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Literature

  • ... literature is the record of our discontent.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • "The Evening Party" (1918), in Susan Dick, ed., The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf ()
  • ... literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.

  • ... bad literature of the sort called amusing is spiritual gin.

  • ... I have the conviction that excessive literary production is a social offense. ... Everyone who contributes to the 'too much' of literature is doing grave social injury.

    • George Eliot,
    • letter (1871), in J.W. Cross, ed., George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals ()
  • In many college English courses the words 'myth' and 'symbol' are given a tremendous charge of significance. You just ain't no good unless you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page. And in many creative writing courses the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them. What does this Mean? What does that Symbolize? What is the Underlying Mythos? Kids come lurching out of such courses with a brain full of gerbils.

  • The borderline between prose and poetry is one of those fog-shrouded literary minefields where the wary explorer gets blown to bits before ever seeing anything clearly. It is full of barbed wire and the stumps of dead opinions.

  • The reason literacy is important is that literature is the operating instructions. The best manual we have. The most useful guide to the country we're visiting, life.

  • Literature could be said to be a sort of disciplined technique for arousing certain emotions.

  • Of course the illusion of art is to make one believe that great literature is very close to life, but exactly the opposite is true. Life is amorphous, literature is formal.

    • Françoise Sagan,
    • in Blair Fuller and Robert B. Silvers, "Françoise Sagan, "The Art of Fiction No. 15," Paris Review ()
  • A great work of Art demands a great thought or a thought of beauty adequately expressed. — Neither in Art nor Literature more than in Life can an ordinary thought be made interesting because well-dressed.

  • Learning and literature have a way of outlasting the civilization that made them.

  • I believe all literature started as gossip.

  • Don't ask to live in tranquil times. Literature doesn't grow there.

  • Since flesh can't stay, / we pass the words along.

  • A poem (surely someone has said this before) is a one-night stand, a short story a love affair, and a novel a marriage.

  • Conflict is the soul of literature.

    • Erica Jong,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • The greatest literature is moral.

  • There is something frightful in being required to enjoy and appreciate all masterpieces; to read with equal relish Milton, and Dante, and Calderon, and Goethe, and Homer, and Scott, and Voltaire, and Wordsworth, and Cervantes, and Molière, and Swift.

  • If the national mind of America be judged of by its legislation, it is of a very high order ... If the American nation be judged of by its literature, it may be pronounced to have no mind at all.

  • ... to be honest and yet popular is almost as difficult in literature as it is in life.

  • Nothing, except the weather report or a general maxim of conduct, is so unsafe to rely upon as a theory of fiction.

  • When literature becomes deliberately indifferent to the opposition of good and evil it betrays its function and forfeits all claim to excellence.

  • Perversity is the muse of modern literature.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Camus' Notebooks" (1963), Against Interpretation ()
  • I'm not sure at all that literature should be studied on the university level. ... Why should people study books? Isn't it rather silly to study Pride and Prejudice. Either you get it or you don't.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Elizabeth Janeway, ed., The Writer's World ()
  • The writer's first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth ... and refuse to be an accomplice of lies and misinformation. Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Conscience of Words," At the Same Time ()
  • The wisdom of literature is quite antithetical to having opinions. 'Nothing is my last word about anything,' said Henry James. Furnishing opinions, even correct opinions — whenever asked — cheapens what novelists and poets do best, which is to sponsor reflectiveness, to pursue complexity. Information will never replace illumination.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Conscience of Words," At the Same Time ()
  • One task of literature is to formulate questions and construct counterstatements to the reigning pieties. And even when art is not oppositional, the arts gravitate toward contrariness. Literature is dialogue: responsiveness. Literature might be described as the history of human responsiveness to what is alive and what is moribund as cultures evolve and interact with one another.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Literature Is Freedom," At the Same Time ()
  • Literature can train, and exercise, our ability to weep for those who are not us or ours.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Literature Is Freedom," At the Same Time ()
  • ... writers are makers, not just transmitters, of myths. Literature offers not only myths but counter-myths, just as life offers counter-experiences — experiences that confound what you thought you thought, or felt, or believed.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Literature Is Freedom," At the Same Time ()
  • Exciting literature after supper is not the best digestive.

  • ... the truth is artistically fallacious.

  • Siegried Sassoon's book is a true work of art. It is an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity that excites the reader.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "'Journey's End' Again," Ending in Earnest ()
  • One handles truths like dynamite. Literature is one vast hypocrisy, a giant deception, treachery. All writers have concealed more than they revealed.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1948, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • The relation between life and literature — a final antimony — is one of mutual plagiarism.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "Inventions of I. Compton-Burnett," in Carol Brightman, Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World ()
  • ... remarks are not literature.

