Shot by photographer Robert Frank. Written and narrated by Jack Kerouac, featuring Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady.
This is the link to a pdf of one of my favourite books, The Stranger (L’Étranger) by Albert Camus.
Also, if anyone knows where I can find the links to any of the Three Stories by J.D. Salinger that were leaked that would be brilliant because I can’t find them anywhere. They are Birthday Boy, The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, and Paula.
John Steinbeck, The Art of Fiction No. 45
Interviewed by Nathaniel Benchley
[John Steinbeck had agreed to a Paris Review interview late in his life. He had earlier been coy about it but then wanted the interview very much. He was, unfortunately, too sick to work on the project, though it was at the end often in his thoughts. With this interest of his in mind, the editors of this magazine compiled a number of comments on the art of fiction that John Steinbeck made over the years. Some come from the East of Eden diaries, published in December 1969 by Viking Press under the title Journal of a Novel. Others are excerpted from letters, some of which have been collected under the title Steinbeck: A Life in Letters and published in October 1975 by Viking. The quotes have been organized under various topic headings rather than chronologically, as they are in the diaries and letters. Nathaniel Benchley, a close friend of the author, has provided the introduction.]
By rights this preface or introduction or whatever it is should be called “Compliments of a Friend,” because I have neither the perspective nor the desire to offer up a critique of John Steinbeck’s writing even if anyone would listen. Furthermore, nobody has asked me to, so we’re all that much better off. I knew him, and I know a little bit of what he thought about writing, and that will be my contribution.
He once said that to write well about something you had to either love it or hate it very much, and that in a sense was a mirror of his own personality. Things were either black or white, and although he might change his basic position (as he eventually did about the Vietnam war), if you were on his side, you could do no wrong, and if you were agin him, you could do no right. It wasn’t as simplistic as that may make it sound, but there were very few gray areas where he was concerned. And when he wrote, you certainly knew whose side he was on. You hoped it was yours.
Long ago, he was quoted as saying that genius was a little boy chasing a butterfly up a mountain. He later insisted that what he’d really said was that it was a butterfly chasing a little boy up a mountain (or a mountain chasing a butterfly up a little boy; I’ve forgotten which), and I think in some ways he was haunted by having caught his butterfly so early in the game. He never said this in so many words (to me, at any rate), but his fierce dedication to his writing, and his conviction that every word he put down was the best he could find, were signs of a man who dreaded ever having it said that he was slipping, or that he hadn’t given it his best. One time, at the behest of a son of mine at Exeter, he wrote a few paragraphs for the seventy-sixth anniversary edition of The Exonian; he called it “In Awe of Words,” and with the permission of the management I’ll reproduce it here, because as usual he says these things better for himself.
A man who writes a story is forced to put into it the best of his knowledge and the best of his feeling. The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long—not for long.
A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—
“Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.”
Of course a writer rearranges life, shortens time intervals, sharpens events, and devises beginnings, middles and ends. We do have curtains—in a day, morning, noon and night, in a man, birth, growth and death. These are curtain rise and curtain fall, but the story goes on and nothing finishes.
To finish is sadness to a writer—a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.
Reading through his obituaries, I found a good deal of analytical writing about his work, and one rewrite man ventured the personal note that he was considered shy, but nowhere did I see a word about one of the most glorious facets of his character, which was his humor. All good humor defies analysis (E. B. White likened it to a frog, which dies under dissection), and John’s defied it more than most, because it was not gag-type humor but was the result of his wildly imaginative mind, his remarkable store of knowledge, and his precision with words. This respect for, and precision with, words led him to avoid almost every form of profanity; where most people would let their rage spill out the threadbare obscenities, he would concoct some diatribe that let off the steam and was at the same time mildly diverting. One example should suffice: At Easter about three years ago we were visiting the Steinbecks at Sag Harbor, and John and I arose before the ladies to make breakfast. He hummed and puttered about the kitchen with the air of a man who was inventing a new form of toaster, and suddenly the coffee pot boiled over, sending torrents of coffee grounds over the stove and clouds of vapor into the air. John leaped for the switch, shouting, “Nuts! No wonder I’m a failure! No wonder nobody ever asks for my hand in marriage! Nuts!” By that time both he and the coffee had simmered down, and he started a new pot. I think that this was the day he stoutly denied having a hangover, and after a moment of reflection added, “Of course, I do have a headache that starts at the base of my spine . . .” He spent the rest of the morning painting an Easter egg black, as a protest.
There was, oddly, a lot of little boy left in him, if by little boy you can mean a searching interest in anything new, a desire to do or to find or to invent some sort of diversion, a fascination with any gadget of any sort whatsoever, and the ability to be entertained by comparative trivia. He was the only adult I have ever seen who would regularly laugh at the Sunday comics; he raised absolute hell in our kitchen with an idea for making papier-mâché in the Waring blender with a combination of newspaper and water and flour; and he would conduct frequent trips to the neighborhood toy store, sometimes just to browse through the stock and sometimes to buy an item like a cap pistol as a Valentine’s Day present for his wife. To be with him was to be on a constant parranda, either actual or intellectual, and the only person bewildered by it was his children’s nurse, who once said, “I don’t see why Mr. Steinbeck and Mr. Benchley go out to those bars, when there’s all that free liquor at home.”
And late at night, over some of the “free” liquor at home, he would sometimes read Synge’s translations of Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura, and then he would weep. It wasn’t the liquor; it was the lilt of Synge’s words and the ache in Petrarch’s heart, and there was one of the sonnets that I never once heard him read through to the end.
ON GETTING STARTED
It is usual that the moment you write for publication—I mean one of course—one stiffens in exactly the same way one does when one is being photographed. The simplest way to overcome this is to write it to someone, like me. Write it as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague terror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of self-consciousness.
Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
You know on my left hand on the pad just below the little finger, I have a dark brown spot. And on my left foot in a corresponding place I have another one almost the same. One time a Chinese, seeing the spot on my hand, became very much excited and when I told him about the one on my foot he was keenly interested. He said that in Chinese palmistry the hand spot was a sign of the greatest possible good luck and the one on my foot doubled it. These spots are nothing but a dark pigmentation. I’ve had them from birth. Indeed, they are what is known as birthmarks. But the reason I brought it up is this. For the last year and a half, they have been getting darker. And if I am to believe in my spots, this must mean that the luck is getting better. And sure enough I have Elaine [Mrs. John Steinbeck] and what better luck could there be. But the spots continue to darken and maybe that means that I am going to have a book, too. And that would be great good luck, too.
ON WORK HABITS
Mark Twain used to write in bed—so did our greatest poet. But I wonder how often they wrote in bed—or whether they did it twice and the story took hold. Such things happen. Also I would like to know what things they wrote in bed and what things they wrote sitting up. All of this has to do with comfort in writing and what its value is. I should think that a comfortable body would let the mind go freely to its gathering.
You know I always smoke a pipe when I work—at least I used to and now I have taken it up again. It is strange—as soon as a pipe begins to taste good, cigarettes become tasteless. I find I smoke fewer and fewer cigarettes. Maybe I can cut them out entirely for a while. This would be a very good thing. Even with this little change, my deep-seated and perennial cigarette cough is going away. A few months without that would be a real relief.
I have dawdled away a good part of my free time now carving vaguely on a scrap of mahogany, but I guess I have been thinking too. Who knows. I sit here in a kind of a stupor and call it thought.
Now I have taken the black off my desk again, clear down to the wood, and have put a green blotter down. I am never satisfied with my writing surface.
My choice of pencils lies between the black Calculator stolen from Fox Films and this Mongol 2 3/8 F which is quite black and holds its point well—much better in fact than the Fox pencils. I will get six more or maybe four more dozen of them for my pencil tray.
I have found a new kind of pencil—the best I have ever had. Of course it costs three times as much too but it is black and soft but doesn’t break off. I think I will always use these. They are called Blackwings and they really glide over the paper.
In the very early dawn, I felt a fiendish desire to take my electric pencil sharpener apart. It has not been working very well and besides I have always wanted to look at the inside of it. So I did and found that certain misadjustments had been made at the factory. I corrected them, cleaned the machine, oiled it and now it works perfectly for the first time since I have it. There is one reward for not sleeping.
Today is a dawdly day. They seem to alternate. I do a whole of a day’s work and then the next day, flushed with triumph, I dawdle. That’s today. The crazy thing is that I get about the same number of words down either way. This morning I am clutching the pencil very tight and this is not a good thing. It means I am not relaxed. And in this book I want to be just as relaxed as possible. Maybe that is another reason I am dawdling. I want that calmness to settle on me that feels so good—almost like a robe of cashmere it feels.
It has been a good day of work with no harm in it. I have sat long over the desk and the pencil has felt good in my hand. Outside the sun is very bright and warm and the buds are swelling to a popping size. I guess it is a good thing I became a writer. Perhaps I am too lazy for anything else.
On the third finger of my right hand I have a great callus just from using a pencil for so many hours every day. It has become a big lump by now and it doesn’t ever go away. Sometimes it is very rough and other times, as today, it is as shiny as glass. It is peculiar how touchy one can become about little things. Pencils must be round. A hexagonal pencil cuts my fingers after a long day. You see I hold a pencil for about six hours every day. This may seem strange but it is true. I am really a conditioned animal with a conditioned hand.
I am really dawdling today when what I want to write is in my head. It is said that many writers talk their books out and so do not write them. I think I am guilty of this to a large extent. I really talk too much about my work and to anyone who will listen. If I would limit my talk to inventions and keep my big mouth shut about work, there would probably be a good deal more work done.
The callus on my writing finger is very sore today. I may have to sandpaper it down. It is getting too big.
The silly truth is that I can take almost any amount of work but I have little tolerance for confusion.
I hear via a couple of attractive grapevines, that you are having trouble writing. God! I know this feeling so well. I think it is never coming back—but it does—one morning, there it is again.
About a year ago, Bob Anderson [the playwright] asked me for help in the same problem. I told him to write poetry—not for selling—not even for seeing—poetry to throw away. For poetry is the mathematics of writing and closely kin to music. And it is also the best therapy because sometimes the troubles come tumbling out.
Well, he did. For six months he did. And I have three joyous letters from him saying it worked. Just poetry—anything and not designed for a reader. It’s a great and valuable privacy.
I only offer this if your dryness goes on too long and makes you too miserable. You may come out of it any day. I have. The words are fighting each other to get out.
Certain events such as love, or a national calamity, or May, bring pressure to bear on the individual, and if the pressure is strong enough, something in the form of verse is bound to be squeezed out. National calamities and loves have been few in my life, and I do not always succumb to May.
My first gem called forth quite adverse criticism, although I considered it extremely apropos at the time. It was published on a board fence, and was in the form of free verse. It ran something like this:
Gertie loves Tom,
and Tom loves Gertie.
This is the only one of my brain children which has attracted attention, and the attention it attracted has made me backward about publishing any of my later works.
ON THE SHORT STORY
Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in your class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb from you the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories.
You canceled this illusion very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, you said, was to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, you told us, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.
The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from writer to reader and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and technique at all—so long as it was effective.
As a subhead to this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.
So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that you set us on the desolate lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades you gave my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterwards upheld your side, not mine.
It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done, thanks to your training. Why could I not do it myself? Well, I couldn’t, and maybe it’s because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.
If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes but by no means always find the way to do it.
It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.
I wonder whether you will remember one last piece of advice you gave me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic twenties and I was going out into that world to try to be a writer.
You said, “It’s going to take a long time, and you haven’t any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor.”
It wasn’t too long afterwards that the depression came down. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame any more. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely you were right about one thing, Edith. It took a long time—a very long time. And it is still going on and it has never got easier. You told me it wouldn’t.
