the writer & the reader

“A writer has to meet these dangers as he can and in the very process of writing, as he struggles to find out what it is that he truly has to say. I supposed it is unlikely that he will ever quite succeed. But his reader is in a luckier position, like Marlow’s hearers in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

Of course in this you fellows see more than I could see. You see me.

The reader sees what it intended to be said and also, from tone, from the unconscious emphases and the rest, he comes to know the man saying it.”

(Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life, pp. 7–8.)


“It is only fair to warn the reader that not all the stories in this volume are intended to cause amusement. Of the ‘Nightmares,’ some are purely fantastic, while others represent possible, though not probable, horrors. ‘Zahatopolk’ is designed to be completely serious. The last story, ‘Faith and Mountains,’ may strike some readers as fantastic, but, if so, they must have led sheltered lives, as appears from the following:

‘Taking its cue from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England this year, the National Pickle Association started a search for an American girl with the name of Elizabeth Pickle to be ruler of Pickledom during 1953. —The Peanut Journal and Nut World.’ (Quoted from the Observer, June 28, 1953.)

I wish Elizabeth Pickle all success!

(Bertrand Russell, preface to Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories)

asking us silly questions and mispronouncing

“I was ten years back, on the north of Vancouver Island with my small son, not yet two years old; on the track of Franz Boas, I was, and one of his informants had just told me why they liked him—we liked Boas, she said—you know why? and told me something I could get from no book in the world. We liked him because he was on time for meals. I looked out to where my little son was sitting on a huge cedar log with two little Kwakiutl boys, twins, and my son was showing them his ‘old friend car’—a red metal car, the one toy he had brought. Perhaps it was battered and more silver than red, where the paint had worn; he had lost it that morning, and the twins had helped him find it in the long pale grass. The informant said to me, It is good that you brought your child with you; you know, none of these white scientists bring any family with them . . . no children, nothing; they just appear here, one white man, another white man, asking us silly questions and mispronouncing. You know what our chief amusement in the summer at Port Hardy is? Telling lies to white scientists.”

(Muriel Rukeyser, The Orgy, pp. 32–33.)


“Discussion with Hanna—about technology (according to Hanna) as the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it. The technologist’s mania for putting the Creation to a use, because he can’t tolerate it as a partner, can’t do anything with it; technology as the knack of eliminating the world as resistance, for example, of diluting it by speed, so that we don’t have to experience. (I don’t know what Hanna means by this.) The technologist’s worldlessness. (I don’t know what Hanna means by this.) Hanna utters no reproaches. Hanna doesn’t find the way I behaved toward Sabeth incomprehensible; in Hanna’s opinion I experience a kind of relationship I was unfamiliar with and therefore misinterpreted, persuading myself I was in love. It was no chance mistake, but a mistake that is part of me (?), like my profession, like the rest of my life. My mistake lay in the fact that we technologists try to live without death. Her own words: ‘You don’t treat life as form, but as a mere sum arrived at by addition, hence you have no relationship to time, because you have no relationship to death.’ Life is form in time. Hanna admits that she can’t explain what she means. Life is not matter and cannot be mastered by technology. My mistake with Sabeth lay in repetition. I behaved as though age did not exist, and hence contrary to nature. We cannot do away with age by continuing to add up, by marrying our children.”

(Max Frisch, Homo Faber, trans. Michael Bullock, pp.178–9.)

against translation

“The life-stream of literature flows in the veins of language; if it is impeded then the heart-beat of the original composition is stopped. The subject-matter of literature becomes inert, if there is no life in it. I feel this all the time when I turn up my old translations. You perhaps know that when a calf dies and its mother doesn’t want to give milk because of its loss, then an artificial simulacrum of a calf is made by skinning it and filling the skin with straw. The similarity of its smell and appearance to the real thing makes the udders of the cow ooze milk again. Translation is like that stuffed cow: it has no genuine appeal – it’s a deception. I feel shame and regret when I think of it. If the work I have done in literature is not ephemeral or provincial, then whatever merit it has will have to be discovered in my own language. There is no other way to discover it. If anyone is deprived by the time this will take, then that’s his loss – it’s no fault of the author’s.”

(Rabindranath Tagore, letter to Amiya Chakravarty, 6 January 1935. Quoted – and translated – in William Radice’s introduction to Tagore’s Gitanjali (Penguin 2011), p. liii.)

to find a nest

“ ‘Now,’ she said to herself, ‘when people believed in God they carried Him from one place to another. They carried Him through the jungles and across the Arctic Circle. God watched over everybody, and all men where brothers. Now there is nothing to carry with you from one place to another, and as far as I’m concerned, these people might as well be kangaroos; yet somehow there must be someone here who will remind me of something . . . I must try to find a nest in this outlandish place.’ ”

(Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies, p. 41.)


“In terms of shaping a silent life this image raises some interesting questions – is the silence in the hearing or the speaking? If I keep a journal, say, with no intention of ‘transmitting’ its content to anyone ever, is that a more silent activity than writing this book in the hope that you will read it and head what I have to say? Is writing, or even reading, which use language but not noise, ‘silent’ in any case?”

(Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence, p. 27.)

management is the problem

“An agricultural people, efficiently tilling fertile soil – and one is reminded of the pre-Columbian Mayans – can live fairly comfortably on an aggregate of forty or fifty days labour a year. Inevitably, however, some organizing genius comes along to make sure that the spare three hundred days are occupied in impressive but largely wasteful undertakings.”

(Norman Lewis, A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, p. 226.)

the name of rome

“A circumstance worthy of remark is that the name of Rome is familiar to nearly all the Cambodians; they pronounce it Rouma, and place it at the western end of the world.”

(Henri Mouhot, Travels in the Central Parts of Indo-China: Siam, Cambodia and Laos during the Years 1858, 1859 and 1860, chapter XIV.)