the sacred fount, reduced

“Gertrude Stein was a great reader. In novels, Henry James’s for instance, characters talk, and in their nuances lurk the subtlest intricacies of the author’s web. Imagine a text of a novel, say James’s The Sacred Fount (1901), from which everything has been extracted except the dialogue.”

(Guy Davenport, “Late Gertrude,” p. 189 in The Hunter Gracchus)

Following Guy Davenport’s suggestion, here’s a version of Henry James’s The Sacred Fount from which everything has been extracted except the dialogue. A print-on-demand version can be purchased at Lulu; or, download a PDF version for free.


  • Marjorie Perloff’s consideration of Guy Davenport in Sibila is interesting in her focus on how his book reviews functioned.
  • More Guy Davenport: an essay by Jeet Heer at Sans Everything considers Davenport as a cartoonist. Missed this before.
  • And the Abbeville Press edition of the Codex Seraphinianus seems to be online in its entirety. One assumes this won’t last very long, as Rizzoli has it back in print; buy your own copy here (which comes with a “Recodex” booklet compiling criticism of the work, including the Italo Calvino introduction). One notes as well that Serafini seems to have written an introduction to an Italian edition of Jules Renard’s Natural Histories published last year.

hugh kenner on guy davenport

“Certainly [Guy Davenport] can’t be convicted of not having a theory, though it is not a theory of reading but a theory of history. It is very likely untrue, but it got his book written. It says, I was happier at ten than I am at fifty-four, and a like pattern is discernible in America. As the fields where we sought those arrowheads are now under an immense lake, so oblivion has engulfed American consciousness, and arts vainly array particulars hardly anyone can command the knack to read. Hence these pages, in which I take pleasure in my own bright arrays, culled in homage from Poe and Pound and Grant Wood and Whitman and Joyce and Zukofsky and Eudora Welty and as many other sly but masterful spirits as I’ve had occasion to pay attention to.”

(Hugh Kenner, “A Geographer of the Imagination: the astute eye of Guy Davenport,” Harper’s, August 1981, p. 68.)


“If Gertrude and Ludwig had ever met, apparently they could have talked for hours about the sixth Act IV of An Exercise in Analysis (1917). The act in its entirety is: ‘Now I understand.’ This is the sort of statement that worried Wittgenstein for the last thirty years of his life. It involves the problem of other minds, of certainty, of epistemology, and the language game. We can supply many contexts for such a statement.”

(Guy Davenport, “Late Gertrude”, p. 189 in The Hunter Gracchus.)

synergetics 529.10

“It is one of the strange facts of experience that when we try to think about the future, our thoughts jump backwards. It may well be that nature has some fundamental metaphysical law by which opening up what we call the future also opens up the past in equal degree.”

(Buckminster Fuller, quoted on p. 90 of Guy Davenport’s “Wo es war, soll ich werden” in The Drummer of the Eleventh North Devonshire Fusiliers.)


“Actually, this is a device used brilliantly by George Borrow, whose books simply stop. I like this sense of ‘okay, that’s it’ that eloquently supersedes the expectation of surprise and closure. It’s a new kind of surprise. Little Niels Bohr is said to have shown his father a homework assignment to look over. The homework was about the periodic table, and Father noted that Niels had left out hydrogen. This was easily fixed: ‘In conclusion, I would like to mention hydrogen.’ This is worthy of Calvin, but suggests with uncorrupted honesty that grand finales are a suspect posture.”

(Guy Davenport interviewed by John Jeremiah Sullivan, The Paris Review 163.)



How does your interest in flying technology fit into your view of technology in general, which is fairly suspicious? You’ve written several times, and eloquently, about cars, for instance, about how they’ve changed our views of space, of the city, of our own bodies.


The point of view I take is the point of view of Diogenes, which is that when a man owns a lion, a lion owns a man. The thing about technology is that it owns us. I know several desperately poor people, practically beggars, who own cars. On the other hand, you have people who drive their cars to work, to make a living, or to have a delightful excursion in it with the wife and children. But the point is that all progress asks that we pay a kind of ransom or blackmail in order to have it. The telephone is God’s gift to the bore.

(Guy Davenport interviewed by John Jeremiah Sullivan, The Paris Review 163; noted by Wyatt Mason. See also: Patrick Kurp.)

three aphorisms

“Fourier thought that our dream of a golden age that never was is a vision of his Période Amphiharmonique. In our time we long not for a lost past but for a lost future.”

“For every lack of civilization we pay dearly with boredom, outrage, death.”

“Butler’s insight was that the machine enslaved us, changing all work to drudgery. All work became pandering to the reproduction of the machines.”

(Guy Davenport, Apples and Pears, p. 64, p. 77, p. 163.)

kafka in davenport

“Instead, he prays. Have mercy on me, O God. I am sinful in every corner of my being. The gifts thou has given me are not contemptible. My talent is a small one, and even that I have wasted. It is precisely when a work is about to mature, to fulfill its promise, that we mortals realize that we have thrown our time away, have squandered our energies. It is absurd, I know, for one insignificant creature to cry that it is alive, and does not want to be hurled into the dark along with the lost. It is the life in me that speaks, not me, though I speak with it, selfishly, in its ridiculous longing to stay alive, and partake of its presumptuous joy in being.”

(Guy Davenport, “The Chair”, p. 59 in Apples and Pears and Other Stories.)


Be bold! That’s one way
Of getting through life.
So I turn upon her
And point out that,
Faced with the wickedness
Of things, she does not shiver.
I prefer to have, after all,
Only what pleases me.
Are you so deep in misery
That you think me fallen?
You say I’m lazy; I’m not,
Nor any of my kin-people.
I know how to love those
Who love me, how to hate.
My enemies I overwhelm
With abuse. The ant bites!
The oracle said to me:
“Return to the city, reconquer.
It is almost in ruins.
With your spear give it glory.
Reign with absolute power,
The admiration of me.
After this long voyage,
Return to us from Gortyne.”
Pasture, fish, nor vulture
Were you, and I, returned,
Seek an honest woman
Ready to be a good wife.
I would hold your hand,
Would be near you, would have run
All the way to your house.
I cannot. The ship went down,
And all my wealth with it.
The salvagers have no hope.
You whom the soldiers beat,
You who are all but dead,
How the gods love you!
And I, alone in the dark,
I was promised the light.

(Archilochos, pp. 18–19 in Guy Davenport’s Carmina Archilochi.)