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Twenty-four essays by the modern master of literary criticism, ranging from discussion of Gertrude Stein and Jorge Luis Borges to Henry James and "The Evil Demiurge." Twenty-four essays by the modern master of literary criticism, ranging from discussion of Gertrude Stein and Jorge Luis Borges to Henry James and "The Evil Demiurge."


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Twenty-four essays by the modern master of literary criticism, ranging from discussion of Gertrude Stein and Jorge Luis Borges to Henry James and "The Evil Demiurge." Twenty-four essays by the modern master of literary criticism, ranging from discussion of Gertrude Stein and Jorge Luis Borges to Henry James and "The Evil Demiurge."

30 review for Fiction and the Figures of Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    First, an admission. Gass’s first collection of essays is lightyears beyond my intellectual level. Switching between heavy philosophical investigations to poetical and opaque literary meditations (by way of book reviews), the essays here lack the same layman’s entrypoint as in later collections Finding a Form or A Temple of Texts—two stronger, more musical and spellbinding books. So my three-star verdict is a partly a reflection on my own shortcomings and partly because Gass has not fully master First, an admission. Gass’s first collection of essays is lightyears beyond my intellectual level. Switching between heavy philosophical investigations to poetical and opaque literary meditations (by way of book reviews), the essays here lack the same layman’s entrypoint as in later collections Finding a Form or A Temple of Texts—two stronger, more musical and spellbinding books. So my three-star verdict is a partly a reflection on my own shortcomings and partly because Gass has not fully mastered the masterful nonfiction prose style in evidence in later books—this one behaves like something of a unified manifesto of sorts, with strange footnotes scattered in each essay directing readers to other essays, in a mostly distracting way. The second part contains my favourite pieces on Stein (surprise), Coover, Barthelme, Borges and Nabokov, and later a waspish one on Updike. ‘The Concept of Character in Fiction’ and ‘The Medium of Fiction’ are fascinating insights into Gass’s fictional world (and future) and contain the purdiest writing. Later pieces on Henry James and Wittgenstein are less my literary bag and sent me into a pleasant snooze to the music of a superior brain. For Gassheads only.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    What is there to say about a book that has brilliance, usually several brilliancies, on every page? My first acquaintance with Gass, this very book (although not this copy) actually, was way back when I was getting my philosophy degree. I was up in the WWU philosophy library, doing research for a paper on the mind-brain problem and its significance to the problem of personal identity (whether we have one—an identity—that is)—reading, specifically, D. M. Armstrong's Bodily Sensations, even more s What is there to say about a book that has brilliance, usually several brilliancies, on every page? My first acquaintance with Gass, this very book (although not this copy) actually, was way back when I was getting my philosophy degree. I was up in the WWU philosophy library, doing research for a paper on the mind-brain problem and its significance to the problem of personal identity (whether we have one—an identity—that is)—reading, specifically, D. M. Armstrong's Bodily Sensations, even more specifically the passage where he argues that we don't need to be conscious to function, using as evidence a cross-country drive during which, for some indeterminate time, we forget that we are driving, only to "come to" somewhere down the road having completely forgotten (never perhaps having known) how we drove through that gap in our consciousness. At that point I happened to look across at the stacks and spot Fiction and the Figures of Life (shelved quite close to Nietzsche's collected works, of which I'm sure William H. would be pleased); which was quite odd because literature was on floor two and philosophy was on floor four, so what was a book about fiction doing there so close to Nietzsche? So out of the chair and to the stacks. I opened the book and started reading: "So much of philosophy is fiction…." By the time I graduated my degree had become dual, a mind-body problem of its own, as English grafted itself onto my personal identity problem. Anyway, this is a great book, an easy book to get lost in, to just be swept along by the language and the ideas. His On Being Blue is one of my all-time favorite books, might even make the desert island list of ten.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    Gass vs. Franzen "In every art two contradictory impulses are in a state of Manichean war; the impulse to communicate and so to treat the medium of communication as a means and the impulse to make an artifact out of the materials and so to treat the medium as an end." William H. Gass, 1970 In 2002, much to the consternation of white male American post-modernists, Jonathan Franzen would make a similar distinction between writing models, which enables readers to call writers who prefer one impulse or Gass vs. Franzen "In every art two contradictory impulses are in a state of Manichean war; the impulse to communicate and so to treat the medium of communication as a means and the impulse to make an artifact out of the materials and so to treat the medium as an end." William H. Gass, 1970 In 2002, much to the consternation of white male American post-modernists, Jonathan Franzen would make a similar distinction between writing models, which enables readers to call writers who prefer one impulse or other contract writers or status writers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Eric Cartier

