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Book cover of Temple of Texts

Temple of Texts

by William H. Gass

Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
Pages: 418
Paperback
ISBN: 9781564784681






Available to Buy

Overview of Temple of Texts

From one of the most admired essayists and novelists at work today: a new collection of essays—his first since Tests of Time, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

These twenty-five essays speak to the nature and value of writing and to the books that result from a deep commitment to the word. Here is Gass on Rilke and Gertrude Stein; on friends such as Stanley Elkin, Robert Coover, and William Gaddis; and on a company of “healthy dissidents,” among them Rabelais, Elias Canetti, John Hawkes, and Gabriel García Márquez.

In the title essay, Gass offers an annotated list of the fifty books that have most influenced his thinking and his work and writes about his first reaction to reading each. Among the books: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (“A lightning bolt,” Gass writes. “Philosophy was not dead after all. Philosophical ambitions were not extinguished. Philosophical beauty had not fled prose.”) . . . Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (“A man after my own heart. He is capable of the simplest lyrical stroke, as bold and direct as a line by Matisse, but he can be complex in a manner that could cast Nabokov in the shade . . . Shakespeare may have been smarter, but he did not know as much.”) . . . Gustave Flaubert’s letters (“Here I learned—and learned—and learned.”) And after reading Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Gass writes “I began to eat books like an alien worm.”

In the concluding essay, “Evil,” Gass enlarges upon the themes of artistic quality and cultural values that are central to the books he has considered, many of which seek to reveal the worst in people while admiring what they do best.
As Gass writes, “The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words.”

A Temple of Texts is Gass at his most alchemical.

Synopsis of Temple of Texts

From one of the most admired essayists and novelists at work today: a new collection of essays—his first since Tests of Time, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

These twenty-five essays speak to the nature and value of writing and to the books that result from a deep commitment to the word. Here is Gass on Rilke and Gertrude Stein; on friends such as Stanley Elkin, Robert Coover, and William Gaddis; and on a company of “healthy dissidents,” among them Rabelais, Elias Canetti, John Hawkes, and Gabriel García Márquez.

In the title essay, Gass offers an annotated list of the fifty books that have most influenced his thinking and his work and writes about his first reaction to reading each. Among the books: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (“A lightning bolt,” Gass writes. “Philosophy was not dead after all. Philosophical ambitions were not extinguished. Philosophical beauty had not fled prose.”) . . . Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (“A man after my own heart. He is capable of the simplest lyrical stroke, as bold and direct as a line by Matisse, but he can be complex in a manner that could cast Nabokov in the shade . . . Shakespeare may have been smarter, but he did not know as much.”) . . . Gustave Flaubert’s letters (“Here I learned—and learned—and learned.”) And after reading Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Gass writes “I began to eat books like an alien worm.”

In the concluding essay, “Evil,” Gass enlarges upon the themes of artistic quality and cultural values that are central to the books he has considered, many of which seek to reveal the worst in people while admiring what they do best.
As Gass writes, “The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words.”

A Temple of Texts is Gass at his most alchemical.

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda

Here then, my friends, is a true Temple of Texts . Let us lift up our hearts with gladness before every page, and rejoice

About the Author, William H. Gass

William H. Gass—essayist, novelist, literary critic—was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He has been the recipient of the first PEN/Nabokov Award, the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamondstein Award for the Art of the Essay, three National Book Critic Circle Awards for Criticism, a Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, the Award for Fiction and the Medal of Merit for Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations. He lives in St. Louis.

Reviews of Temple of Texts

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Editorials

Michael Dirda

Here then, my friends, is a true Temple of Texts . Let us lift up our hearts with gladness before every page, and rejoice
— The Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

Gass loves words. His prose is extravagant, lush, sometimes overly florid (as when he talks of Flann O'Brien's death on "the first Fools' Day of April, 1966"), and in this new collection, his words have a tendency to get in the way of his subject matter. Which is a shame, because Gass, a novelist and award-winning critic, writes about books and authors often ignored by mainstream readers: Rabelais, Robert Burton, Elias Canetti. Then again, Gass doesn't write for the mainstream. He is the strangest of academic amalgams: a self-professed lover of the avant-garde as represented by Gertrude Stein, Flann O'Brien and Robert Coover, while at the same time he extols the virtues of what he calls "the classics." His definition of classic is, to be sure, expansive, but he applies an old-fashioned standard to all literature, declaring the need for those classics as the basis for a varied literary diet. Despite the occasional gem, such as a touching, if rambling, tribute to William Gaddis, the essays often devolve into little more than a brief synopsis of plot. This volume is appropriately titled, because Gass approaches his subjects reverently, but as in a temple, the service depends as much on the ritual of devotion as on innovation in thought. (Feb. 20) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal

Essayist, novelist, and literary critic Gass (Tests of Time), three-time winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, here offers 25 essays on the art of writing. Regardless of his subjects, which range from luminaries such as Rainer Maria Rilke to relatively obscure authors like Flann O'Brien, Gass writes with spellbinding passion. In "Fifty Literary Pillars," he identifies those works that have had the most profound impact on him, often revealing more about himself than about the works he is discussing. He is a man who loves the written word both for what it says and for how it sounds; books that to some might be challenging or confusing sing to him. In "A Defense of the Book," Gass articulates the importance of books and libraries to a free society. No one who reads "The Sentence Seeks Its Form" will likely ever read or write a sentence again without appreciating its glorious power. Gass shares his lifelong love affair with books as well as his insights into the nature of humankind, religion, and art in a work that is likely to earn him his fourth NBCC Award. Recommended for academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]-Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

A learned potpourri of fulminations and enthusiasms from the indefatigably stylish novelist, teacher and critic. If Gass's first three essays don't hook you, you probably aren't an inveterate work freak and won't declare this lively book a worthy companion to its author's several prize-winning essay collections (such as The World Within the Word and Tests of Time). In an utterly perfect introductory essay, Gass sings the praises of multiplicity, contradiction and polyphony in literature, urging readers to become, above all else, omnivorous ("The healthy mind goes everywhere"). "Influence" rambles engagingly about the title phenomenon's central relationship to artistic creation, meanwhile tossing off witty aphorisms with imperturbable ease. "Fifty Literary Pillars" then offers concise tributes to literary and philosophical works that have influenced Gass, acknowledging consensus classics and drawing attention to comparative arcana (Beckett's How It Is, Colette's Break of Day, Gaston Bachelard's phenomenological treatise The Poetics of Space). A well-fed yet ceaselessly hungry mind is hunting and gathering, here and in subsequent celebrations-of Renaissance masters Erasmus and Rabelais, unparalleled antiquarian Robert Burton (whose Anatomy of Melancholy is a vast treasure-trove of beguiling eccentricities), Latin America's magical realists, Gertrude Stein's annoyingly innovative prose experiments and Robert Coover's abrasive political novel The Public Burning. Gass loves Dickens's verbal energy, Henry James's stentorian complexity, postmodernist intellectuals and philosophical clowns-almost as much as he scorns hypertext ("The information highway has no destination, and the sense of travelit provides is pure illusion"). Three very different masters receive special attention: manic rhetorician Stanley Elkin, underrated satirist William Gaddis (Gass writes amusingly about being persistently mistaken for him) and the great German poet Rilke (evidently Gass's favorite writer). Don't skim any of these ebullient pages, which offer a seductive mixture of analytical precision and colloquial chutzpah.

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