Stanley Fogel on William Gass

I’m late turning both of our attention to the Summer 2005 “Review of Contemporary Fiction,” which includes a 35-page essay by Stanley Fogel on the work of William Gass. “Performance is the word that comes to mind when one thinks of Gass’s oeuvre,” Fogel rightly puts it.

“Pithy or sprawling, it is always an architectonic marvel. Its impact is augmented, too, by the rhythmic, alliterative language that blurs the line between poetry and prose. Then there are the tropes that concretize and make vivid what would otherwise be abstract and arid philosophical discourses. Transmitted through a Gass sentence is the energy of the voice regardless of whether the topic is sex or something sublime (both usually finding their way into the same lavishly created space, giving it amplitude and heft).”

“[F]or anyone who wishes to engage the preeminent figure of the seminal movement known as metafiction, the works – the performances – of William Gass stand as the most coherent, extended, extravagant, and opulent examples of the kind of writing that scrutinizes its very creation and explores experimentally and theoretically the reasons for and values of its making.”

Of Gass’s essays, Fogel predicts that they “will probably stand as seminal statements for and about late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century culture, specifically the culture of the novel.” Fogel says that Gass, in his slim book “On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry,” is “at his erudite, irreverent best.” It’s tough to disagree with that, though just today I’ve been reading “Finding a Form” and much of it is almost too good. There have been times when I literally put the book down and shook my head.  As I did after finishing this passage, from that book’s essay titled “Simplicities”:

“How reluctantly, in the United States, have we come to recognize that civilization is refinement; that it requires leisure, judgment, taste, skill, and the patient work of a solitary mind passing itself, as though it were both a cleaner and a cleansing cloth, back and forth across an idea, back and forth until the substance of it – wood or marble or music, in syllables seeking their place in some song – back and forth until the matter of it begins to gleam deeply from its buried center, deeply where thought and thing are one, and therefore not solely from its surface, where a glitter may sometimes be glibly emitted, a glitter that comes just after a bit of light has struck, a glitter, a glit, before the beam has bounded off – a glitter, a glit – a spark, after which there will be only the light that has gone.”