    Essays to read during my commute. No way I can handle Finnegans Wake on the bus! April 8, 2010 update: I finished this more quickly than I thought I would and then discovered I could read FW on the bus (with Sunn O))) doom drone blocking out other peoples' cell phone chatter). Gass can do anything he wants to do with the English language; he's a truly extraordinary writer. Like each of his books I own, my copy of Fiction and the Figures of Life is heavily marked up and dogearred, despite some of Essays to read during my commute. No way I can handle Finnegans Wake on the bus! April 8, 2010 update: I finished this more quickly than I thought I would and then discovered I could read FW on the bus (with Sunn O))) doom drone blocking out other peoples' cell phone chatter). Gass can do anything he wants to do with the English language; he's a truly extraordinary writer. Like each of his books I own, my copy of Fiction and the Figures of Life is heavily marked up and dogearred, despite some of its content being intellectually incomprehensible to me. "The Medium of Fiction," "The Stylization of Desire" and "A Memory of a Master" are excellent essays, but "The Artist and Society," which closes the collection, is the best of his I've read. "Works of art confront us the way few people dare to: completely, openly, at once. They construct, they comprise, our experience; they do not deny or destroy it; and they shame us, we fall so short of the quality of their Being."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Godine Publisher & Black Sparrow Press

    "Gass's criticism, in the best tradition of eloquence, wit, and passion, is a defense of 'poesy' in a time of need... Nearly all the essays are a pleasure to read and some—it almost seems shocking to say it—are works of beauty. It has happened before—one thinks of Keat's letters and some fragments of Lawrence—that the unlikely combination of criticism, philosophy and metaphorical inventiveness has resulted in a kind of poetry." — New York Times Book Review "For anyone who writes fiction or writes "Gass's criticism, in the best tradition of eloquence, wit, and passion, is a defense of 'poesy' in a time of need... Nearly all the essays are a pleasure to read and some—it almost seems shocking to say it—are works of beauty. It has happened before—one thinks of Keat's letters and some fragments of Lawrence—that the unlikely combination of criticism, philosophy and metaphorical inventiveness has resulted in a kind of poetry." — New York Times Book Review "For anyone who writes fiction or writes about it, or reads fiction for the solacing sense of potential reality it can provided, Gass's book is the most important and bracing theoretical study I know of. Beside being a miraculous gifted writer he is that rare thing among creators, a trained philosopher. No one I can name has his persuasive power." — Geoffrey Wolff, Newsweek

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alissa Hattman

    An unlikely combination of criticism, philosophy, and metaphorical inventiveness, this book of essays explores fiction as a specific construction: “There are no descriptions in fiction,” Gass states, “there are only constructions”(17) and goes on to say that fiction is “not a reality rendered, but a universe embodied”(53).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christian Schwoerke

    I found a good deal of this frustrating and misguided, despite the erudition, polish, and thought that lay behind the pronouncements. Windbag is the word that comes to mind when looking back on these essays. More to come...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Scribble Orca

    Damn status updates. Nearly as bad as reviews.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Richard Wu

    Solid, punchy litcrit; product of a life spent honing aesthetic sensibility. Persuaded me to add Under the Volcano, Sea and Sardinia. Favorite essay: The Case of the Obliging Stranger. Docked a star for reusing the upside down pocket shaking metaphor. Selected quotes "Protective speech must cut off meanings, not take them on. It must find contexts that will limit the functions of its words to that of naming. Gertrude Stein set about discovering such contexts." (90) "[James] merely wrote his novels Solid, punchy litcrit; product of a life spent honing aesthetic sensibility. Persuaded me to add Under the Volcano, Sea and Sardinia. Favorite essay: The Case of the Obliging Stranger. Docked a star for reusing the upside down pocket shaking metaphor. Selected quotes "Protective speech must cut off meanings, not take them on. It must find contexts that will limit the functions of its words to that of naming. Gertrude Stein set about discovering such contexts." (90) "[James] merely wrote his novels like the useless man he was, and what is striking about these if not their quality, their extraordinary refinement, their personality, their style? for they shimmer and stink of idleness and isolation, detachment and removal." (171) "The child, who is forever a stylist, identifies the celebration with selected ways of celebrating, and the child may feel, as the primitive man was supposed to, that any kind of success can be guaranteed only by repeating, and by repeating exactly, everything that was done the first time." (198) "And the traditionalist is right: the rebel does flounder; he is a fool; he does take pride in his ignorance, make a virtue of chaos and disruption, and suppose that he is less a hypocrite for being vulgar; he admires spontaneity and despises effort, thinks sincerity will substitute for skill, allows heat to consume patience, and imagines that his simple presence in the world is cause enough for rejoicing—he need only be, and the world will be better. Yet the rebel is right, too. A style can strangle." (203-4) "The empiricist is right: the deductive ethic rests upon arbitrary postulation. The rationalist is right: the inductive ethic does not exist; or worse, it consists of arbitrary values disguised as facts. Both are guilty of the most elaborate and flagrant rationalizations. Both know precisely what it is they wish to save. Neither is going to be surprised in the least by what turns out to be good or bad. They are asking of their methods answers that their methods cannot give." (236)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Esther

