On Some Sentences of William Gass

This is a post about Omensetter’s Luck by William H. Gass. It will take the form of a bunch of scattered observations and hypotheses. But first some introduction of the perspective from which I’ve written what follows in section II, et al, and which I’ve gleaned from nearly constant perusal of Gass’s many books of essays since I discovered them a year or so ago.

After reading the essays, one has to notice at least two things: first, that Gass is radically constructivist about fictional worlds and characters; further, that he is a writer of sentences first – of scenes and stories a distant second.

As a constructivist he compares the author to God, and he relates the history of the development of the novel to the increasingly problematic question of the author’s moral relationship to the world he creates within his words. “Before us is the empty page, the deep o’er which, like God, though modestly, we brood.” The historical move from omniscient narrators, for example, into a preference for radically limited perspectives is a move as if God created a world to run according to lawful processes and then used those laws to excuse himself from responsibility for the tragedies that consequently befell his creatures. “Novels in which the novelist has effaced himself create worlds without gods.”

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Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit, 2

Kleinzeit touched the paper with the brush, drew in one smooth sweep a fat black circle, sweet and round.

That’s it, said Death. My present.

The first and, probably, recurring item that must be addressed by a reader of Kleinzeit is how to understand the Big Guys. The Big Guys are such characters as Sky, Death, Hospital, Underground/Underworld, God, Glockenspiel, Yellow Paper. Often they speak to Kleinzeit, to Sister, to Redbeard. Sometimes they do things on their own, as when Glockenspiel wonders when it will be played in the underground, before Kleinzeit has dreamed or encountered it. One way of understanding this — which Brad has broached in his post — is that Hoban is “unshackling” objects, in a sense, from their correlationist shackles: making them, simply put, characters rather than accessories and scenery. Certainly they are characters — for instance, I would say Hospital, Underground, and Death are as well-rounded as Redbeard — but I find it difficult to believe that we can understand this to be an object-oriented novel. On the contrary, I would make the case that it’s a supremely human-centered novel, one that enters the solipsistic world of those “characters” we breathe to life with our own words: when we curse the table that stubbed our toe, chat with ourselves, pray, resent the building where we lie sick, or communicate with the instrument we play best.

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