Friday, December 8, 2017

William H. Gass is dead at 93.

The Globe says today that he cut his literary teeth in classes taught by Ludwig Wittgenstein at Cornell after WWII.

But Wittgenstein taught fewer than five classes at Cornell, I believe, while visiting with his friend Professor Norman Malcolm.   And of course Wittgenstein was not a writer per se but rather an eminent philosopher who happened also to be a great prose stylist.   So the influence was probably ethical/aesthetic rather than literary.  

Certainly a hint of W's judgment, rarely tempered with mercy, reflected in this paragraph in the obituary in the Times today:

He said the Pulitzer Prize for fiction "takes dead aim at mediocrity and almost never misses."  He blamed university programs for creating writers whose stories treated ideas like "a cockroach in a picnic basket."  It wasn't that these authors had been brainwashed by their teachers, he added; it was that they had "no brain to wash."

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