Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Morning Quote: George Eliot on Being a Poet

".... I wonder what your vocation will turn out to be: perhaps you will be a poet?"

"That depends. To be a poet is to have a soul so quick to discern that no shade of quality escapes it, and so quick to feel, that discernment is but a hand playing with finely ordered variety on the chords of emotion—a soul in which knowledge passes instantaneously into feeling, and feeling flashes back as a new organ of knowledge. One may have that condition by fits only."

"But you leave out the poems," said Dorothea. "I think they are wanted to complete the poet."

—George Eliot, Middlemarch
I started re-reading Middlemarch with a friend from work, inspired by Rebecca Mead's excellent piece in the New Yorker, and I'm very happy I did. Mead points out Eliot's universal sympathy for her characters, and I find it such pleasant company. It's not that Eliot's characters are universally good; in fact, none of them are. But their flaws are held up to the light with an understanding that does not excuse them, but also does not mistake the part for the whole. There is a glimmer of something to like or pity even in the most crabbed and self-absorbed of her characters, and something fallible in even the best. It feels so different from a lot of contemporary fiction, where we are so often invited to—or incited to—scorn for some characters, and sometimes for all characters. Eliot judges us kindly, as we would wish to be judged.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Morning Quote: Nicholson Baker on Not Saving Up

Another tip is: If you have something to say, say it. Don't save it up. Don't think to yourself, I'm going to build up to this truth I really want to say. Don't think, In this poem, I'm going to be sneaky and start with this other truth over here, and then I'm going to scamper around a little bit over here, and then play with some purple Sculpey over here in the corner, and finally I'll reach the truth at the very end. No, slam it in immediately. It won't work if you hold it in reserve. Begin by saying what you actually care about saying and the saying of it will guide you to the next line, and the next, and the next. If you need to arrange things differently later, you can do that.

—Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist

Although I haven't previously used quotes from fiction, I liked this one very much and you can expect to see other words of wisdom from the narrator of Baker's novel in the coming weeks as I try to revive this blog.

Thanks to Cindy for recommending this novel (New York Times review here), which I am reading slowly but enjoying greatly.