I was taken aback when Bharati Mukherjee, in effect, insulted William Gass, who while I was not very interested in his book The Tunnel, but for her to say that, “There are those who confirm social, political stereotypes and other writers who interrogate the stereotypes. William Gass will have a respected small audience, but he’s never going to have a wide, popular audience because he isn’t entertaining and comforting the average reader by expressing the ideas and articulating the philosophies that make you feel good about yourself.” This was from: Holders of the Word: An Interview with Bharati Mukherjee by Tina Chen and S.X. Goudie, University of California, Berkeley, 1997.
So, Gass will never be popular because he is not entertaining… because he is not comforting… he does not express ideas and philosophies that make you feel good about yourself?
This is absurd. A. His books are incredibly entertaining. I did not like The Tunnel, but I think his essay “The Art Of Self – Autobiography In An Age Of Narcissism,” (Harper’s, ’94) was the best essay I have ever read.
While I did not particularly like his “inquiry” On Being Blue, I understood it and knew what he was doing, which was to eloquently render all contexts of the word “blue” one might ever encounter. His is an exercise in language.
The comfort that comes from reading Gass, as with his essays, is that you, at least I, could not imagine a better explanation than he devised. Especially, when you consider that Mukherjee misses the main point about fiction/non-fiction, art in general, which is that art is measured by cathartic import, which not only makes you feel good but it verifies your existence if you are even half-way paying attention. Catharsis is the means of understanding the world and sharing what I think is the most important thing about human existence and it does make you feel good about yourself, but it also makes you feel strangely isolated where evil and ignorance is concerned. To me Mukherjee is ignorant in this matter. Gass does express ideas and articulates philosophies that make you absolutely self-relishing because, as I said, self-relishment of this type is catharsis. You read Gass and you separate from the reality of reading and you embrace his ideas and you and the ideas become one.
Gass may never be widely read, but that’s only because most of the world may not engage in cathartic endeavors; enough do not even read, but this has nothing to do with feeling good about oneself. That can happen in a number of ways.