ON HACK WRITING
I think the manuscript [“Murder at Full Moon”] enclosed in this package is self-explanatory. For some time now, I have been unhappy. The reason is that I have a debt and it is making me miserable.
It is quite obvious that people do not want to buy the things I have been writing. Therefore, to make the money I need, I must write the things they want to read. In other words, I must sacrifice artistic integrity for a little while to personal integrity. Remember this when this manuscript makes you sick. And remember that it makes me a great deal sicker than it does you.
Conrad said that only two things sold, the very best and the very worst. From my recent efforts, it has been borne to me that I am not capable of writing the very best yet. I have no doubt that I shall be able to in the future, but at present, I cannot. It remains to be seen whether I can write the very worst.
I will tell you a little bit about the enclosed MS. It was written complete in nine days. It is about sixty-two or -three thousand words long. It took two weeks to type. In it I have included all the cheap rackets I know of, and have tried to make it stand up by giving it a slightly burlesque tone. No one but my wife and my folks know that I have written it, and no one except you will know. I see no reason why a nom de plume should not be respected and maintained. The nom de plume I have chosen is Peter Pym.
The story holds water better than most, and I think it has a fairish amount of mystery. The burlesqued bits, which were put in mostly to keep my stomach from turning every time I sat down at the typewriter, may come out.
It has been said often that a big book is more important and has more authority than a short book. There are exceptions of course but it is very nearly always true. I have tried to find a reasonable explanation for this and at last have come up with my theory, to wit: The human mind, particularly in the present, is troubled and fogged and bee-stung with a thousand little details from taxes to war worry to the price of meat. All these usually get together and result in a man’s fighting with his wife because that is the easiest channel of relief for inner unrest. Now—we must think of a book as a wedge driven into a man’s personal life. A short book would be in and out quickly. And it is possible for such a wedge to open the mind and do its work before it is withdrawn leaving quivering nerves and cut tissue. A long book, on the other hand, drives in very slowly and if only in point of time remains for a while. Instead of cutting and leaving, it allows the mind to rearrange itself to fit around the wedge. Let’s carry the analogy a little farther. When the quick wedge is withdrawn, the tendency of the mind is quickly to heal itself exactly as it was before the attack. With the long book perhaps the healing has been warped around the shape of the wedge so that when the wedge is finally withdrawn and the book set down, the mind cannot ever be quite what it was before. This is my theory and it may explain the greater importance of a long book. Living with it longer has given it greater force. If this is true a long book, even not so good, is more effective than an excellent short story.
It is hard to open up a person and to look inside. There is even a touch of decent reluctance about privacy but writers and detectives cannot permit the luxury of privacy. In this book [East of Eden] I have opened lots of people and some of them are going to be a little bit angry. But I can’t help that. Right now I can’t think of any work which requires concentration for so long a time as a big novel.
Sometimes I have a vision of human personality as a kind of fetid jungle full of monsters and demons and little lights. It seemed to me a dangerous place to venture, a little like those tunnels at Coney Island where “things” leap out screaming. I have been accused so often of writing about abnormal people.
It would be a great joke on the people in my book if I just left them high and dry, waiting for me. If they bully me and do what they choose I have them over a barrel. They can’t move until I pick up a pencil. They are frozen, turned to ice standing one foot up and with the same smile they had yesterday when I stopped.
The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through —not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can’t be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible. There is another kind who pulls in his horizons, drops his mind as one lowers rifle sights. And giving up the impossible he gives up writing. Whether fortunate or unfortunate, this has not happened to me. The same blind effort, the straining and puffing go on in me. And always I hope that a little trickles through. This urge dies hard.
Writing is a very silly business at best. There is a certain ridiculousness about putting down a picture of life. And to add to the joke—one must withdraw for a time from life in order to set down that picture. And third, one must distort one’s own way of life in order in some sense to simulate the normal in other lives. Having gone through all this nonsense, what emerges may well be the palest of reflections. Oh! it’s a real horse’s ass business. The mountain labors and groans and strains and the tiniest of rodents come out. And the greatest foolishness of all lies in the fact that to do it at all, the writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true. If he does not, the work is not worth even what it might otherwise have been.
All this is a preface to the fear and uncertainties which clamber over a man so that in his silly work he thinks he must be crazy because he is so alone. If what he is doing is worth doing—why don’t more people do it? Such questions. But it does seem a desperately futile business and one which must be very humorous to watch. Intelligent people live their lives as nearly on a level as possible—try to be good, don’t worry if they aren’t, hold to such opinions as are comforting and reassuring and throw out those which are not. And in the fullness of their days they die with none of the tearing pain of failure because having tried nothing they have not failed. These people are much more intelligent than the fools who rip themselves to pieces on nonsense.
It is the fashion now in writing to have every man defeated and destroyed. And I do not believe all men are destroyed. I can name a dozen who were not and they are the ones the world lives by. It is true of the spirit as it is of battles—the defeated are forgotten, only the winners come themselves into the race. The writers of today, even I, have a tendency to celebrate the destruction of the spirit and god knows it is destroyed often enough. But the beacon thing is that sometimes it is not. And I think I can take time right now to say that. There will be great sneers from the neurosis belt of the south, from the hard-boiled writers, but I believe that the great ones, Plato, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Christ, Paul, and the great Hebrew prophets are not remembered for negation or denial. Not that it is necessary to be remembered but there is one purpose in writing that I can see, beyond simply doing it interestingly. It is the duty of the writer to lift up, to extend, to encourage. If the written word has contributed anything at all to our developing species and our half developed culture, it is this: Great writing has been a staff to lean on, a mother to consult, a wisdom to pick up stumbling folly, a strength in weakness and a courage to support sick cowardice. And how any negative or despairing approach can pretend to be literature I do not know. It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth, and a few remnants of fossilized jawbones, a few teeth in strata of limestone would be the only mark our species would have left on the earth.