  • Publishers, theatrical managers, and critics ask not for the quality inherent in creative art, but will it meet with a good sale, will it suit the palate of the people? Alas, this palate is like a dumping ground; it relishes anything that needs no mental mastication. As a result, the mediocre, the ordinary, the commonplace represents the chief literary output.

    • Emma Goldman,
    • "Minorities Versus Majorities," Anarchism ()
  • When I went to school, they told me literature was a rope I must use to climb out of the dark well of unknowing. Writers are the knots on the rope.

    • Jennifer Stone,
    • "Life Styles of the Wise and Feminist," in Before Columbus Review ()
  • Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals — not a prizefight ring. We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement. Would we want one good writer or fine book less? The sense of writers being pitted against each other is bred primarily by the workings of the commercial marketplace, and by critics lauding one writer at the expense of another while ignoring the existence of nearly all.

  • Literature is a peculiarly public product of a particularly private endeavor.

    • Valerie Miner,
    • "Competition Among Feminist Writers," Rumors From the Cauldron ()
  • All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth.

  • Doesn't the theory of relativity concern literature too? In our world there is no longer any room for the privileged observer, as there is none for the observer of the universe — we are all within.

  • Fantasy is the oldest form of literature and science fiction is just a new twist on it.

  • I used to do miserably in English literature, which I thought was a sign of moral turpitude. As I look back on it, I think it was rather to my credit. The notion of actually putting writers' words into other words is quite ridiculous because why bother if writers mean what they mean, and if they don't, why read them? There is, I suppose, a case for studying literary works in depth, but I don't quite know what 'in depth' means unless you read a paragraph over and over again.

  • Fiction, on the whole, and if it is any good, tends to be a subversive element in society.

  • Fiction stretches our sensibilities and our understanding, as mere information never can.

  • Poetry, I thought then, and still do, is a matter of space on the page interrupted by a few well-chosen words, to give them importance. Prose is a less grand affair which has to stretch to the edges of the page to be convincing.

  • Literature is the lie that tells the truth ...

    • Dorothy Allison,
    • "The Exile's Return," in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • It has seemed to me that literature, as I meant it, was embattled, that it was increasingly difficult to find writing doing what I thought literature should do — which was simply to push people into changing their ideas about the world, and to go further, to encourage us in the work of changing the world, to making it more just and more truly human.

    • Dorothy Allison,
    • "Believing in Literature," in Randy Turoff, ed., Lesbian Words ()
  • Fiction is a piece of truth that turns lies to meaning.

  • ... where can one find more noble distraction, more entertaining company, more delightful enchantment, than in literature?

  • Truth is not always injured by fiction.

  • Novels, when well-written, tell you more about life than the most sophisticated computerized sociology.

  • ... that sunlight of the dead which is called literature.

  • ... the novel is inherently a political instrument, regardless of its subject. It invites you — more than invites you, induces you — to live inside another person's skin. It creates empathy. And that's the antidote to bigotry. The novel doesn't just tell you about another life, which is what a newspaper would do. It makes you live another life, inhabit another perspective. And that's very important.

  • Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what to buy, want, see, be, or believe. It’s more like conversation, raising new questions and moving you to answer them for yourself.

  • Literature is born when something in life goes slightly adrift.

  • A foreign country can best be understood through its literature.

  • Literature takes its revenge on reality by making it the slave of fiction ...

  • Literature gives us the great gift of the present moment.

  • We enjoy the great prophets of literature most when we have not yet lived enough to realize all they tell us.

  • Fortunately age does not affect literature. After a man is dead, he may continue in the business and often rank higher than his living competitors.

  • A child without an acquaintance of some kind with a classic of literature ... suffers from that impoverishment for the rest of his life. No later intimacy is like that of the first.

  • No art is sunk in the self, but rather, in art the self becomes self-forgetful in order to meet the demands of the thing seen and the thing being made.

    • Flannery O'Connor,
    • "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," in Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, ed., Mystery and Manners ()
  • There is no excuse for anyone to write fiction for public consumption unless he has been called to do so by the presence of a gift. It is the nature of fiction not to be good for much unless it is good in itself.

    • Flannery O'Connor,
    • "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," in Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, ed., Mystery and Manners ()
  • The high-school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. ... And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.

    • Flannery O'Connor,
    • "Total Effect and the Eighth Grade," in Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, ed., Mystery and Manners ()
  • It's still true that literary works by women, gays, and writers of color are often framed as specific, rather than universal, small rather than big, personal or particular rather than socially significant.

  • The answers you get from literature depend upon the questions you pose.

  • Professors of literature collect books the way a ship collects barnacles, without seeming effort. A literary academic can no more pass a bookstore than an alcoholic can pass a bar.

