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The World Within the Word

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  240 ratings  ·  19 reviews
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 the written word. Included are discussions of Valéry, Henry Miller, Sartre, Freud, Faulkner, suicide, "art and order," and the transformation of language into poetry and fi ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 24th 2000 by Basic Books (first published 1978)
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MJ Nicholls
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: merkins, non-fiction
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
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

There are only three kinds of Gass essay, and perhaps a fourth could be placed between the first two if you like for those cases where you can’t quite decide. There are, in the first place, those essays in which he covers a topic of earnest interest to you the individual reader with your own particular agendas and orientations (Stein, Lowry, Faulkner, Colette, Proust, Nabokov, Freud with a dash of Burton) and there are those occasional essays in which he deals with stuff you either don’t give a
Simon Robs
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Honestly, these essays mostly about writers whom I assume Gass admired, soared unreachable (to me) above and beyond my ken. I gathered bits/pieces of what he (I think) was driving at, but alas no coalescing synergy prevailed. So, how should (I) this book find a home with other readers with whom may derive meaning/value commensurate with time/effort invested in reading? I don't know. I'm giving a four star rating because I suspect it's at least that good for those who WOULD know. Humph, exasperat ...more
Steven Godin
Having recently been blown away by his novel Omensetter's Luck, I thought I'd try some of his non-fiction. This collection of essays was really impressive, with the highlights for me being 'Malcolm Lowry' (not long back read his novel 'Under the Volcano'), 'Wisconsin Death Trip', 'Sartre on Theater', and 'Groping for Trouts'. After just two books, I'm now starting to see why William H. Gass is regarded by some as one of the great American writers - but one who tends to go under the radar. ...more
May 13, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oh, the indulgence. As it seems no one is/was completely immune to the pervasive and self-aggrandizing monstrosity that is postmodernism, not even masters from Gass's echelon. Just like Barnes with his Flaubert, this is a stylistic itch, an au courant hype so tempting, that everybody and their cousin wanted to prove their mettle in it, show that they can nail it, even mockingly, while adding a dash of their own. Trouble is, the results are invariantly dated and that little original dash gets abs ...more
Sep 14, 2009 rated it liked it
"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
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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. ...more
Jun 15, 2021 is currently reading it
I'd recommend his essay on Gertrude Stein, simply to understand her method and some of its motivations, both in the social milieu and in her biography. (William Carlos Williams' essay on Stein is also instructive, albeit shorter.) I'd also recommend his essay on Malcolm Lowry as a reliable window to his principal works, both Volcano and his posthumous books. Gass tends to take an eclectic approach, disinclined as he seems to be with theory.

His prose is cerebral as well as vibrant and tetchy, occ
Kim Zinkowski
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am pleased to have discovered this author. I enjoyed the reviews and essays presented. I also got to know a little bit more about authors I've read (Malcolm Lowery, Faulkner and Nabokov) and some I have never read. I enjoyed Gass' writing style and would like to read one of his novels. ...more
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
not as brain expanding as fiction and the figures and the life but gass still writes the good write, glad to finally resume my completion effort
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not a lot of people who are born in Fargo, North Dakota grow up to be dazzlers. I'm guessing. William H. Gass is American literature's preeminent dazzler, and he was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He starts but doesn't, contrary to how it may appear to some, end the dazzling at the level of the sentence. Sure, he is the finest sentence writer maybe ever. His sentences are the ripest fruit on the market. They are not always perfect, but they are always a meal. Sometimes they do too much. An occasio ...more
Jun 21, 2010 is currently reading it
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." ...more
Jul 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(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. ...more
Conor Madigan
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Nick Craske
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
::: review gestating :::
Jo Huang
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
need some time to fully comprehend his intention.
Feb 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Great critic.
Jeff Jackson
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Aug 22, 2008
Michael Hays Sanchez
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Aug 19, 2008
Mira Sukov
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Steve Haynie
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Apr 20, 2016
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Feb 16, 2019
John Madera
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William Howard Gass was 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 cite his characters as

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Summer is perfect for plenty of things: mojitos, sleeping with the window fan on, and sprawling out with a hot romance novel (in a heavily...
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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.” 42 likes
“The responsibility of any science, any pure pursuit, is ultimately to itself, and on this point physics, philosophy, and poetry unite with Satan in their determination not to serve. Any end is higher than utility, when ends are up.” 3 likes
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