    Francois Camoin recommended b/c it gives great tips on how to characterize characters vividly with concise descriptions.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    A little hard to comprehend, but once you do, it is definitely worth the read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Facundo Melillo

    A word is a concept made flesh Las primera y la última parte del libro son las más interesantes. Las ideas de Gass sobre la ficción, la filosofía versus la literatura (viniendo de un tipo que fue profesor de filosofía casi toda su vida, es doblemente interesante), las distintas digresiones que hace sobre la idea del personaje dentro de la ficción y sobre el medio artístico que es la literatura, el análisis del arte de la cultura popular versus el arte intelectual y, por supuesto, el rol del artis A word is a concept made flesh Las primera y la última parte del libro son las más interesantes. Las ideas de Gass sobre la ficción, la filosofía versus la literatura (viniendo de un tipo que fue profesor de filosofía casi toda su vida, es doblemente interesante), las distintas digresiones que hace sobre la idea del personaje dentro de la ficción y sobre el medio artístico que es la literatura, el análisis del arte de la cultura popular versus el arte intelectual y, por supuesto, el rol del artista en la sociedad. Esos apartados me fascinaron. Gass es un maestro en la ficción y un increíble ensayista. La segunda y tercera se centra más en ensayos sobre distintos autores. Algunos más interesantes que otros, sobre todo los referidos a Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover y Gertrude Stein me parecieron los más destacables. "Imaginary Borges and His Books" y "Mirror, Mirror" (Sobre Nabokov) también me parecieron interesantes, aunque realmente no aportan demasiado a lo que otros han dicho sobre estos autores. Eso no le quita mérito a que Gass es un gran autor con opiniones siempre fundadas y puntos de vista interesantes. Lean a William Gass.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Read a few of the key essays and skipped around some. Gass is good here, but I prefer his fiction. His books on literature are all the same, basically.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rick Scott

    Beautifully written and wise, like all of Gass.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    If I could I would have every student of the humanities have this book on their reading lists, even if it was just the general essays rather than the specific book reviews (which do contain pearls of wisdom but are largely only of interest to fans of Gass and critics of whichever writer is discussion (excepting the Stein piece which lays out an incisive attack on certain methods of criticism and sets out ideas for how it should be done)). I feel like I've only scratched the surface of what this If I could I would have every student of the humanities have this book on their reading lists, even if it was just the general essays rather than the specific book reviews (which do contain pearls of wisdom but are largely only of interest to fans of Gass and critics of whichever writer is discussion (excepting the Stein piece which lays out an incisive attack on certain methods of criticism and sets out ideas for how it should be done)). I feel like I've only scratched the surface of what this book contains and I'm already blown away.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erik Wyse

    Gass is a unique and important voice in Literature, bringing his knowledge and affinity for Philosophy into the context of the art of fiction. His understanding of the craft, particularly language and its functioning process, is vital and thought provoking, best summed in the maxim "There are no descriptions in fiction, there are only constructions." Gass is a unique and important voice in Literature, bringing his knowledge and affinity for Philosophy into the context of the art of fiction. His understanding of the craft, particularly language and its functioning process, is vital and thought provoking, best summed in the maxim "There are no descriptions in fiction, there are only constructions."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    Without a doubt, Gass is much smarter than me. Unfortunately, sometimes this can be as endearing as someone being much better at dropkicking me in the scrotum. Come for the genius writing. Try to stay for the final essay on linguistics. Drink plenty of Powerade in between.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John

    went through this twice. saw somewhere a reviewer called him a giant wind bag. seems fair.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Andrew

    Thought-provoking, philosophical, and also dense.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    contains a very nice essay on gertrude stein

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pat Johnson

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jesse K

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Johnson

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fred

  25. 4 out of 5

    Will

  26. 4 out of 5

    M.itchovich

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sean Bernard

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Daniel

  29. 4 out of 5

    John

  30. 5 out of 5

    Yonina

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