Liberal Arts Blog — George Saunders: Stay Confused Forever — Please!
Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Religion, and Culture Day
Today’s Topic: George Saunders (1958 — ): Stay Confused Forever — Please!
A great thing about meeting new people is the opportunity to learn new things. For example, two weeks ago I went to the Concord Bookstore and asked the cashier who her favorite author was. She answered without hesitation: George Saunders. I had never heard of him. So I decided to find out more. Wow, eureka, and OMG! Today, a few quotes from the author of several short story collections as well as the experimental novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo” (2017). Plus answers to the questions: what is a bardo? what was Abraham Lincoln doing there? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
WHAT TO DO UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE
1.) “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused.”
2.) “Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more…”
3.) “until the day you die, world without end, amen.”
BIG QUESTIONS, LUMINOSITY, HUMOR
1.) “Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.”
2.) “That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality–your soul, if you will–is as bright and shining as any that has ever been….Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”
3.) “Humor is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to.”
THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL, THE PIETA, OAK HILL CEMETERY
1. “Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt “on several occasions” to hold the boy’s body.”
2. “An image spontaneously leapt into my mind — a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pieta.”
3. “I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”, decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments. My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt…”
NB: Bardo: in Buddhism, the intermediate state between death and re-birth.
FOOTNOTE — fish out of water, claim to originality, three sets of influences
1. Born in Amaraillo, Texas, grew up in Oak Forest, Illinois, trained as a geophysical engineer at the Colorado School of Mines, worked on an oil exploration crew in Sumatra and as a technical writer.
2. “… any claim I might make to originality in my fiction is really just the result of this odd background: basically, just me working inefficiently, with flawed tools, in a mode I don’t have sufficient background to really understand. Like if you put a welder to designing dresses.”
3. “I really love Russian writers, especially from the 19th and early 20th Century: Gogol, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Babel. I love the way they take on the big topics. I’m also inspired by a certain absurdist comic tradition that would include influences like Mark Twain, Daniil Kharms, Groucho Marx, Monty Python, Steve Martin, Jack Handey, etc. And then, on top of that I love the strain of minimalist American fiction: Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff.”
NB: “In 1988, he was awarded an M.A.. in creative writing from Syracuse University; while there, he met Paula Redick, a fellow writer, who would become his wife. Saunders recalled, “we [got] engaged in three weeks, a Syracuse Creative Writing Program record that, I believe, still stands.”
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