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The Art Of Fiction: On Writing And Revenge

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mkarmstr:

[Thomas LeClair] Have you spent a good part of your writing life getting even?

[William 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 that 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 I write about Colette, as I am now, my appreciation will be shaped by the sap-tongued idiots who don’t perceive her excellence. I also take considerable pleasure in giving obnoxious ideas the best expression I can. But getting even isn’t necessarily vicious.

There are two ways of getting even: one is destructive and the other is restorative. It depends on how the scales are weighed. Justice, I think, is the word I want.

— William Gass, in The Paris Review [no.65 | PDF]

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