’s instead a recognition that growth can’t happen without disturbance, and a realistic understanding of the world as a place where pleasure and its opposite coexist—the artist refuses to ignore it, or perhaps more accurately the artist is incapable of ignoring it, because of a commitment to a knowledge that is absolute, entire, and at last elusive.

The Art of Daring

Jane Hirshfield

What a good poem hears, sees, speaks is what can only become perceptible when inner and outer intertwine. The poet’s circuitous collaboration with words is a tool for discovering how best to let those two worlds come forward and realize themselves; it is part of the ancient, ongoing game of hide and seek the universe plays. Within its silence, exile, and cunning, poetry holds both the hiding and the seeking, for both are the point. Within its thicket of indirections is shelter for the elusive, independent animals of interconnected life. They pass overhead, underfoot, in and out of the trees and the dappled light that blossoms as well in barred feathers and spotted pelts. They are such shy or bold creatures as come into poetry’s word-set nets, to be seen, to be finally eaten: to disappear into and become us, and so allow us also to become them—animal, vegetable, mineral, word, all thoroughly mysterious and known.

~ “Poetry and the Mind of Indirection”

William Bronk

If we are not to falsify life, but to have it for what it is, we must leave ourselves open to it and undefended, observant of what may happen, since our private will is not relevant and we are not capable of apprehending or assisting any other will, and what we observe and feel is perhaps less will than being and the nature of being. We need not want anything: nothing needs us to want. There are things which we feel, certain angers, rejoicings, fears. These feelings astonish us. Set beside our expectation of a real world, they seem not to have the habit of reality. They seem unrelated, and there is a lapse of time before we take them as real in the absence of a more expected reality. We learn at last, and accept the learning at last, that these feelings come to us without our willing or acceding or inventing. They come from beyond our skin like approaches to us, like messages; and we respond, trembling and shaking, or vibrating in tune as though we were instruments a music were played on and we arch and turn to have the contact closer. Our responses are presences that tower around us, seemingly solid as stone.

~ from William Bronk: An Essay by Cid Corman

Robert Creeley

Recent studies in this country involved with defining the so-called creative personality have defined very little indeed and yet one of their proposals interests me. It is that men and women engaged in the arts have a much higher tolerance for disorder than is the usual case. This means, to me, that poets among others involved in comparable acts have an intuitive apprehension of a coherence which permits them a much greater admission of the real, the phenomenal world, than those otherwise placed can allow…It would seem to me that occasional parallels between the arts and religion may well come from this coincidence in attitude, at least at times when philosophy or psychology are not the measure of either.

~ from “A Sense of Measure”

Pablo M. Ruiz

Strictly speaking, potential literature is everything and everything is potential literature. For the simple reason that anything can be turned into literature. We find the idea in Homer: “That is the gods’ work, spinning threads of death / through the lives of mortal men, / and all to make a song for those to come” (Odyssey). And we find in Nabokov: “The art of writing is a very futile business if it does not imply first of all the art of seeing the world as the potentiality of fiction.” And nothing else is saying Mallarmé in his famous dictum: “Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.”

—Four Cold Chapters on The Possibility of Literature

Gish Jen

So much of becoming a writer is called finding one’s voice, and it is that; but it seems to me it is also finding something—some tenor, or territory, or mode, or concern—you can never abandon. For some it is a genre like comics. For some, it is a fascination with metaphysics or misfits or marriage. Not that you don’t have other interests; but there must be some hat you would not willingly take off. It is the thing that gives a writer, “b.s. artist” that he or she is, at some level the chutzpah to drop the “b.s.” It is the source of his or her “authenticity”—this sense that however imaginative the work, the writer has a real stake in it, that he or she is driven by some inner necessity.

—“What Comes of All That,” from Tiger Writing

Kurt Vonnegut

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out—in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message—describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful, surprising, and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

—Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade

Charles Taylor

Thus the salient feature of the modern cosmic imaginary is not that it has fostered materialism, or enabled people to recover a spiritual outlook beyond materialism, to return as it were to religion, though it has done both these things. But the most important fact about it…is that it has opened a space in which people can wander between and around all these options without having to land clearly and definitively in any one. In the wars between belief and unbelief, this can be seen as a kind of no-man’s-land; except that it has got wide enough to take on the character rather of a neutral zone, where one can escape the war altogether. Indeed, this is the reason why the war is constantly running out of steam in modern civilization, in spite of the effort of zealous minorities.

