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Writers On Writers

Anthony Powell_Beryl Bainbridge_Jack Kerouac_Virginia Woolf_William Blake_Ernest Hemingway_William Faulkner_ Rebecca West_William Shakespeare_John Updike

“Important novelists often say that writing a novel is hard. I think Anthony Powell said it was like conducting foreign policy—that you have to be prepared to go and do it every day no matter how you feel.”
James Salter

“Beryl Bainbridge understood the absurdity of life and how humour lurks in even the most tragic situation.”
Deborah Moggach

“Jack Kerouac influenced me quite a bit as a writer . . . in the Arab sense that the enemy of my enemy was my friend.”
Hunter S. Thompson

“There was a period in my early career that was determined by the images of women writers I was exposed to—women writers as genius suicides like Virginia Woolf.”
Margaret Atwood

“Blake’s poetry has the unpleasantness of great poetry.”
T. S Eliot

“In writing She Came to Stay, I was certainly influenced by Hemingway insofar as it was he who taught us a certain simplicity of dialogue and the importance of the little things in life.”
Simone de Beauvoir

“I find Faulkner intolerably bad.”
Evelyn Waugh

“Rebecca West’s novel The Fountain Overflows taught me a lot.”
Andrea Barrett

“Every year or so I read Shakespeare straight through.”
P.G. Wodehouse

“Updike is a master of effortless motion — between third and first person, from the metaphorical density of literary prose to the demotic, from specific detail to wide generalisation, from the actual to the numinous, from the scary to the comic.”
Ian McEwan

Sources: Bartleby, The Independent, The Paris Review, Wikiquote


Charlie Campbell: Keeps the reader amused, informed and regaled

“This is essentially a book about stupidity,” Charlie Campbell writes in the introduction to Scapegoat, his book about the cultural history of blame. In the book, Campbell explores a particular kind of human stupidity, the kind “that hits us after disaster, when we single out one person for blame, and hold them responsible for everything”. This practice, Campbell says, extends to almost everything from world-changing disasters to personal failures, the one thing that doesn’t vary is our need find someone or something to blame. “Marx blamed the capitalist system,” writes Campbell, “Dawkins religion. And Freud thought it all came down to sex. Larkin blamed our parents, Akins the potato and Mohamed Al-Fayed still says it’s all Prince Philips fault.” The subject of Campbell’s book could very easily grow wearisome, but the writer is impressively erudite and tells many an interesting story with flair and enthusiasm, which lends itself immediately to the reader. Campbell’s consideration of scapegoating commences with the word’s derivation (coined by William Tyndale in his 1530 translation of the bible to describe a Jewish Day of Atonement ritual, which included the sacrificing of two goats) and concludes with one of the most hapless instances of the practice in history (an innocent man convicted and hanged for the Great Fire of London), with numerous riveting facts and anecdotes along the way.

One might wonder about the importance of the subject, but in fact as Campbell points out, “the ritual of scapegoat goes back right to the beginning of mankind”. It is also something that has bound different cultures and religious denominations throughout the ages; this idea that “sin was a definitive entity that could be transferred from being to being or object and that wrongdoing could be washed away”. Campbell goes on to illustrate this point by citing similar absolution rituals from various beliefs systems  and societies, and shows how over time the animal scapegoat came to be replaced by a human one, which makes for very interesting reading. The book contains a chapter on animal prosecutions, which Campbell points out is one of the instances when human stupidity excels itself. The writer gives some hair-raising examples of animals being put on trial for such crimes as homicide and sorcery. “In Falaise, Normandy, in 1386 a sow was charged with killing and infant… ” writes Campbell, “In Bale in 1474 an old cock was put in the dock, accused of laying an egg…[and]…There was a case in 1478 in Switzerland involving an insect known as inger, which was devastating the local crop. ” For a time this practice also applied to inanimate objects. Indeed.

