November 2008


I tell them to get an exercise book.. If you haven’t got any ideas just copy out something that you’ve liked in someone else’s book… But copying is what artitsts do; it’s often how they start, I think. And, I know (if) because I still use a pen quite a lot, I know that if I copy something out, there’s a sense that, you’re sensing with, sensing with your body the sort’ve joints of the sentence and how the, the weight of the sentence is gathered and carried and how it’s kind’ve slung from one end of the sentence structure to another. That always gives me a great deal of pleasure. You have to write slowly, and you can see how it’s done, even though you don’t know how to do it — but you can — you can see the joints of the thing.

– Transcribed from ABC Radio National coverage of Sydney Writers’ Festival 2008, Helen Garner

By putting the onus on the reader to determine which lines are spoken and which not, the quoteless fad feeds the widespread conviction that popular fiction is fun while literature is arduous. Surely what should distinguish literature isn’t that it’s hard but that it’s good. The text should be as easy to process as possible, saving the readers’ effort for exercising imagination and keeping track of the plot.


Explaining why she writes without quotes, British novelist Julie Myerson asserts, “In my experience of the world, there are no marks separating out what I think and what I say, or what other people do.” Yet when the exterior is put on a par with the interior, everything becomes interior. What is conveyed is an insidious solipsism. When thinking, speaking and describing all blend together, the textual tone levels to a drone. The drama seems to be melting.

Missing the Mark, Lionel Shriver

I articulated my inability to understand this feeling of lack of control. Surely we all dealt with and reconciled ourselves to a life many of whose features were out of control. It was part of living in a world full of other people with other interests. I was close to wetting my pants again.

No, that wasn’t it. Such a general feeling of dislocation would not be a problem. The problem was a localised feeling. An intuition that her own personal perceptions and actions and volitions were not under her control.

What did `control` mean?

Who knew.

Was this a religious thing? A deterministic crisis? I had had a friend…

No. Determinism would be fine if she were able to feel that what determined her was something objective, impersonal, that she were just a ting part of a large mechanism. If she didn’t feel as though she were being used.


Yes. As if what she did and said and perceived and thought were having some sort of… function beyond herself.

Function. Alarm Bells. Dr. Jay, after all. A plot thing.

The Broom of the System (ch. 5, /a/), David Foster Wallace 

Grotesquerie le regarder (2002), Brent Harris

`Well, a second-order vain person is first of all a vain person.  He’s vain about his intelligence, and wants people to think he’s smart. Or his appearance, and wants people to think he’s attractive. Or, say, his sense of humour, and wants everyone to think he’s amusing and witty. Or his talent, and wants everyone to think he’s talented. Et cetera.  You know what a vain person is.`


Just a feeling (no. 2) (1996), Brent Harris

`A vain person is concerned that people not perceive him as stupid, or dull, or ugly, et cetera et cetera.`


`Now a second-order vain person is a vain person who’s also vain about appearing to have an utter lack of vanity.  Who’s enormously afraid that other people will perceive him as vain. A second-order vain person will sit up late learning jokes in order to appear funny and charming, but will deny that he sits up late learning jokes. Or he’ll perhaps even try to give the impression that he doesn’t regard himself as funny at all.` 


– The Broom of the System (ch. 2), David Foster Wallace

The Tree of Crows, Caspar David Friedrich (1822)

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant proffesor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantine and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and off-beat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant loosing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.


I don’t know what I ate, but I felt immensely better after the first mouthful. It occurred to me that my vision of the fig tree and all the fat figs that withered and fell to the earth might well have arisen from the profound void of an empty stomach.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Conviction without experience makes for harshness.

– Flannery O’Connor



When the visit was returned, Emma made up her mind. She could then see more and judge better. From Harriet’s happening not to be at Hartfield, and her father’s being present to engage Mr. Elton, she had a quarter of an hour of the lady’s conversation to herself and could composedly attend to her; and the quarter of an hour quite convinced her that Mrs. Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she meant to shine an be very superior; but with manners that had been formed in a bad school — pert and familiar; that all her notions were drawn from one set of people and one style of living; that if not foolish, she was ignorant; and that her society would certainly do Mr. Elton no good.

Emma, Jane Austen

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