It is too bad we have not more humor about this. After all it is only a book and no worlds are made or destroyed by it. But it becomes important out of all proportion to its importance. And I suppose that is essential. The dunghill beetle must be convinced of the essential quality in rolling his ball of dung, and a golfer will not be any good at it unless striking a little ball is the most important thing in the world. So I must be convinced that this book is a pretty rare event and I must have little humor about it. Can’t afford not to have. The story has to move on and on and on and on. It is like a machine now—set to do certain things. And it is about to clank to its end.
I truly do not care about a book once it is finished. Any money or fame that results has no connection in my feeling with the book. The book dies a real death for me when I write the last word. I have a little sorrow and then go on to a new book which is alive. The rows of my books on the shelf are to me like very well embalmed corpses. They are neither alive nor mine. I have no sorrow for them because I have forgotten them, forgotten in its truest sense.
ON THE CRAFT OF WRITING
The time now comes finally to move the book. I have dawdled enough. But it has been a good thing. I don’t yet know what the word rate will be. That will depend on many things. But I do think the hour rate should be fairly constant. I am about finished with these long and characteristic meanderings. It is with real fear that I go to the other. And I must forget even that I want it to be good. Such things belong only in the planning stage. Once it starts, it should not have any intention save only to be written. All is peace now. And all is quiet. What little things there are, are here and good. Posture and attitude are so very important. And since these things have to go on for a very long time, they must become almost a way of life and a habit of thought. So that no one may say, I lost by being lost. This is the last bounce on the board, the last look into the pool. The time has come for the dive. The time has really come.
I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straitening shyness that assail one. It is as though the words were not only indelible but that they spread out like dye in water and color everything around them. A strange and mystic business, writing. Almost no progress has taken place since it was invented. The Book of the Dead is as good and as highly developed as anything in the 20th century and much better than most. And yet in spite of this lack of a continuing excellence, hundreds of thousands of people are in my shoes—praying feverishly for relief from their word pangs.
I learned long ago that you cannot tell how you will end by how you start. I just glanced up this page for instance. Look at the writing at the top—ragged and angular with pencils breaking in every line, measured as a laboratory rat and torn with nerves and fear. And just half an hour later it has smoothed out and changed considerably for the better.
Now I had better get into today’s work. It is full of strange and secret things, things which should strike deep into the unconscious like those experimental stories I wrote so long ago. Those too were preparation for this book and I am using the lessons I’ve learned in all the other writing.
I have often thought that this might be my last book. I don’t really mean that because I will be writing books until I die. But I want to write this one as though it were my last book. Maybe I believe that every book should be written that way.
I hope I can keep all the reins in my hands and at the same time make it sound as though the book were almost accidental. That is going to be hard to do but it must be done. Also I’ll have to lead into the story so gradually that my reader will not know what is happening to him until he is caught. That is the reason for the casual—even almost flippant—sound. It’s like a man setting a trap for a fox and pretending with pantomime that he doesn’t know there is a fox or a trap in the country.
I split myself into three people. I know what they look like. One speculates and one criticizes and the third tries to correlate. It usually turns out to be a fight but out of it comes the whole week’s work. And it is carried on in my mind in dialogue. It’s an odd experience. Under such circumstances it might be one of those schizophrenic symptoms but as a working technique, I do not think it is bad at all.
I do indeed seem to feel creative juices rushing toward an outlet as semen gathers from the four quarters of a man and fights its way into the vesicle. I hope something beautiful and true comes out—but this I know (and the likeness to coition still holds). Even if I knew nothing would emerge from this book I would still write it. It seems to me that different organisms must have their separate ways of symbolizing, with sound or gesture, the creative joy—the flowering. And if this is so, men also must have their separate ways—some to laugh and some to build, some to destroy and yes, some even creatively to destroy themselves. There’s no explaining this. The joy thing in me has two outlets: one a fine charge of love toward the incredibly desirable body and sweetness of woman and second—mostly both—the paper and pencil or pen. And it is interesting to think what paper and pencil and the wriggling words are. They are nothing but the trigger into joy—the shout of beauty—the carcajada of the pure bliss of creation. And often the words do not even parallel the feeling except sometimes in intensity. Thus a man full of a bursting joy may write with force and vehemence of some sad picture—of the death of beauty or the destruction of a lovely town—and there is only the effectiveness to prove how great and beautiful was his feeling.
My work does not coagulate. It is as unmanageable as a raw egg on the kitchen floor. It makes me crazy. I am really going to try now and I’m afraid that the very force of the trying will take all the life out of the work. I don’t know where this pest came from but I know it is not new.
We work in our own darkness a great deal with little real knowledge of what we are doing. I think I know better what I am doing than most writers but it still isn’t much.
I guess I am terrified to write “finish” on the book for fear I myself will be finished.
Suddenly I feel lonely in a curious kind of way. I guess I am afraid. That always comes near the end of a book—the fear that you have not accomplished what you started to do. That is as natural as breathing.
In a short time that will be done and then it will not be mine anymore. Other people will take it over and own it and it will drift away from me as though I had never been a part of it. I dread that time because one can never pull it back, it’s like shouting good-bye to someone going off in a bus and no one can hear because of the roar of the motor.
You know I was born without any sense of competition. This is a crippling thing in many ways. I don’t gamble because it is meaningless. I used to throw the javelin far, but I never really cared whether it was farthest. For a while I was a vicious fighter but it wasn’t to win. It was to get it over and get the hell out of there. And I never would have done it at all if other people hadn’t put me in the ring. The only private fights I ever had were those I couldn’t get away from. Consequently I have never even wondered about the comparative standing of writers. I don’t understand that. Writing to me is a deeply personal, even a secret function and when the product is turned loose it is cut off from me and I have no sense of its being mine. Consequently criticism doesn’t mean anything to me. As a disciplinary matter, it is too late.
Although sometimes I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining—I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance, of aching inability.
