In Search of William Gass

Zachary Fine in The Paris Review:

In some late month of 1995, William H. Gass attempted a flight from New York to Saint Louis but was stalled by fog at the flight boards. He repaired to a small table at an airport bar, his socks pulped and moaning, and spent the night with a galley of Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities. Gass ordered a glass of rosé, began reading, and observed the ways that the characters in the novel seemed to come and go like people in an airport bar. Time passes, and eventually civil servants and industrialists of 1913 Vienna wander into the bar itself, right alongside the airport castaways—or so Gass tells us in the essay he went on to write about Musil.

After my plane lurched off the runway in New York, I took a folded copy of Gass’s essay out of my pocket and started reading. In September, I’d begun working on a review of The William H. Gass Reader, steeping myself in the life’s work, and now it was October, and I was uncertain about the direction of the piece. I declined the free snack mix and kept reading. I again tried to make sense of the beginning: there is a grounded flight in New York that occasions an essay in which an airport bar bleeds into an Austrian novel, and fiction into nonfiction, and then all sense of genre melts away as the review progressively constructs a lyrical world with its own logic and law. It struck me now that this was an uncanny echo of the most oft-repeated anecdote of Gass’s literary life.

More here.