William H. Gass: Interviewed by Greg Gerke, 2011

Published in Tin House, Winter 2012

Stephen Schenkenberg
May 4, 2014 · 68 min read

“I hate mankind. But I like people.”

Gerke: “Hate finds nothing hard,” you write in Omensetter’s Luck. In The Paris Review interview you said, “I hate. A lot. Hard.” Can you talk about this agent called hate? Is hate what gets things done in the world?

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Gass with Stanley Elkin. Courtesy of Catherine Gass.

“Comfort’s not bad, as long as you have your work.
Otherwise you just sink into the pillow.”

Gerke: I see in your work a great strain of celebration, especially demonstrated in “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” where the compendia, the references, and those flies clustering in fruit and forming a “black and moving” sleeve on the narrator—the world is electric and though love is gone, it’s all so beautiful-–bees, apples, his cat Mr. Tick “roll[ing] over on his belly, all ooze.” Not only does this story make me want to be a better writer, I also want to be a better celebrator—delighting and smiling myself silly because I live in a world of such riches and pleasures. Of course, in your essays you celebrate words and art, fine food and wine. Can you talk about the role of celebration in your work?

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Gass and photographer Michael Eastman explored abstractions in this project: http://stephenschenkenberg.com/abstractions

Once, when I was going to graduate school, I was surrounded by positivists, and one of the guys had a baby. His wife had a baby. And I said, ‘Well, how’s the baby?’ And he said, ‘It’s this long.’ That’s the positivist for you.

Gerke: In an interview at the Lannan Foundation with Michael Silverblatt, you said that in primitive times everything had its own soul. Beckett and Rilke forward this in their work, with many discourses about objects filled with being and even in The Notebooks, when Rilke describes the death of Malte’s grandfather; the death itself has its own soul. How has the world seemingly gone away from this? What happened to animism?

The Ear’s Mouth Must Move — Essential Interviews of William H. Gass

Edited by Stephen Schenkenberg, 2014 | Cover photographs by…

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