In order to understand our need to always find a culprit, Campbell looks to the nature of man “essentially a meaning seeking creature” incapable of accepting the fact that “much of life is inexplicable”.He goes on to show  how we use “myth, art and religion” to try and makes sense of seemingly arbitrary events . “Through them,” he writes, “we tell stories to dispel this frightening notion that the universe is a violent and senseless place where anything can and will happen to us. We listen most carefully to those who tell us that this isn’t actually the case, to those who can offer and explanation. And this all too often turns into blame. Blame tells the most comforting story, one in which there is a villain who seeks to thwart us, the heroes, at every turn.” Our need for explanation is thus directly connected to our fear of the unknown. This fear has been written about for decades, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s narrator in Demons, for example, described it as “the gravest, most tortuous fear of something I cannot define, something unknowable and absent from the order of things”. This was also the topic Friedrich Nietzsche gave some consideration to in Twilight of the Idols. “To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating,” he wrote, “soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown – the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none.”  This “cause-creating drive,” as Nietzsche referred to it, “conditioned and excited by the feeling of fear” is something that Campbell traces back through history to show how it has led man to find solace in the scapegoat, a usually innocent thing or person “demonised to justify persecution” and to bestow on the act an “illusion of rationality”.

But of course there is nothing rational about it, certainly not the different prototypes of scapegoat. Campbell identifies the following: literal, religious, communist, financial, sexual and medical, all of which have their own purposes and causes. The Christian scapegoat, for example, says Campbell, serves to rationalise evil and “to account for the terrible things that happen in the world”. This is because the religious establishment cannot otherwise justify their putatively omnipotent deity’s failure to safeguard humanity from tragedy and misfortune. The devil is therefore identified as the responsible offender, but this is a rather flawed philosophy because “if we cannot accept the idea that there is evil in our God, there is a danger that we will not be able to endure it in ourselves”. The Communist scapegoat, however, surpasses even the religious one. “Totalitarian regimes moved it up a gear,” writes Campbell, “the self-styled perfect form of government could not be seen to brook any form of failure and so it appointed blame with extraordinary ferocity. They used propaganda to create and enemy, demonising them…creating the idea of this shadowy force responsible for every mishap.” But the worst of these is the Sexual scapegoat; an appellation ascribed to women who were believed to be witches and the trials of whom, Campbell says, serve as “the most spectacular and disturbing examples of blame being misdirected onto the vulnerable,”  tens of thousands of whom were burned, hanged and drowned in Europe in the Middle Ages.

The writer of this slight but comprehensive book has certainly done his research. Every chapter and idea is carefully consider and conveyed, with great historical, social and cultural insight. Campbell skilfully carries the subject from past to present day, where scapegoating seems to be flourishing more than ever because “we are faced with more choice than before” thus “we have a greater number of things to blame”. This notion that evil forces conspire against us has always been a popular one but never more so than in the age of internet and conspiracy theory. And let’s not forget that “every conspiracy theory has a victim”. Campbell chooses one of the most disheartening examples of victimisation in history to show the scapegoating practice at its worst. In 1870, a young French army officer by the name of Alfred Dreyfus was suspected of spying for the Germans. The accusations were based on conjecture but Dreyfus was imprisoned, tortured, his name smeared, largely due to his “Jewishness and family wealth” . Eventually, Dreyfus was cleared of the charges but even after being released from prison he remained a popular figure of blame and died a very unhappy man, after a very unhappy life.  Scapegoat is a marvellous little book written by a fine raconteur, who keeps the reader amused, informed and regaled throughout.

Publisher: Duckworth 
Publication Date: October 2012
Paperback: 208 pages
ISBN: 9780715643785

Writers On Writers

“The only one capable of inventing heroes was Bernard Shaw.”
Jorge Luis Borges

“Keynes’s intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool.”
Bertrand Russell

“Fitzgerald was a better just-plain writer than all of us put together.”
John O’Hara

“Schopenhauer’s saying, that ‘a man can do as he will, but not will as he will,’ has been an inspiration to me since my youth up, and a continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the hardships of life, my own and others’.”
Albert Einstein

“Gertrude Stein, all courage and will, is a soldier of minimalism.”
Elizabeth Hardwick

“Lord Byron makes man after his own image, woman after his own heart; the one is a capricious tyrant, the other a yielding slave.”
William Hazlitt

“George Orwell was the wintry conscience of a generation which in the thirties had heard the call of the rasher assumptions of political faith. He was a kind of saint and, in that character, more likely in politics to chastise his own side than the enemy.”
V. S. Pritchett