A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.
Well—then the book is done. It has no virtue any more. The writer wants to cry out, “Bring it back! Let me rewrite it,” or better: “Let me burn it. Don’t let it out in the unfriendly cold in that condition.”
As you know better than most, Pat, the book does not go from writer to reader. It goes first to the lions—editors, publishers, critics, copyreaders, sales department. It is kicked and slashed and gouged. And its bloodied father stands attorney.
The book is out of balance. The reader expects one thing and you give him something else. You have written two books and stuck them together. The reader will not understand.
No, sir. It goes together. I have written about one family and used stories about another family as—well, as counterpoint, as rest, as contrast in pace and color.
The reader won’t understand. What you call counterpoint only slows the book.
It has to be slowed—else how would you know when it goes fast?
You have stopped the book and gone into discussions of God knows what.
Yes, I have. I don’t know why. Just wanted to. Perhaps I was wrong.
The book’s too long. Costs are up. We’ll have to charge five dollars for it. People won’t pay five dollars. They won’t buy it.
My last book was short. You said then that people won’t buy a short book.
The chronology is full of holes. The grammar has no relation to English. On page so and so you have a man look in the World Almanac for steamship rates. They aren’t there. I checked. You’ve got the Chinese New Year wrong. The characters aren’t consistent. You describe Liza Hamilton one way and then have her act a different way.
You make Cathy too black. The reader won’t believe her. You make Sam Hamilton too white. The reader won’t believe him. No Irishman ever talked like that.
My grandfather did.
Who’ll believe it.
No children ever talked like that.
WRITER (losing temper as a refuge from despair)
God damn it. This is my book. I’ll make the children talk any way I want. My book is about good and evil. Maybe the theme got into the execution. Do you want to publish it or not?
Let’s see if we can’t fix it up. It won’t be much work. You want it to be good, don’t you? For instance, the ending. The reader won’t understand it.
Yes, but the reader won’t.
My God, how you do dangle a participle. Turn to page so and so.
There you are, Pat. You came in with a box of glory and there you stand with an arm full of damp garbage.
And from this meeting a new character has emerged. He is called The Reader.
He is so stupid you can’t trust him with an idea.
He is so clever he will catch you in the least error.
He will not buy short books.
He will not buy long books.
He is part moron, part genius and part ogre.
There is some doubt as to whether he can read.
I have never been a title man. I don’t give a damn what it is called. I would call it [East of Eden] Valley to the Sea, which is a quotation from absolutely nothing but has two great words and a direction. What do you think of that? And I’m not going to think about it anymore.
This morning I looked at the Saturday Review, read a few notices of recent books, not mine, and came up with the usual sense of horror. One should be a reviewer or better a critic, these curious sucker fish who live with joyous vicariousness on other men’s work and discipline with dreary words the thing which feeds them. I don’t say that writers should not be disciplined, but I could wish that the people who appoint themselves to do it were not quite so much of a pattern both physically and mentally.
I’ve always tried out my material on my dogs first. You know, with Angel, he sits there and listens and I get the feeling he understands everything. But with Charley, I always felt he was just waiting to get a word in edgewise. Years ago, when my red setter chewed up the manuscript of Of Mice and Men, I said at the time that the dog must have been an excellent literary critic.
Time is the only critic without ambition.
Give a critic an inch, he’ll write a play.
My greatest fault, at least to me, is my lack of ability for relaxation. I do not remember ever having been relaxed in my whole life. Even in sleep I am tight and restless and I awaken so quickly at any change or sound. It is not a good thing. It would be fine to relax. I think I got this through my father. I remember his restlessness. It sometimes filled the house to a howling although he did not speak often. He was a singularly silent man— first I suppose because he had few words and second because he had no one to say them to. He was strong rather than profound. Cleverness only confused him—and this is interesting—he had no ear for music whatever. Patterns of music were meaningless to him. I often wonder about him. In my struggle to be a writer, it was he who supported and backed me and explained me—not my mother. She wanted me desperately to be something decent like a banker. She would have liked me to be a successful writer like Tarkington but this she didn’t believe I could do. But my father wanted me to be myself. Isn’t that odd. He admired anyone who laid down his line and followed it undeflected to the end. I think this was because he abandoned his star in little duties and let his head go under in the swirl of family and money and responsibility. To be anything pure requires an arrogance he did not have, and a selfishness he could not bring himself to assume. He was a man intensely disappointed in himself. And I think he liked the complete ruthlessness of my design to be a writer in spite of mother and hell. Anyway he was the encourager. Mother always thought I would get over it and come to my senses.
ON HAVING A WRITER IN THE FAMILY
This is sad news, but I can’t think of a thing you can do about it. I can remember the horror which came over my parents when they became convinced that it was so with me—and properly so. What you have and they had to look forward to is life made intolerable by a mean, cantankerous, opinionated, moody, quarrelsome, unreasonable, nervous, flighty, irresponsible son. You will get no loyalty, little consideration and desperately little attention from him. In fact you will want to kill him. I’m sure my father and mother often must have considered poisoning me. There will be no ease for you or for him. He won’t even have the decency to be successful or if he is, he will pick at it as though it were failure for it is one of the traits of this profession that it always fails if the writer is any good. And Dennis [Dennis Murphy] is not only a writer but I am dreadfully afraid a very good one.
I hasten to offer Marie and you my sympathy but I must also warn you that you are helpless. Your function as a father from now on will be to get him out of jail, to nurture him just short of starvation, to watch in despair while he seems to be irrational—and your reward for all this will be to be ignored at best and insulted and vilified at worst. Don’t expect to understand him, because he doesn’t understand himself. Don’t for God’s sake, judge him by ordinary rules of human virtue or vice or failings. Every man has his price but the price of a writer, a real one, is very hard to find and almost impossible to implement. My best advice to you is to stand aside, to roll with the punch and particularly to protect your belly. If you are contemplating killing him, you had better do it soon or it will be too late. I can see no peace for him and little for you. You can deny relationship. There are lots of Murphys.