  • Just so long as all our literature is pervaded with the thought that women are inferior, so long will our sex be held in a low estimate.

  • No work of literature is the product of only one or two conscious ideas. A story is mysteriously dense of meaning.

  • An essay is a work of literary art which has a minimum of one anecdote and one universal idea.

  • The principle of literature is devotion to the particulars of life.

    • Carol Bly,
    • "A Gentle Education for Us All," Letters From the Country ()
  • Prose — it might be speculated — is discourse; poetry ellipsis. Prose is spoken aloud; poetry overheard. The one is presumably articulate and social, a shared language, the voice of 'communication'; the other is private, allusive, teasing, sly, idiosyncratic as the spider's delicate web, a kind of witchcraft unfathomable to ordinary minds.

    • Joyce Carol Oates,
    • "The Romance of Emily Dickinson's Poetry," (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities ()
  • ... literature is the last banquet between minds.

  • Literature may be light as a cobweb, but it must be fastened down to life at the four corners.

  • Propaganda has a bad name, but its root meaning is simply to disseminate through a medium, and all writing therefore is propaganda for something. It's a seeding of the self in the consciousness of others.

  • ... the problem of language, of the use of the medium in all its aspects, is the basic problem of any work of literature.

  • The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it ...

  • Literature is analysis after the event.

  • The most exciting periods of literature have always been those when the critics were great.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • title essay (1957), in Paul Schlueter, ed., A Small Personal Voice ()
  • Literature must spring from the deep and submerged humus of our life.

  • The great novels draw you in entirely, it seems, so that while you are reading them you forget you ever had another life. But the great short stories, in my experience, keep you balanced in mid-air, suspended somewhere between the world you normally inhabit and the world briefly illuminated by the author. You see them both at once and you feel them both at once: The emotions generated in you by the story carry over instantly and applicably to the life outside the book. This is why the best short stories can afford to be inconclusive. You, the reader, complete them by joining them back to your life — a life that, because it too is inconclusive, enables you to recognize the truth of the fictional pattern.

  • An abyss seems to have opened between the intellectual cosmopolites of culture and the people, hungry for word and meaning.

  • The highest thing one can do in literature is to succeed in saying that thing which one meant to say. There is nothing better than that — to make the world see your thoughts as you see them.

  • ... in a sense much great literature is subversive, since its very existence implies that what matters is art, imagination, and truth. In what we call the real world, on the other hand, what usually counts is money, power, and public success.

  • I try to teach my students style, but always as a part of life, not as ornament. Style has to come out of communicating coherent thought, not in sticking little flowers on speeches. Style and substance and a sense of life are the things literature is composed of. One must use one's own personality in relationship to life and language, of course, and everyone has such a relationship. Some people find it, some don't find it, but it's there.

  • a. Critics: people who make monuments out of books. b. Biographers: people who make books out of monuments. c. Poets: people who raze monuments. d. Publishers: people who sell rubble. e. Readers: people who buy it.

  • ... literature is an instrument of a culture, not a summary of it.

  • A story is an end in itself. It is not written to teach, sell, explain or destroy anything. It is not written even to entertain. It is written as a man is born — an organic whole, dictated only by its own laws and its own necessity — an end in itself, not a means to an end.

    • Ayn Rand,
    • 1944, in Michael S. Berliner, ed., Letters of Ayn Rand ()
  • I feel that when the translator is laughing, the humor will manage to get across. One of the biggest difficulties when translating David Sedaris's humor is that you laugh so hard that it is almost impossible to concentrate.

  • ... men have been in charge of according value to literature, and ... they have found the contributions of their own sex immeasurably superior.

  • Literature, fiction, poetry, whatever, makes justice in the world. That's why it almost always has to be on the side of the underdog.

    • Grace Paley,
    • in Harriet Shapiro, "Grace Paley: 'Art Is on the Side of the Underdog'," Ms. ()
  • Writers and scholars have emerged in recent times (some familiar, some new) to continue to challenge the notion of a literature that encompasses the world — and reaffirms our existence in it. It is a multicultural vision that embraces and includes our shrinking universe; it is a multicultural vision that the white man fears and a vision that the rest of us can celebrate.

    • Jessica Hagedorn,
    • in Bart Schneider, ed., Race: An Anthology in the First Person ()
  • A people's literature is the great text-book for real knowledge of them.

  • Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings ... it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes in literature.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • "On Being Ill" (1926), The Moment: And Other Essays ()
  • Literature is not only a mirror; it is a map, a geography of the mind.

  • ... motherhood is an undiscovered country in the literary sense, one we must venture into lest our experience goes unrecorded, or recorded only by men.

  • No one who loves life can ignore literature, and no one who loves literature can ignore life.