There comes that phase in life when, tired of losing, you decide to stop losing, then continue losing. Then you decide to really stop losing, and continue losing. The losing goes on and on so long you begin to watch with curiosity, wondering how low you can go.

–George Saunders, 2006

“Swift Thoughts”

That’s how we thought once, those of us who had been born in the twentieth century. We looked to stories and parables, to plays, films, and poems as a mirror-universe in which we might better see ourselves. Literature, in all its expanding forms, was the very heart of our culture, where we might share disappointments and sorrows, judge and reverse all wrongs, celebrate joys, even take revenge, and express hopes for the future. And this too, remember, is a story I’m trying to put before you, a self-justification that will help me escape the torment of what was once called “narrative dysfunction,” the inability to piece together a story about one’s life, as if connectedness was some kind of salvation.

–George Zebrowski, 1995

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (3)

Between the invention of nuclear weapons and the turn of the twenty-first century the U.S. spent over five trillion dollars building and maintaining its nuclear arsenal–about one-tenth of the country’s total spending since 1940. In America, annual spending on past and present military activities exceeds spending in all other categories of human need; approximately eighty percent of the national deby is estimated to have been created by military expenditures.

The so-called “military-industrial complex” is thus…the single largest consumer of the country’s resources.

–Lydia Millet, 2005

The Turn of the Novel (2)

In fiction, those moments–or those many pages–which render a central character’s realization that life has become morally impossible are often accompanied (is it only in fiction?) by the onset of illness and fever: the very intensity of the moral explosion brings on a physical deterioration. And not infrequently, those fully expanded and intensified moments in the structure are also accompanied by the suggestion of mental derangement–hallucination or insanity. Perhaps we are justified in regarding these processes as literary “rituals” or conventions…which not only render by also mark the fullness of the formal expansion of experience.

–Alan Friedman, 1966

The Turn of the Novel

…the stream of events in the novel…becomes the experience of the reader: the self and world in the novel become our self and surrounding world, so that the experience of reading a novel comes closer than does that of any other form of literature to our personal experience in time. The fundamental form of fiction in-forms[sic] the reader’s self, and as a result consistent patterns of moral and emotional response in the novels of an era can and do take on the impact and authority of mythic information.

–Alan Friedman, 1966