I think of a number of pieces which should be done but that I as a novelist can’t or should not do. One would be on the ridiculous preoccupation of my great contemporaries, and I mean Faulkner and Hemingway, with their own immortality. It is almost as though they were fighting for billing on the tombstone.
Another thing I could not write and you can is about the Nobel Prize. I should be scared to death to receive it, I don’t care how coveted it is. But I can’t say that because I have not received it. But it has seemed to me that the receivers never do a good nor courageous piece of work afterwards. It kind of retires them. I don’t know whether this is because their work was over anyway or because they try to live up to the prize and lose their daring or what. But it would be a tough hazard to overcome and most of them don’t. Maybe it makes them respectable and a writer can’t dare to be respectable. The same thing goes for any kind of honorary degrees and decorations. A man’s writing becomes less good with the numbers of his honors. It might be that fear in me that has made me refuse those LL.D.’s that are constantly being put out by colleges. It may also be the reason why I have never been near the Academy even though I was elected to it. It may also be the reason I gave my Pulitzer money away.
The first thing we heard of Ernest Hemingway’s death was a call from the London Daily Mail, asking me to comment on it. And quite privately, although something of this sort might be expected, I find it shocking. He had only one theme—only one. A man contends with the forces of the world, called fate, and meets them with courage. Surely a man has a right to remove his own life but you’ll find no such possibility in any of H’s heroes. The sad thing is that I think he would have hated accident much more than suicide. He was an incredibly vain man. An accident while cleaning a gun would have violated everything he was vain about. To shoot yourself with a shotgun in the head is almost impossible unless it is planned. Most such deaths happen when a gun falls, and then the wound is usually in the abdomen. A practiced man does not load a gun while cleaning it. Indeed a hunting man would never have a loaded gun in the house. There are shotguns over my mantle but the shells are standing on the shelf below. The guns are cleaned when they are brought in and you have to unload a gun to clean it. H had a contempt for mugs. And only a mug would have such an accident. On the other hand, from what I’ve read, he seems to have undergone a personality change in the last year or so. Certainly his last summer in Spain and the resulting reporting in Life were not in his old manner. Perhaps, as Paul de Kruif told me, he had had a series of strokes. That would account for the change.
But apart from all that—he has had the most profound effect on writing—more than anyone I can think of. He has not a vestige of humor. It’s a strange life. Always he tried to prove something. And you only try to prove what you aren’t sure of. He was the critics’ darling because he never changed style, theme nor story. He made no experiments in thinking nor in emotion. A little like Capa, he created an ideal image of himself and then tried to live it. I am saddened at his death. I never knew him well, met him a very few times and he was always pleasant and kind to me although I am told that privately he spoke very disparagingly of my efforts. But then he thought of other living writers not as contemporaries but as antagonists. He really cared about his immortality as though he weren’t sure of it. And there’s little doubt that he has it.
One thing interests me very much. For a number of years he has talked about a big book he was writing and then about several books written and put away for future publication. I have never believed these books exist and will be astonished if they do. A writer’s first impulse is to let someone read it. Of course I may be wrong and he may be the exception. For the London Daily Express, I have two lines by a better writer than either of us. They go, “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
And since he was called Papa—the lines are doubly applicable.
It’s nice over here because every place you look is a view. Most of them ruins—you can’t find who built them or when or why. It makes ambition seem a little ridiculous. I’ve written a lot of books and some are very nice or have some nice things in them. And it’s nice to be asked how it felt to write God’s Little Acre and Farewell to Arms.
Little presses write to me for manuscripts and when I write back that I haven’t any, they write to ask if they can print the letter saying I haven’t any.
I have owed you this letter for a very long time—but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.
* From a letter to Pascal Covici, Jr., 13 April 1956
* From a letter to Robert Wallsten, February 1962
** Mr. Benchley believes this is probably Stevenson.
* From a letter to Robert Wallsten, 19 February 1960
** From a letter to Professor William Herbert Carruth, early 1920s
* From a letter to Edith Mirrielees, 8 March 1962
* From a letter to Amasa Miller, December 1930
* From a letter to John O’Hara, 8 June 1949
* From a letter to Pascal Covici, 1952
* From a letter to John Murphy, 21 February 1957
* Six years after this extract from a 1956 letter to Pascal Covici, Jr., Steinbeck himself won the Nobel Prize.
* Robert Capa, the famous Life photographer.
** From a letter to Pascal Covici, 1 July 1961
* From a letter to Elia Kazan, Nice, France, 22 November 1961
** From a letter to Elizabeth Otis, July 1939
** To Elizabeth Otis, his agent—found long after his death under the blotter on his work table by his wife, Elaine Steinbeck
The Waste Land
BY T. S. ELIOT
FOR EZRA POUND
IL MIGLIOR FABBRO
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan- sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull, who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York, who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls, incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo- tionless world of Time between, Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunk- enness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind, who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo, who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox, who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge, a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon, yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars, whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement, who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall, suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room, who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wonder- ing where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts, who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night, who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels, who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy, who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain, who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa, who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago, who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incompre- hensible leaflets, who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism, who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed, who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before the machinery of other skeletons, who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication, who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts, who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy, who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love, who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whom- ever come who may, who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword, who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman's loom. who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of con- sciousness, who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake, who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver--joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too, who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out of basements hung- over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment offices, who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steam- heat and opium, who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hud- son under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion, who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery, who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music, who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts, who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology, who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish, who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom, who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg, who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade, who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were growing old and cried, who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regi- ments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertis- ing & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality, who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer, who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whis- key and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal steamwhistles, who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation, who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity, who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes, who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other's salva- tion and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a second, who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz, who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave, who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury, who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instanta- neous lobotomy, and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & am- nesia, who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia, returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of the East, Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon, with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m. and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination-- ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the total animal soup of time-- and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane, who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head, the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death, and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Chil- dren screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks! Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Mo- loch! Moloch the heavy judger of men! Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jail- house and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judg- ment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned govern- ments! Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb! Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrap- ers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities! Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind! Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch! Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ec- stasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light stream- ing out of the sky! Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous bombs! They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us! Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river! Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit! Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time! Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roofl to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!