“We will never be finished with the reading or rereading of Hegel.”
Jacques Derrida

“I wonder now what Ernest Hemingway’s dictionary looked like, since he got along so well with dinky words that everybody can spell and truly understand.”
Kurt Vonnegut

“The genius of Coleridge is like a sunken treasure ship, and Coleridge a diver too timid and lazy to bring its riches to the surface.”
Hugh Kingsmill

Source: Wikipedia

Writers On Writers

“Of all German writers, it is Goethe to whom I owe most, who occupies me most, claims my attention, encourages me, who forces me to emulation or opposition.”
Hermann Hesse

“O’Neill had a terrible problem with alcohol. Most writers do.”
Tennessee Williams

“Anthony Trollope trained himself to turn out forty-nine pages of manuscript a week, seven pages a day, and he was so rigorous about keeping to that exact number of pages that if he finished a novel halfway through the last day, he’d write the title of a new book and ‘Chapter One’ on the next page and go right on until he’d done his proper quota of seven pages.”
Malcolm Cowley

“I don’t think I knew what real poetry was till I read Keats a couple of years ago.”
Isaac Rosenberg

“When William Blake says something, I say thank you, even though he has uttered the most hopeless fallacy that you can imagine.”
John Berryman

“I’ve always thought that MacNeice had limitations of temperament. He sometimes seems to be writing a jazzy, crazy kind of poetry, but when you look closer you realise that it’s always perfectly controlled. Inside MacNeice there was always an academic scholar pulling in the rein.”
Stephen Spender

“The trouble began with Forster. After him it was considered ungentlemanly to write more than five or six novels.”
Anthony Burgess

“I think that Brecht was a good producer, but not really a poet or a dramatist, except in his early plays.”
Eugène Ionesco

“I like Colette a great deal—I’ve learned a lot from the way she uses herself as a character in her own books and tantalizes the reader with the question: Is this autobiography or is it fiction?”
Edmund White

“As an undergraduate at Syracuse University I discovered Nietzsche, and it may be the Nietzschean influence that characterizes some of my work.”
Joyce Carol Oates

Sources: The Paris Review, Brainy Quote

Writers On Writers

“The trouble with Freudian psychology is that it is based exclusively on a study of the sick. Freud never met a healthy human being—only patients and other psychoanalysts. “
Aldous Huxley

“I don’t know what service I provided for Cheever except to be delighted with his work.”
William Maxwell

“Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo.”
Jean Cocteau

“I’ve tried to read Proust so often, and I recognize the beauty of his style, but he puts me to sleep.”

Ray Bradbury

“Nabokov is a natural dandy on the grand international scale.”
Anthony Burgess

“Ezra was right half the time, and when he was wrong, he was so wrong you were never in any doubt about it.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Descartes spent far too much time in bed subject to the persistent hallucination that he was thinking.”
Flann O’Brien

“What writers influenced me as a young man? Chekhov! As a dramatist? Chekhov! As a story writer? Chekhov!”
Tennessee Williams

“Only a technique like Faulkner’s could have enabled me to write down what I was seeing.”
García Márquez

“Beckett destroys language with silence.”
Eugène Ionesco

Sources: The Paris Review, Brainy Quote 

Writers on Writers

“Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon.”
Truman Capote

“I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.”
Charles Darwin

“I think I have a more poetical mind than Butler’s.”
E.M Forster

“As great a poet as Dante might have been, I wouldn’t have had the slightest wish to have known him personally.”
W.H Auden

After Proust there are certain things that simply cannot be done again.”
Francoise Sagan

“Dumas: that extraordinary old gentleman, who sat down and thought nothing of writing six volumes of The Count of Monte Cristo in a few months.”
Aldous Huxley

“De Sade is the one completely consistent and thoroughgoing revolutionary of history.”
Aldous Huxley

“I think that Hemingway made real discoveries about the use of language in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. I admired the way he made drunk people talk.”
Evelyn Waugh

“Old age realises the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.”
Søren Kierkegaard

“It’s unthinkable not to love – you’d have a severe nervous breakdown. Or you’d have to be Philip Larkin.”
Lawrence Durrell

Sources: The Paris Review, Goodreads 

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