Life into Art

James Salter in The Paris Review:

In Bertolt Brecht’s diaries he writes about such things as the essence of art, which he describes as “­simplicity, grandeur, and sensitivity,” and its form, coolness.

ImagesMaking the shape and rhythm of sentences intensely felt was part of the teaching method at the writing school that James Jones and a woman named Lowney Handy established in Illinois in the years after the war. Jones was in the long process of writing his novel From Here to Eternity, and Lowney Handy was his muse. Students at the school sat for several hours every day copying out by hand passages written by Hemingway, Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe to imbibe their strength and quality. It was the mimetic method, perhaps not as ridiculous as it sounds.

I would say that teaching writing is more like teaching dancing. If someone has a sense of rhythm, you might teach them something. There’s a great longing in people to be able to write, and the teaching of it, fiction and ­poetry, has become widespread in colleges and universities and outside of them as well. The teachers are often well-known and eagerly sought. Some are virtual gurus with doctrines and followers. In various cities there are private classes with selected students. You hear of a dramatic figure striking in appearance wearing boots and jodhpurs, perhaps with long white hair like a prophet, and bearing a kind of literary ichor, the fluid in the veins of the gods. He has a limitless number of great—known and lesser-known—books and ­authors at his fingertips, just as a musician knows a thousand pieces. He speaks only the truth, the core truth about everything and the truth about you, as a writer and as a person, which of necessity is likely to be hard. The class sessions are long, lasting for hours, and cannot be ­interrupted. Questions are not permitted. In this intensely charged atmosphere, the students read their stories aloud, and he stops them when they have made enough mistakes. For some, that is after a few sentences. Others are allowed to go to the end. The importance of the first sentence, he insists, can’t be overemphasized. It leads the way into the story. It sets its tone and also dictates the sentence that follows. Never begin a sentence with an adverb—it only tells what the sentence itself should reveal.

More here.