— The Secular Age

Henry Miller

What were the subjects which made me seek authors I love, which permitted me to be influenced, which formed my style, my character, my approach to life? Broadly these: the love of life itself, the pursuit of truth, wisdom and understanding, mystery, the power of language, the antiquity and glory of man, eternality, the purpose of existence, the oneness of everything, self-liberation, the brotherhood of man, the meaning of love, the relation of sex to love, the enjoyment of sex, humor, oddities and eccentricities in all life’s aspects, travel, adventure, discovery, prophecy, magic (white and black), art, games, confessions, revelations, mysticism, more particularly the mystics themselves, the varieties of faith and worship, the marvelous in all realms and under all aspects, for “there is only marvelous and nothing but the marvelous.”

— from The Books in My Life

Simone Weil

Faith (when it is a question of a supernatural interpretation of the natural) is a conjecture by analogy based on supernatural experience. Thus those who have the privilege of mystical contemplation, having experienced the mercy of God, suppose that, God being mercy, the created world is a work of mercy. but as for obtaining evidence of this mercy directly from nature, it would be necessary to become blind, deaf and without pity in order to believe such a thing possible.


Michael Benedikt

I can’t imagine where it comes from, but surely there must be a source for this all, somewhere. True, streams can be seen sometimes, using a dowsing-rod, or even if you simply look carefully under rocks with a flashlight at midnight; but this source isn’t so easy to find. In fact, the harder you look, the more it disappears; and all you can think about is that since it doesn’t seem to be prevalent anywhere near the surface, perhaps it’s sompleace else, perhaps it’s down at the cneter of the earth somewhere—who knows? It’s not an easy thing to grasp, perhaps it’s better to skip the entire subject. Why am I bothering to write all this down, anyway? Here I am with with a poetry almost empty of encouraging imagery. On the other hand, nothing you can do can change what you know.

From “The Search for the Source” from Time is a Toy

Annie Dillard

The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere. It appeals only to the subtlest senses—the imagination’s vision, and the imagination’s hearing—and the moral sense, and the intellect. This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word. An ordinary reader picking up a book can’t yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing’s modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.

— The Writing Life

Jose Ortega y Gasset

Clarity means peaceful spiritual possession, sufficient domination of our minds over images, not to suffer anxiety about the threat that the object grasped will flee from us. All cultural endeavor is an interpretation—elucidation, explanation, exegesis—of life. Life is the eternal text, the burning bush by the edge of the path from which God speaks. Culture—art or science or politics—is the commentary, it is the aspect of life in which, by an act of self-reflection, life acquires polish and order. In order to master the unruly torrent of life the learned man meditates, the poet quivers, and the political hero erects the fortress of his will. It would be odd indeed if the result of ll these efforts led only to duplicating the problem of the universe. No, man has a mission of clarity upon earth.

— Meditations on Quixote

Alice Fulton

I think of the repeating words as superclusters and clusters. (In astronomy, a *cluster* is a group of galaxies; an association of such clusters is a *supercluster.*) Here are a few…superclusters, followed by some of their clusters in parentheses: CORE (matrix, marrow, fulcrum, center, cortex, plexus, province, cargo); ELECTRIC (electrons, lighthouse, watts); CONGRESS (chemistry, union, fusion); CRYSTAL (frost, snowflake, solitaire, winter, arctic, jewel, gem, diamond, Lucite, prism, sugar, hygienic); ROSES (womb, romance, velvet); FIRES (forge, bombs, shot, bed); HALO (skein, link, snare, cymbal, wheel, lathe, nimbus, spool, hoop, curl, chain, perihelion, fan, plate, ring, rosary, coronet, radial, spring, lariat); POWER (marble, granite, engine, brass, bronze); PALLADIUM (bonds, plate, silver, gold, swaddling, casing, swathing, iron, shield, lock, bolt, lane, chapels, cathedrals); DANCE (waltz, tulle, ballerina); SILK (selvage, shift, fabrication, synthetic, skin, cellulite); EXPANSION (plenty, amplitude, flux, fractal, dilations, breadth, sea, liquid, experiment); LINE (beam, band, lane, exponent, pins, channel).

