the mere obstinacy of the self

“ ‘ “A man should be fixed,” the chairman said. “The board felt that a certain firmness was lacking—”

‘ “That one ought to know his necessity and bow down to it?”

‘ “Yes,” the chairman said, “that’s it.”

‘ “One is what one is?”

‘ “Properly so,” the chairman said, “yes.”

‘ “No,” the young man said. “What you call character is the mere obstinacy of the self, the sinister will’s solipsist I am. One adjusts his humanity to the humanity of others. Not I am, but You are— there’s the necessity. Love cooperates; it plays ball. I hate a chaos. Does the company need me?” ’ ”

(Stanley Elkin, A Bad Man, p. 171–2.)

why blackletter

“ ‘The Gothic typface.’

‘What about it?’

‘I was thinking about the masthead on The New York Times.’

The New York Times.’

Well, that’s Gothic. Many newspapers use it. That’s because it looks like Hebrew. All newspapers are a sort of Scripture. Gothic type must have evolved from monks trying to duplicate the look of the sacred texts.’ ”

(Stanley Elkin, The Franchiser, p. 188.)

gass on elkin on work

Vocation: that is no trade-school word for him. What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do? Among those who survey the habits of Americans, there are many who find these questions, which are likely to be among the first beckoning blanks we fill in on forms, and the first we put to strangers, indicative of our indifference to the essential self. Should men and women, after all, be defined in any important way by their work? The answer is, of course, yes; otherwise, the activities that largely support our lives and consume our time would be unfriendly, foreign, and irrelevant to us. Our occupation should not be something we visit like the seashore in summer or a prisoner in prison, despite the fact that the work may be unpleasant and dangerous and hard, like that in a mill or a foundry or a mine. Even if it is like speaking a foreign language we haven’t mastered, that incapacity itself is totally defining.”

(William Gass, “Open on the Sabbath”, in A Temple of Texts: essays, pp. 246–247)