This is one of my favorite poems from the beat generation. There was a recent movie called Kill Your Darlings in which Daniel Radcliffe played Allen Ginsberg, Jack Huston played Jack Kerouac, and Ben Foster played William Burroughs. Also to clarify, in the poem where he writes “NC” he is referring to Neal Cassady.
An excerpt from John Keat’s poem Ode to a Nightingale, read by actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
Book club update: We need to catch up, ideally finish, Lolita by the time Thanksgiving break starts, and we’ll meet after if that works for everyone
Slight Rebellion Off Madison
The New York December 21, 1946
This is the first Salinger story ever accepted by The New Yorker
On vacation from Pencey Preparatory School for Boys (“An Instructor for
Every Ten Students”), Holden Morrisey Caulfield usually wore his
chesterfield and a hat with a cutting edge at the “V” in the crown.
While riding in Fifth Avenue buses, girls who knew Holden often thought
they saw him walking past Saks’ or Altman’s or Lord & Taylor’s, but it
was usually somebody else.
This year, Holden’s Christmas vacation from Pencey Prep broke at the
same time as Sally Hayes’ from Mary A. Woodruff School for Girls
(“Special Attention to Those Interested in Dramatics”),. On vacation
from Mary A. Woodruff, Sally usually went hatless and wore her new
silverblue muskrat coat. While riding in Fifth Avenue, boys who knew
Sally often thought they saw her walking past Saks’ or Altman’s or
Lord & Taylor’s. It was usually somebody else.
As soon as Holden got into New York, he took a cab home, dropped his
Gladstone in the foyer, kissed his mother, lumped his hat and coat into
a convenient chair, and dialed Sally’s number.
“Hey!” he said into the mouthpiece. “Sally?”
“Yes. Who’s that?”
“Holden Caulfield. How are ya?”
“Holden! I’m fine! How are you?”
“Swell,” said Holden. “Listen. How are ya, anyway? I mean how’s
“Fine,” said Sally. “I mean–you know.”
“Swell,” said Holden. “Well, listen. What are you doing tonight?”
Holden took her to the Wedgwood Room that night, and they both dressed,
Sally wearing her new turquoise job. They danced a lot. Holden’s style
was long, slow wide steps back and forth, as though he were dancing
over an open manhole. They danced cheek to cheek, and when their faces
got sticky from contact, neither of them minded. It was a long time
They made a wonderful thing out of the taxi ride home. Twice, when the
cab stopped short in traffic, Holden fell off the seat.
“I love you,” he swore to Sally, removing his mouth from hers.
“Oh, darling, I love you, too,” Sally said, and added less
passionately, “Promise me you’ll let your hair grow out. Crew cuts are
The next day was a Thursday and Holden took Sally to the matin‚e of
“O Mistress Mine,” which neither of them had seen. During the first
intermission, they smoked in the lobby and vehemently agreed with each
other that the Lunts were marvellous. George Harrison, of Andover, also
was smoking in the lobby and he recognized Sally, as she hoped he
would. They had been introduced once at a party and had never seen each
other since. Now, in the lobby at the Empire, they greeted each other
with the gusto of two who might have taken baths together as small
children. Sally asked George if he didn’t think the show was
marvellous. George gave himself some room for his reply, bearing down
on the foot of the woman behind him. He said that the play itself
certainly was no masterpiece, but that the Lunts, of course, were
“Angels,” Holden thought. “Angels. For Chrissake. Angels.”
After the matin‚e, Sally told Holden that she had a marvellous idea.
“Let’s go ice skating at Radio City tonight.”
“All right,” Holden said. “Sure.”
“Do you mean it?” Sally said. “Don’t just say it unless you mean it. I
mean I don’t give a darn, one way or the other.”
“No,” said Holden. “Let’s go. It might be fun.”
Sally and Holden were both horrible ice skaters. Sally’s ankles had a
painful, unbecoming way of collapsing towards each other and Holden’s
weren’t much better. That night there were at least a hundred people
who had nothing better to do than watch the skaters.
“Let’s get a table and have a drink,” Holden suggested suddenly.
“That’s the most marvellous idea I’ve heard all day,” Sally said.
They removed their skates and sat down at a table in the warm inside
lounge. Sally took off her red woolen mittens. Holden began to light
matches. He let them burn down until he couldn’t hold them, then he
dropped what was left into an ashtray.
“Look,” Sally said, “I have to know–are you or aren’t you going to
help me trim the tree Christmas Eve?”
“Sure,” said Holden, without enthusiasm.
“I mean I have to know,” Sally said.
Holden suddenly stopped lighting matches. He leaned forward over the
table. “Sally, did you ever get fed up? I mean did you ever get so
scared that everything was gonna go lousy unless you did something?”
“Sure,” said Sally.
“Do you like school?” Holden inquired.
“It’s a terrific bore.”
“Do you hate it, I mean?”
“Well, I don’t hate it.”
“Well, I hate it,” said Holden. “Boy, do I hate it! But it isn’t just
that. It’s everything. I hate living in New York. I hate Fifth Avenue
buses and Madison Avenue buses and getting out at the center doors. I
hate the Seventy-second Street movie, with those fake clouds on the
ceiling, and being introduced to guys like George Harrison, and going
down in elevators when you wanna go out, and guys fitting your pants
all the time at Brooks.” His voice got more excited. “Stuff like that.
Know what I mean? You know something? You’re the only reason I came
home this vacation.”
“You’re sweet,” Sally said, wishing he’d change the subject.
