Topical Guide 101
Literature and Art: Responding to, Engaging with, Interpreting
“WELL, PETER,” said Mr. Beaker, “what did you think of that?”
“It was funny,” I said. I was studying the picture of the fox in the rowboat. I wondered how Mr. Beaker had gotten so long a story out of that one picture, and especially how he had been able to imagine so clearly the hilarious figure of the fox grabbing for the falling leg of lamb and losing his balance. …
“The fox fell down. … He was a silly fox,” I said. I looked at them again. I could see that they didn’t agree.
“What about the clam, Peter?” asked Mr. Beaker.
“He was a smart clam,” I said.
Little Follies, “The Fox and the Clam”
There is an invisible umbilical cord between the writer and his potential reader, and I fear that the time has gone when readers could sink into a book the way they did in the past, for the pace of life is fast and frenetic. … Whenever I read the English Sunday papers I notice that the standard of literacy is high—all very clever and hollow—but no dues to literature. They care about their own egos. They synopsize the book, tell the plot. Well, fuck the plot! That is for precocious schoolboys. What matters is the imaginative truth, and the perfection and care with which it has been rendered. . . . The nicest readers are—and I know by the letters I receive—youngish people who are still eager and uncontaminated, who approach a book without hostility.
Edna O’Brien, Paris Review interview with Sasha Guppy, reprinted in Conversations with Edna O’Brien
You find it constantly. The chronically stupid mother or father or teacher, incapable of concentration, is driven to frenzies of temper by the clever child’s absorption in any book. . . . What can be more galling than to find the child demonstrating the independence of his ideas?
Dawn Powell, Diary Entry, May 26, 1948
“Originality has to be hammered home,” [Bob Rauschenberg] said. “The way you did it, Larry, it was like a passing idea.”
It probably was. An ABC television producer once made a drawing of a horse for me and said, “You and I know this is a horse. But here is what is necessary to get it over to a large audience.” Above the drawing he wrote, ‘This is a horse,’ and made an arrow from the words to the horse.”
Larry Rivers, What Did I Do? The Unauthorized Autobiography of Larry Rivers
[more to come on Monday, October 4, 2021]
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You can catch up by visiting the archive or consulting the index to the Topical Guide.
You can listen to the episodes on the Personal History podcast. Begin at the beginning or scroll through the episodes to find what you’ve missed.
At Apple Books you can download free eBooks of “My Mother Takes a Tumble,” “Do Clams Bite?,” “Life on the Bolotomy,” and “The Static of the Spheres,” the first four novellas in Little Follies.
You’ll find an overview of the entire work in An Introduction to The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy. It’s a pdf document.