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Gass, William H(oward) 1924–

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An American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and philosopher, Gass considers his work to continue the tradition of the Symbolist poets. His is an intense and experimental fiction, which gives close attention to novelistic style and structure as well as to the words themselves. The use of typographical devices and inventive metaphors together with an often philosophical tone colors Gass's work with a marked poetic quality. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

Gore Vidal

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Gass's essays are often eerily good. At his best, he can inhabit a subject in a way that no other critic now writing can do (see, in particular, his commentaries on Gertrude Stein). (p. 108)

Like many good books, Omensetter's Luck is not easy to describe. What one comes away with is the agreeable memory of a flow of language that ranges from demotic Midwest … to incantatory…. (p. 109)

The stories in In the Heart of the Heart of the Country seem to me to be more adventurous and often more successful than the novel. "The Pedersen Kid" is beautiful work. In a curious way the look of those short sentences on pages uncluttered with quotation marks gives the text a visual purity and coldness that perfectly complements the subject of the story, and compels the reader to know the icy winter at the country's heart. In most of these stories the prevailing image is winter…. At actual zero degree, Gass, perversely, blazes with energy.

The title story is the most interesting of the collection. Despite a sign or two that the French virus may have struck: "as I write this page, it is eleven days since I have seen the sun," the whole of the story (told in fragments) is a satisfying description of the world the narrator finds himself in, and he makes art of the quotidian…. (p. 110)

Gass's problem as an artist is not so much his inability to come up with some brand-new Henry Ford-type invention that will prove to be a breakthrough in world fiction (this is never going to happen) as what he calls his weak point—a lack of dramatic gift—which is nothing more than low or rather intermittent energy. He can write a dozen passages in which the words pile up without effect. Then, suddenly, the current, as it were, turns on again and the text comes to beautiful life (in a manner of speaking of course … who does not like a living novel? particularly one that is literate). (pp. 110-11)

Gore Vidal, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1974 Nyrev, Inc.), July 15, 1974 (and reprinted in his Matters of Fact and of Fiction: Essays 1973–1976, Random House, 1977).

Jeffrey Maitland

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In [On Being Blue] poetics and philosophy pull apart, emerge from, and re-enter each other in eros—primordial blueness. Poetry at its best, at its bluest, does not paint images of sexual acts, but with reverential attentiveness to the being of language, makes language present as lovers make themselves present to each other. Philosophical thinking at its best, blue reason, attains concepts in the same way. The erotic logos of lived-through-thought reaches its conclusions and insights not through the constipated step-by-step-premise-to-conclusion-thinking represented by academic philosophy but with the multifaceted and multi-directional vitality of life lived to its fullest.

Blue is not simply a word or symbol that designates the color blue or some interior mental state; it is a mode of being in and of that which is. It is a mode of being around which Gass hopes "to wind my Quink-stained mouth" thereby aiming at making flesh word. The site of On Being Blue is primordial blueness. On Being Blue is at once the poetic performance and display of the very site into which it inquires philosophically. To be...

(The entire section contains 2161 words.)

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Gass, William H(oward) (Vol. 1)


Gass, William H(oward) (Vol. 15)