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Posts from the ‘William H. Gass’ Category

Emma Enters a Sentence (and loses her photographs)


…not knowing where
      or how she had arrived at her decision to lie down in a line of verse and be buried there, that is to say, be born again as a simple set of words, “the bubble in the spirit-level.” So, said she to her remaining self, which words were they to be? grave behaving words, map signs
      That became Miss Emma Bishop’s project: to find another body for her bones, bones she could at first scarcely see, but which were now ridgy, forming Ws, Ys and Zs…

Thirty years after William H. Gass published his photo-embedded novella Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife (which I wrote about recently), he published another novella with photographs. I first read Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop’s in Conjunctions issue 30 (1998), where the story contains eight photographs by Michael Eastman. It’s a memorable piece of writing  and an unusually thoughtful example of an author carefully embedding photographs within a text. Eastman’s images seemed to have been custom-made for Gass’s story and each appeared to have been placed with precision on the pages of Conjunctions. But when the story appeared later that year in his book Cartesian Sonata and Other Novellas (Knopf, 1998), the photographs had disappeared. In the book’s Acknowledgements,Gass referred to the missing photographs but he didn’t explain their absence and for years I have wondered what this meant. Were the photographs not as integral as I had thought? Why were they so expendable?

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Gass and his Willie


“I held a small, limp pen.” – William H. Gass on the writing he did as a student at Kenyon College.

I want to devote two or three posts to a writer with a sporadic but intriguing relationship with photography: William H. Gass. I’ll start with the publication of his 1968 novella Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. In 1968, TriQuarterly magazine, which is still run out of Northwestern University, published the second of several independent “supplements” to their literary magazine. This supplement was Gass’s novella Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. The paper bound version, which was sent to subscribers, features front and back covers that have, respectively, frontal and rear photographs of a female nude. On the front cover, the undulating typography of the book’s title and author attribution gives the appearance that the text was projected onto the model’s body. So immediately, even before we’ve opened the book, we are presented with a strong correspondence between the physicality of the human body and of the work of literature, not to mention the overt sexualization of writing. Literature as a form of seduction. Read more