The gentle Turgenev (and one of our masters, surely, if we love this arrogantly modest art), writing about Fathers and Children—writing about himself—said: ‘Only the chosen few are able to transmit to posterity not only the content but also the form of their thoughts, and views, their personality, which, generally speaking, is of no concern to the masses.’ The form. That is what the long search is for; because form, as Aristotle has instructed us, the soul itself, the life in any thing, and of any immortal thing the whole. It is the B in being. The chosen few … the happy few … that little band of brothers … Well, the chosen cannot choose themselves, however they connive at it.
—William H. Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (preface).
Amend my misliving. And everything in me then said: I want to be like that—like that aching phrase. So, oddly at a time when no one any longer allowed reading or writing to give them face, place, or history, I was forced to form myself from sounds and syllables: not merely my soul, as we used to say, but guts too, a body I knew was mine because, in response to the work which became whatever of me there was, it angrily ulcerated.
I read with the hungry rage of a forest balze.
I wanted to be a fireman, I recall, but by eight I’d given up that very real cliché for an equally unreal one: I wanted to be a writer.
… a what? Well, a writer wasn’t whatever Warren was. A writer was whatever Malory was when he wrote down his ee’s: mine heart will not serve me to see thee. And that’s what I wanted to be—a string of stresses.
… a what?
The contemporary American writer is in no way a part of the social and political scene. He is therefore not muzzled, for no one fears his bite; nor is he called upon to compose. Whatever work he does must proceed from a reckless inner need. The world does not beckon, nor does it greatly reward. This is not a boast or a complaint. It is a fact. Serious writing must nowadays be written for the sake of the art. The condition I describe is not extraordinary. Certain scientists, philosophers, historians, and many mathematicians do the same, advancing their causes as they can. One must be satisfied with that.
—William H. Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (preface)