The Gass Doctrine

Spectacle, the A&E Web site of Columbia University’s student newspaper, has Q&A with novelist and essayist William Gass (h/t Books, Inq.), who discusses his teaching career, the intersection of prose and music, the shifts in meanings of words over time, and couple of issues that made noise among the media (or at least litbloggers) in the past year. Discussing the Horace Engdahl incident, Gass is willing to concede that Americans are closed-minded, but that they don’t have the market cornered when it comes to being provincial:

Significant American writers rushed to support, extol, and copy the Latin American boom. But Latin Americans weren’t Europeans, who are the provincial ones here. We read Calvino, Kis, Sebald… etc. French and other language departments went goofy over deconstruction, and made its import unwisely popular. I founded and directed the International Writers Center at Washington University for a decade. Incidentally, Robbe Grillet was on our faculty. Philip Roth did wonderful things to support Polish etc. writers, and tackled Israeli issues in one of his greatest books. Perhaps it is Europe who is insular.

He has a similarly sly take on book reviewing in the United States:

There is no state of literary criticism in America. I think this is a very wholesome condition. Deconstruction and all its dreadful bloodsucking “isms” are now reduced to squalling helplessness. There are fine critics who have various individual takes on things who regularly write for NYRB, Bookforum, NYTimes, Washington Post, Atlantic, Harper’s, and so on, whom one may read agree or disagree and enjoy. As civilized persons are supposed to.

Spoken like a true survivor of academia’s PC wars of the 90s. Those not interested in re-engaging in those oft-fought arguments—I admit I’m a little tired of them myself—can simply admire photos of Gass’ 20,000-volume library.

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