Review of Finding a Form

Citation metadata

Author: Jim Lewis
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2000
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Book review; Critical essay
Length: 1,358 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(review date February 1997) In the following review, Lewis comments on Gass's literary aesthetic and offers positive evaluation of Finding a Form.]

I happened to be passing through St. Louis one summer weekend in 1989, and, having a day to kill, I took a chance and telephoned William Gass in his offices at the philosophy department at Washington University. Ordinarily I would have hesitated before trying to contact a writer whom I admired; but Gass, as a philosopher, essayist, and novelist, was more important to me than most, and as luck would have it, he was in and invited me over. I remember that the campus was lovely; I remember that Gass was gray-haired and gracious. I remember very little of the conversation itself, except for our closing exchange. At the time I was in my mid '20s, and Angry; Gass was in his mid '60s, and Even Angrier; he'd once invented a character who said, "I want to rise so high ... that when I shit I won't miss anybody." It was a line I found hard to imagine coming from the generous, seemingly benign man before me; nevertheless, I asked him how he managed his own well-documented rage, expecting, I suppose, some sagacious words on self-possession, a la Montaigne or Emerson. "Oh," he said cheerfully, "I go into the kitchen and break dishes."

If Finding a Form is any evidence, there's less intact crockery than ever in Gass' home, but his cupboard's loss is our gain. This is his fourth collection of essays on literature and philosophy, and it comes, surprisingly quickly, on the heels of the publication of The Tunnel, an enormous novel that occupied its author for several decades. The newer book gathers together nineteen pieces, on Robert Walser, Ezra Pound, and Ford Madox Ford; on Nietzsche and Wittgenstein; on avant-gardism and formalism; on the mediocrity of the Pulitzer Prize and the pitfalls of writing fiction in the present tense. It is a beautiful book, a dignified and deeply ambitious book, a dazzling book, and...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100033596