william gass on why he writes



INTERVIEWER


Have you spent a good part of your writing life getting even?

GASS


Yes . . . yes. Getting even is one great reason for writing. The precise statement of the motive is tricky, but the clearest expression of my unwholesome nature and my mean motives (apart from trying to write well) appears in a line I like in “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.” The character says, “I want to rise so high that when I shit I won’t miss anybody.” But maybe I say it’s a motive because I like the line. Anyway, my work proceeds almost always from a sense of aggression. And usually I am in my best working mood when I am, on the page, very combative, very hostile. That’s true even when I write to praise, as is often the case . . .


. . . If someone asks me, “Why do you write?” I can reply by pointing out that it is a very dumb question. Nevertheless, there is an answer. I write because I hate. A lot. Hard. And if someone asks me the inevitable next dumb question, ‘Why do you write the way you do?’ I must answer that I wish to make my hatred acceptable because my hatred is much of me, if not the best part. Writing is a way of making the writer acceptable to the world — every cheap, dumb, nasty thought, every despicable desire, every noble sentiment, every expensive taste. There isn’t very much satisfaction in getting the world to accept and praise you for things the world is prepared to praise. The world is prepared to praise only shit. One wants to make sure that the complete self, with all its qualities, is not just accepted but approved … not just approved — whoopeed.


—from “William Gass, The Art of Fiction No. 65.” Interviewed by Thomas LeClair. The Paris Review. Issue 70, Summer 1977.

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