Feeling As A Foreign Language

Clement Greenberg

Criticism proper means dealing in the first place with art as art, which means dealing with value judgments. Otherwise criticism becomes something else. Not that it is to be so narrowly defined as to have to exclude interpretation, description, analysis, etc.; only that it must, if it’s to be criticism, include evaluation, and evaluation in the first place—for the sake of art, for the sake of everything art is that isn’t information or exhoration, for the sake of what’s in art’s gift alone.

— “States of Criticism”

Alain Robbe-Grillet

The significations of the world around us are no more than partial, provisional, even contradictory, and always contested. How could the work of art claim to illustrate a signification known in advance, whatever it might be? The modern novel, as we said at the start, is an exploration, but an exploration which itself creates its own significations, as it proceeds. Does reality have a meaning? The contemporary artist cannot answer this question: he knows nothing about it. All he can say is that this reality will perhaps have a meaning after he has existed, that is, once the work is brought to its conclusion.

What regard this as a pessimism? In any case it is the contrary of a renunciation. We no long believe in the fixed significations, the ready-made meanings which afforded man the old divine order and subsequently the rationalist order of the nineteenth century, but we project onto man all our hopes: it is the forms man creates which can attach significations to the world.

Before the work of art, there is nothing—no certainty, no thesis, no message. To believe that the novelist has “something to say” and that he then looks for a way to say it represents the gravest of misconceptions. For it is precisely this “way,” this manner of speaking, which constitutes his enterprise as a writer, an enterprise more obscure than any other, and which will later be the uncertain content of his book.

— For a New Novel

Ananda Coomaraswamy

It is one of Plato’s virtues, and that of all traditional doctrine about art, that “value” is never taken to mean an exclusively spiritual or exclusively physical value. It is neither advantageous, nor altogether possible, to separate these values, making some things sacred and others profane: the highest wisdom must be “mixed” with practical knowledge, the contemplative life combined with the active. The pleasures that pertain to these lives are altogether legitimate, and it is only those pleasures that are irrational, bestial, and in the worst sense of the words seductive and distracting that are to be excluded. Plato’s music and gymnastics, which correspond to our culture and physical training, are not alternative curricula, but essential parts of one and the same education. Philosophy is the highest form of music (culture), but the philosopher who has escaped from the cave must return to it to participate in the everyday life of the world and, quite literally, play the game. Plato’s criterion of “wholesomeness” implies that nothing ought to be made, nothing can really be worth having, that is not at the same time correct or true or formal or beautiful (whichever word you prefer) and adapted to good use.

— “Figure of Speech of Thought?”

Frederico Garcia Lorca

The poet wanting to liberate himself from the imaginative realm, and not live exclusively from the image produced by real objects, stops dreaming and stops caring. He no longer cares, he no longer loves. He passes from the “imagination” which is an event of the soul, to “inspiration” which is a state of the soul. He passes from analysis to faith. Here things are because they must be, without any explicable cause or effect. There are no longer either terms or limits, admirable freedom!

— “Imagination, Inspiration, Evasion”  

Alain Robbe-Grillet

But for the artist, on the contrary, despite his firmest political convictions—even despite his good will as a militant revolutionary—art cannot be reduced to the status of a means in the service of a cause which transcends it, even if this cause were the most deserving, the most exalting; the artist puts nothing above his work, and he soon comes to realize that he can create only for nothing; the least external directive paralyzes him, the least concern for didacticism, or even for signification, is an insupportable constraint; whatever his attachment to his party or to generous ideas, the moment of creation can only bring him back to the problems of his art, and to them alone

— For a New Novel  

William Maxwell

Except through the intervention of chance, the one possibility of of my making some connection with him seems to lien not in the present but in the past—in my trying to reconstruct the testimony that he was never called upon to give. The unsupported word of a witness who was not present except in imagination would not be acceptable in a court of law, but, as it has been demonstrated over and over, the sworn testimony of the witness who was present is no trustworthy either. If any part of the following mixture of truth and fiction strikes the reader as unconvincing, he has my permission to disregard it. I would be content to stick to the facts if there were any.

— So Long, See You Tomorrow