I think any person with authentic aesthetic interests, who despises politics and believes that it is possible to talk about poems as being good and bad poems strictly on aesthetic grounds and is willing to try to understand why some poems are better than other poems—or who'd even begin to talk about poems or imaginative works as having "a meaning" which is not determined by questions of gender, social class and race—is now automatically a pariah in the profession as a man of letters, so-called, since it nearly has been taken over by this noisy mob of charlatans. – From a 1990 interview in GQ.
Translation: most people are beauty haters. We live in a world in which everything lazily retreats to identity politics. People just aren't able to see a piece of art outside of how it relates to them—as a woman, a lesbian, a Muslim, a paraplegic, all four. Art is art, and art exists for art's sake—it is not here to provide an outlet for you to talk about Obamacare or your rotten salary. People are such narcissists! So what happens to us embattled folks who believe that poems express the imagination? We are shunned by the quacks of the academy!
Influence is Influenza—an astral disease. – From The Anxiety of Influence
This is one of my absolute fave quips. You may know by now that I have a thing against influence. It can just cause so much, well, anxiety. People have a hard time being creative when they feel like everything has been done. That's why I say that influence is like an illness that comes from the heavens and impacts your imagination like a feverish affliction. Take your vitamin-C and write on!
"There is no 'real' Hamlet as there is no 'real' Shakespeare: the character, like the writer, is a reflecting pool, a spacious mirror in which we needs must see ourselves." – From Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
In my obviously esoteric book on Shakespeare, I argue for a Ur-Hamlet. That's just a fancy way of saying original Hamlet. See, in my not-so-humble opinion,no matter how much we create a genealogy of literary influence, we still can't know what inspired Shakespeare to write his masterpiece. But it doesn't matter. This great drama is the most innovative play ever written and the second most original text in existence—it owes nuttin' to no one.
We read, frequently if unknowingly, in quest of a mind more original than our own. – From How We Read and Why
Some people read for amusement, some people for distraction, some people to learn. Here, I am putting in a claim for us "real readers," thoughtful intellects who read work that actually does something besides entertain and amuse. Whether or not we realize it, we're always searching for someone who has thought or said something we haven't come up with ourselves. If you've grown tired of the same-old same-old, you may be able to relate to this idea. I, for one, am not threatened by people who are more innovative thinkers than I am—it's so rare that I find it charmingly refreshing.
If we read the Western Canon in order to form our social, political, or personal moral values, I firmly believe we will become monsters of selfishness and exploitation. – From The Western Canon
Not to beat a dead horse, but I really have a bee in my bonnet over a general refusal to acknowledge great works of literature. People are so afraid to call books "good" or "bad"—like everything is just varying shades of rainbows and butterflies. Not buying the relativistic blather, sorry. As I've said before, people have become so self-absorbed that they can't do work that doesn't relate to them. Even worse, a lot of people adopt these attitudes for careerist purposes. What will be the consequence of this mess? What will happen when we just go to far, replacing Julius Caesar with The Color Purple? My best guess: a complete and utter cultural collapse that will make the decline and fall of the Roman Empire look like a Little League game upset.