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The World Within the Word: Essays

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  113 ratings  ·  10 reviews
William H. Gass, one of America's most brilliant and eclectic minds, examines literature, culture, writers, and the nature and uses of language and the written word.

In this sequel to Fiction & the Figures of Life, one of America's most brilliant and eclectic minds examines literature, culture, writers (their lives and works), and the nature and uses of language and th

Hardcover, 341 pages
Published January 1st 1978 by Alfred A. Knopf
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MJ Nicholls
Imagine being the editor of a respectable literary publication (if it helps, quote FR Leavis and take up chronic alcoholism) and receiving a book review from William H. Gass. Not only has he written the best review of a marginal publication unworthy of his masterly talents that no mortal will ever read, he has also written a scholarly essay bursting with philosophical insight, twenty pages of sumptuous pedantic analysis, and a wonderfully rich encapsulation of the author whose work is being disc...more
"The World Within The Mind"

Phew, finally finished, to use the author's favourite and tiresome stylistic technique.

True, the essays on the works by Stein, Nabokov or Lowry are written with wit and can be read with fun.

But the ones on philosophy... Well, it seems the author builds his own world, using heavy bricks such as Ideas, Digressions, Metaphors, Enumerations, walls himself in and refuses to let too many readers inside.

I've tried to find a window in the wall to enter but failed. Have you?
Jacob Wren
William H. Gass writes:

During the decline of Christian moralism few groups have risen so rapidly in the overall estimation of society [as the suicide has.] It was dangerous for Donne to suggest that suicide was sometimes not a sin. It was still daring for Hume to reason that it was sometimes not a crime. Later one had to point out that it was sometimes not simply a sickness of the soul. Now it seems necessary to argue that it is sometimes not a virtue. To paraphrase Freud, what does a suicide wa...more
Gass's stylistic tics can sometimes be annoying, all too alliterative and allusive, alarming... stringing together words like he is aimlessly shuffling an abacus. Fortunately, this abacus does produce sums, and everything flows very nicely, making this collection of reviews (mostly taken from the New York Review of Books) extremely easy and pleasant to read without sacrificing sense and depth. His essay on Stein, in particular, is wonderful (and loooong, but not without cause, and never does it...more
Mark Sacha
Having read The Tunnel, and now this, I'm still not sure where I stand on Gass. I'd read him again, but in doing so, I expect the same: promise, followed by stages of frustration, fatigue, and reaffirmation. I think the major issue is his tendency to be a bit of a windbag. It's clear that he has a deep love of words and the art of their implementation in poetry and fiction, not to mention nonfiction. In The World Within the Word, Gass puts as much aesthetic thought into the composition of essays...more
Jun 21, 2010 Rachel is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
3. "We could try to start clean. Suppose, we as composers, we had to work with hydraulic sighs and door squeaks, warning whistles, temple bells, and warhoops. WE should have, first of all to snip these unruly noises from their sources (we hear a stealthy footfall in the floor's creak), then remove them from any meanings they might have been assigned (fire, four o''clock, beep beep, watch out!) otherwise we wouldn't be composing music but sound effects."
(3.7/5.0) A few killers in here--the final essay mesmerizes. But, honestly, little Billy Gass is just too bright for his own good. Some of these, with their intense erudition, verge on unreadable status (Malcolm Lowry-- I'm looking perplexedly at you); still, as always with W.H., the language justifies the labor.
Essays about authors that committed suicide, drunkenness with a particular focus on Malcolm Lowry, Freud, sex, and sentence structure. While I love Gass' short stories and enjoyed his recent novel, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with these essays.
Nick Craske
::: review gestating :::
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William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor.

Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Warren, Ohio, where he attended local schools. He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother; critics would later cit...more
More about William H. Gass...
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“We must take our sentences seriously, which means we must understand them philosophically, and the odd thing is that the few who do, who take them with utter sober seriousness, the utter sober seriousness of right-wing parsons and political saviors, the owners of Pomeranians, are the liars who want to be believed, the novelists and poets, who know that the creatures they imagine have no other being than the sounding syllables which the reader will speak into his own weary and distracted head. There are no magic words. To say the words is magical enough.” 14 likes
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