“Boy, I hate school! You oughta go to a boys’ school sometime. All you
do is study, and make believe you give a damn if the football team
wins, and talk about girls and clothes and liquor, and–“
“Now, listen,” Sally interrupted. “Lots of boys get more out of school
“I agree,” said Holden. “But that’s all I get out of it. See? That’s
what I mean. I don’t get anything out of anything. I’m in bad shape.
I’m in lousy shape. Look, Sally. How would you like to just beat it?
Here’s my idea. I’ll borrow Fred Halsey’s car and tomorrow morning
we’ll drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont and around there, see? It’s
beautiful. I mean it’s wonderful up there, honest to God. We’ll stay in
these cabin camps and stuff like that till my money runs out. I have a
hundred and twelve dollars with me. Then, when the money runs out, I’ll
get a job and we’ll live somewhere with a brook and stuff. Know what I
mean? Honest to God, Sally, we’ll have a swell time. Then, later on,
we’ll get married or something. Wuddaya say? C’mon! Wuddaya say? C’mon!
Let’s do it, huh?”
“You can’t just do something like that,” Sally said.
“Why not?” Holden asked shrilly. “why the hell not?”
“Because you can’t,” Sally said. “You just can’t, that’s all. Supposing
your money ran out and you didn’t get a job–then what?”
“I’d get a job. Don’t worry about that. You don’t have to worry about
that part of it. What’s the matter? Don’t you wanna go with me?”
“It isn’t that,” Sally said. “It’s not that at all. Holden, we’ll have
lots of time to do those things–all those things. After you go to
college and we get married and all. There’ll be oodles of marvellous
places to go to.”
“No, there wouldn’t be,” Holden said. “It’d be entirely different.”
Sally looked at him, he had contradicted her so quietly.
“It wouldn’t be the same at all. We’d have to go downstairs in
elevators with suitcases and stuff. We’d have to call up everyone and
tell ‘em goodbye and send ‘em postcards. And I’d have to work at my
father’s and ride in Madison Avenue buses and read newspapers. We’d
have to go to the Seventy-second Street all the time and see newsreels.
Newsreels! There’s always a dumb horse race and some dame breaking a
bottle over a ship. You don’t see what I mean at all.”
“Maybe I don’t. Maybe you don’t, either,” Sally said.
Holden stood up, with his skates swung over one shoulder. “You give me
a royal pain,” he announced quite dispassionately.
A little after midnight, Holden and a fat, unattractive boy named Carl
Luce sat at the Wadsworth Bar, drinking Scotch-and-sodas and eating
potato chips. Carl was at Pencey Prep, too, and led his class.
“Hey, Carl,” Holden said, “you’re one of these intellectual guys. Tell
me something. Supposing you were fed up. Supposing you were going
stark, staring mad. Supposing you wanted to quit school and everything
and get the hell out of New York. What would you do?”
“Drink up,” Carl said. “The hell with that.”
“No, I’m serious,” Holden pleaded.
“You’ve always got a bug,” Carl said, and got up and left.
Holden went on drinking. He drank up nine dollars’ worth of
Scotch-and-sodas and at 2 A.M. made his way from the bar into the
little anteroom, where there was a telephone. He dialled three numbers
before he got the proper one.
“Hullo!” Holden shouted into the phone.
“Who is this?” inquired a cold voice.
“This is me, Holden Caulfield. Can I speak to Sally, please?”
“Sally’s asleep. This is Mrs. Hayes. Why are you calling up at this
“Wanna talk Sally, Mrs. Hayes. Very ‘portant. Put her on.”
“Sally’s asleep, Holden. Call tomorrow. Good night.”
“Wake ‘er up. Wake ‘er up, huh? Wake ‘er up, Mis’ Hayes.”
“Holden,” Sally said, from the other end of the wire. “This is me.
What’s the idea?”
“Sally? Sally, that you?”
“Yes. You’re drunk.”
“Sally, I’ll come over Christmas Eve. Trim the tree for ya. Huh?
Wuddaya say? Huh?”
“Yes, go to bed now. Where are you? Who’s with you?”
“I’ll trim the tree for ya. Huh? Wuddaya say? Huh?”
“Yes, go to bed now. Where are you? Who’s with you?”
“I’ll trim the tree for ya. Huh? Wuddaya say? Huh? O.K?”
“Yes! Good night!”
“G’night. G’night, Sally baby. Sally sweetheart, darling.”
Holden hung up and stood by the phone for nearly fifteen minutes. Then
he put another nickel in the slot and dialled the same number again.
“Hullo!” he yelled into the mouthpiece. “Speak to Sally, please.”
There was a sharp click as the phone was hung up, and Holden hung up,
too. He stood swaying for a moment. Then he made his way into the men’s
room and filled one of the washbowls with cold water. He immersed his
head to the ears, after which he walked, dripping, to the radiator and
sat down on it. He sat there counting the squares in the tile floor
while the water dripped down his face and the back of his neck, soaking
his shirt collar and necktie. Twenty minutes later the barroom piano
player came in to comb his wavy hair.
“Hiya, boy!” Holden greeted him from the radiator. “I’m on the hot
seat. They pulled the switch on me. I’m getting fried.”
The piano player smiled.
“Boy, you can play!” Holden said. “You really can play the piano. You
oughta go on the radio. You know that? You’re damned good, boy.”
“You wanna towel, fella?” asked the piano player.
“Not me,” said Holden.
“Why don’t you go home, kid?”
Holden shook his head. “Not me,” he said. “Not me.”
The piano player shrugged and replaced the lady’s comb in his inside
pocket. When he left the room, Holden stood up from the radiator and
blinked several times to let the tears out of his eyes. Then he went to
the cloakroom. He put on his chesterfield without buttoning it and
jammed his hat on the back of his soaking-wet head.
His teeth chattering violently, Holden stood on the corner and waited
for a Madison Avenue bus. It was a long wait.
Copyright (C) J. D. Salinger