Gilbert Sorrentino (1929-2006)

The new names filled him with a profound anxiety; he felt that if he could understand the reasons why the objects evoked names -- or, as he had begun to think of them, captions -- which refused to denote, explain, or illuminate them, which, in fact, disintegrated in them, he might then be able to understand the fearsome emptiness of his childhood as well as the subtly disfigured adult life to which it had so relentlessly led. But he could never understand, and his attempts led him to more convoluted experiences, as on the night when a couple of aspirins became pubic hair. One morning, staring at the closed lids of his eyes, he conceived of himself as absolutely nothing, and a great silence, which turned to death, enveloped him.

--Under the Shadow

It is only by persistence that the imagination is freed in order that it may create anything; the Splendide-Hotel, for example. This hotel was invented by Arthur Rimbaud who later went to live there. I have it on good authority that there are very few people who are interested in this fact. For that matter, a magnificently aware and intelligent couple I recently met -- their apparel was forcefully, agressively even, imaginative -- had never heard of the Splendide. They spoke to me of the flowers that they grew in profusion in their small backyard garden. They seemed inordinately proud of them, almost as if they had made them. When I lightly mentioned that Rimbaud had questioned whether a flower, dead or alive, was worth the droppings of one sea bird, they became angry with me, and, I take it, with Rimbaud. The products of the imagination must be tendered with the greatest of care.


If the work is to have the wholeness and serenity of art it must be complete, that is, coherent. On the other hand, the works of literature to which we return, which offer themselves anew to us each time we encounter them, are never complete, never truly coherent. There is always a mystery to them, an opacity, a level of discourse that is just out of reach of the intellect, an arrogance. Such work goes well beyond the idea of the possibility of its being something other: it has, in fact, its otherness built in. This otherness is the quality of infinity that permits the reader to understand that although the author has finished his work, there is in it a quality that refuses to be finished; such a work can never end, but goes on "writing" itself forever. Curiously enough, such work may be more "finished" than work that is seemingly finite. If this is a contradiction of my statement that "writers never complete their writing," it is so only insofar as those who do the completing are readers.

--"Fictional Infinities"
in Something Said

For they had indeed come to a strange, a bewitched and shimmering land of profligate colors, shifting, blending, shining in the bright limpid sunshine all the way to the horizon, and perhaps -- beyond! Who can tell? Not the ardent chigger nor the blear-eyed philosopher prone beneath his midnight oils and watercolors. No living thing stirred in all that vast expanse of tints, shades, and tones, save perhaps for the quick scuttling Gila monster dragging a placid cow into his lair, or upsetting a faded Dixie cup in his abrupt panic, a Dixie cup dropped generations ago from the beak of a bluejay or a chickadee who, though long dust, lives on in the songs that weave their way into the sky of nights around many a long-decayed bunkhouse. All was still, yet all was a riot of color.

--Blue Pastoral



  1. I'm embarassed to say that completely unfamiliar with him but that's some beautiful prose. May try to pick up Hotel Splendide the next time I darken my bookstores doorway.

  2. For a good introduction to Sorrentino's work, check out this essay from BookForum, or look at some of what Derik Badman has written about Sorrentino. I haven't been able to warm up to some of his books, others I'm pretty fond of (usually the shorter ones. I don't have the patience or fortitude for his longer books.) Something Said is a really excellent collection of essays and reviews, and I discovered a bunch of writers I hadn't previously known through it.

  3. I recommend starting with MULLIGAN STEW to give you a basic sense of what Sorrentino can do. Its size might seem daunting, but there's a lot of stuff in there that's there for the sake of exhaustive completeness. The math dissertation is gibberish, for ex., but it's funny to skim. Lamont's novel is hilariously funny (b/c so bad). His letters give good insight into Lamont's descent into paranoid insanity, while other docs confirm that his paranoia is perfectly rational for the world in which he lives, that everyone really is out to get him.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"Stone Animals" by Kelly Link

"Loot" by Nadine Gordimer

Gardner Dozois (1947-2018)

Writing in Crisis

Compulsory Genres