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Vivian Gornick

  • Women occupy, in great masses, the 'household tasks' of industry. They are nurses but not doctors, secretaries but not executives, researchers but not writers, workers but not managers, bookkeepers but not promoters.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "The Next Great Moment in History Is Theirs," Essays in Feminism ()
  • No man worth his salt does not wish to be a husband and father; yet no man is raised to be a husband and father and no man would ever conceive of those relationships as instruments of his prime function in life. Yet every woman is raised, still, to believe that the fulfillment of these relationships is her prime function in life and, what's more, her instinctive choice.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "The Next Great Moment in History Is Theirs," Essays in Feminism ()
  • ... the whole sickening trickery in life — the idea that one cannot fight for one's humanity without, ironically, losing it ... that trickery is the real enemy and the very essence of the thing we must continually be on our guard against.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "On the Progress of Feminism," Essays in Feminism ()
  • A people who have only just begun to emerge from a state of subjugation are in no position to be even-handed ... and it takes much patience and understanding and good will on the part of the strong ones both in the subjugated group and in the group holding the power to provide an atmosphere of stability in which the frightened bravado on both sides of the fence can dissipate itself without increasing the chaos that is already intrinsic in the situation.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "On the Progress of Feminism," Essays in Feminism ()
  • For the integrated human being there is no past: there is only the continual transformation of original experience.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "Toward a Definition of the Female Sensibility," Essays in Feminism ()
  • ... self-possession is the ability to face without fear life in all its contradictions.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "Feminist Writers," Essays in Feminism ()
  • ... for me, the beauty of feminism is that it is a social and political movement that has redefined the power and obligation of the self: self-possession and self-regulation as a tool for social reform.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "The Price of Paying Your Own Way," Essays in Feminism ()
  • The idea that money brings power and independence is an illusion. What money usually brings is the need for more money — and there is a shabby and pathetic powerlessness that comes with that need. The inability to risk new lives, new work, new styles of thought and experience, is more often than not tied to the bourgeois fear of reducing one's material standard of living. That is, indeed, to be owned by possessions, to be governed by a sense of property rather than by a sense of self.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "The Price of Paying Your Own Way," Essays in Feminism ()
  • Awareness of the self is more acutely at the heart of things than it has ever been before. On the foundation of self-awareness alone rest all our hopes for a new politics, a new society, a revitalized life. If we do not genuinely know ourselves, the void will now, at last, surely rise up to meet us.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "Why Do These Men Hate Women?" Essays in Feminism ()
  • To do science today is to experience a dimension unique in contemporary working lives; the work promises something incomparable: the sense of living both personally and historically. That is why science now draws to itself all kinds of people — charlatans, mediocrities, geniuses — everyone who wants to touch the flame, feel alive to the time.

  • Research is the live heart of the scientific life ... Greatness of position, respect for past accomplishments, the Nobel Prize itself — none of these can compensate for the loss of vitality only research provides.

  • Scientists do what writers do. They also live with an active interiority, only the ongoing speculation in their heads is about relations in the physical world rather than the psychological one.

  • Whatever a scientist is doing — reading, cooking, talking, playing — science thoughts are always there at the edge of the mind. They are the way the world is taken in; all that is seen is filtered through an everpresent scientific musing.

  • ... a scientist or a writer is one who ruminates continuously on the nature of physical or imaginative life, experiences repeated relief and excitement when the insight comes, and is endlessly attracted to working out the idea.

  • Science, like art, religion, political theory, or psychoanalysis — is work that holds out the promise of philosophic understanding, excites in us the belief that we can 'make sense of it all.'

  • Papa's love did indeed have wondrous properties: it not only compensated for her boredom and anxiety, it was the cause of her boredom and anxiety.

  • Widowhood provided Mama with a higher form of being. In refusing to recover from my father's death she had discovered that her life was endowed with a seriousness her years in the kitchen had denied her. She remained devoted to this seriousness for thirty years. She never tired of it, never grew bored or restless in its company, found new ways to keep alive the interest it deserved and had so undeniably earned.

  • ... he discovered therapy, and psychoanalysis became the great drama of his life. He absorbed its language and its insights in much the same way that he read great literature: he became wise in a vacuum.

  • His intelligence was like a piece of railroad track severed at either end from the main connection, with a single train car riding back and forth between stations, imitating motion and journey.

  • We cannot depend on change, but we can depend on surprise. However, we cannot always depend on surprise either. This keeps us on our toes.

  • When I work I feel more alive than under any other circumstances. There's not an 'I love you' in the world that can match it. I feel safe, excited, at peace, erotic, centered. Nothing can touch me.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • in Donna Perry, ed., Backtalk ()
  • ... in New York there's such diversity that there's no one central identity; everyone is marginal.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • in Donna Perry, ed., Backtalk ()
  • The telephone conversation is, by its very nature, reactive, not reflective. Immediacy is its prime virtue. ... The letter, written in absorbed solitude, is an act of faith: it assumes the presence of humanity: world and self are generated from within: loneliness is courted, not feared. To write a letter is to be alone with my thoughts in the conjured presence of another person. I keep myself imaginative company. I occupy the empty room.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "Letters Are Acts of Faith," in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • How dominating is appetite, how enveloping immediate experience! Even the philosophically minded among us capitulate, ultimately, to the narrowest sense of personal need. Political time moves at a snail's pace because it is only with nearly insurmountable difficulty that moral discomfort takes root in the best of people, forcing an imperative out of a complaint; so viscerally repugnant is it for a critical mass to find the prevailing system unbearable, much less prepare to take up arms against it.

    • Vivian Gornick,
    • "The Book That Started a War," L.A. Times Book Review ()
  • The point of women's liberation is not to stand at the door of the male world, beating our fists, and crying, 'Let me in, damn you, let me in!' The point is to walk away from the world and concentrate on creating a new woman.

    • Vivian Gornick

Vivian Gornick, U.S. writer, critic

(1935)