For days and weeks on end one racks one’s brains to no avail, and, if asked, one could not say whether one goes on writing purely out of habit, or a craving for admiration, or because one knows not how to do anything other, or out of sheer wonderment, despair or outrage, any more than one can say whether writing renders one more perceptive or more insane.
W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
Secluded behind their inaccessible languages, the small European nations (their life, their history, their culture) are very ill known; people think, naturally enough, that this is the principal handicap to international recognition of their art. But it is the reverse: what handicaps their art is that everything and everyone (critics, historians, compatriots as well as foreigners) hooks the art onto the great national family portrait photo and will not let it get away.
Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed
Suspending moral judgement is not the immorality of the novel, it is the morality. The morality that stands against the ineradicable human habit of judging instantly, ceaselessly, and everyone; of judging before, and in the absence of, understanding. From the view of the novel’s wisdom, that fervid readiness to judge is the most detestable stupidity, the most pernicious evil. Not that the novelist utterly denies that moral judgement is legitimate, but that he refuses it a place in the novel. If you like, you can accuse Panurge of cowardice, accuse Emma Bovary, accuse Rastignac—that’s your business; the novelist has nothing to do with it.
Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed.
Those who are creating the modern composition authentically are naturally only of importance when they are dead because by that time the modern composition having become past is classified and the description of it is classical. That is the reason why the creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic, there is hardly a moment in between and it is really too bad very much too bad naturally for the creator but also very much too bad for the enjoyer, they all really would enjoy the created so much better just after it has been made than when it is already a classic…
Gertrude Stein, ‘Composition as Explanation
Two things about Perec’s work strike us when we consider it as a whole: its abundance and its dependence on exceptionally strict procedures. It is essential to realize that the strictness makes the abundance possible. Every writer who confronts a world without meaning and undertakes to transform it through language must answer the questions: Where do I begin? What right have I to speak at all? Perec’s circumstances gave these questions special urgency. He was an orphan, and a Jew for whom Jewishness meant not a community of language or tradition but “silence, absence, doubt, instability, anxiety… .” Being Jewish meant “owing one’s life entirely to chance and exile.” Faced with such deprivation, Perec was forced to invent a place to start from: what he chose was the autonomy of complex structures, later subsumed in the Oulipian notion of constrictive form. (It is worth pointing out that Perec’s early works are as formally exacting as his post-Oulipian ones; the procedures are only harder to describe.) The choice freed him from the agonizing doubt of self-expression. (How can you express yourself when history has confiscated your voice?) Constrictive forms speak for themselves: they bring their own justification with them; there is no limit to what they can say.
Harry Matthews, ‘Georges Perec’ in The Case of the Persevering Maltese: Collected Essays
The novel, which is a work of art, exists, not by its resemblances to life, which are forced and material, as a shoe must still consist of leather, but by its immeasurable difference from life, which is designed and significant, and is both the method and the meaning of the work.
Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘A Humble Remonstrance’
If Bryan could make an enemy, he would. I used to see the way he behaved with newspaper editors: if he met them the first thing he would tell them was what shits they were; but then he’d expect them to smile and say, ‘Bryan, you’re a genius – it’s an honour to be insulted by the Laurence Sterne of his time.’
The author Gordon Williams, on his friend B.S. Johnson. Quoted in Jonathan Coe’s biography of Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant.