William H. Gass: Interviewed by Stephen Schenkenberg, 2009

Not previously published

Stephen Schenkenberg
May 4, 2014 · 31 min read

“So Gaddis called me—called me the day he died, and I missed the phone call. I had immense respect for his work. I’m very arrogant about my tastes, and I knew this guy was just fantastic, and that these books were, you know, what they were.”

Gass: It started out as sort of an assignment. During the time of the greatest student trouble, when I was teaching at Purdue, there were a bunch of students who were in the philosophy department, who were also active in the student newspaper. One actually got his name and picture in Life or some place like that. And he used bad words, in one of his articles or something. And everybody said, ‘It’s because Gass…” And I don’t know why they thought that—I certainly didn’t use them in class much. So somebody finally asked me if I’d write a piece on language. So I did write a piece. And I gave it as a lecture.

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At the Great Wall of China, 1984. Photo by Mary Gass, courtesy of Catherine Gass.
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With William Gaddis at 73rd Street Books, New York, 1984. Photo by Mary Gass, courtesy of Catherine Gass.

“I’m not reading for pleasure.
That went out a long time ago. And it’s a great loss.”

Schenkenberg: I want to talk a little about books. In 1990, you were able to put together The Temple of Texts, which at that point showed you’d read a significant amount of what’s out there to be read, in terms of fiction and there was some philosophy in there. What’s your reading life been like these past five years, ten years? Are you doing a lot of returning to books, or are you finding new things?

“I love musicals. I love when the action stops
so that the language can take over.”

Schenkenberg: Shifting gears a bit, during one of our previous conversations it was interesting to hear you talk about, out of the blue, Deadwood. You’d been watching the show on DVD. I wondered what kinds of TV or film or series you’ve taken great pleasure in catching up on.

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

Edited by Stephen Schenkenberg, 2014 | Cover photographs by…

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