The Division of Zero
According to Arthur Saltzman, William Gass's response to a request from Washington University to collect his papers "has attained folkoric dimensions among those associated" with the collection. He even did drafts of the response, which are now housed at the university. Now enjoy this crafty bit of American correspondence:
Dear Miss Van Duyn,
The Lebowitz do sweet irrational things.
Certainly Stan did mention the matter of my mss to me, and your library's interest in collecting them. I remember some of the names that were on the list he gave me, and I was there all right, lying between Ralph Ellison and John Hawkes like a valley squeezed between two foresty knees. Barth and Powers squared the ends off, and Bellow and Nabokov had their thumbs up. Well naturally it was very funny and fitted Boswell's Elkin perfectly; for whom, in his own person, could Elkin solicit now but the uncelebrious, the drearily non-famous, and the sorrow middle-knowns? I could hear him slap his golden thigh with glee when his fellow conspirator at your library, to whom he told me to address myself, showed him how the hook had drawn my gizzard through my teeth. I wrote him as much.
But you seem to be in earnest. I can only conclude that you are all mad, for I could not bring myself to approach some Lolly Hankins and a simple such as I am, though he were the father of a hundred, puddinpassled, barky pekineses, and deep plumdumplings, even in the high front line of duty, to make this kind of request, unless I had been seized with a Hettie Green-like bibliomania. As a futures list, too, Elkin's wore a certain antic look, warning me against swallowing. Ford's a lively dead old master. Beckett's no bet - he came home first, paid off handsomely, and is, I hope, stuffing himself in the stable.
It is certainly a splendid idea - put peaches in thy mouth, money in thy purse, peace in thy soul, honey in thy horn, and papers in thy vault - but its success depends on your guessing right at least some of the time. It will scarcely distinguish you to have the largest - and only - collection of Solly Wallow in the country. So I must tell you that there is at least one lame horse on your list. My agent, a determined and dedicated lady, has been trying to find a publisher for a number of mss. of mine, both short and long, without any success whatever.
Indeed, I haven't had an acceptance in two years. My production, never voluminous, has meanwhile ceased. It will begin again when my time yields some spaces, but circumstances have forced me to consider my writing the idlest of hobbies. You would no doubt find it embarrassing to withdraw your suggestion, so perhaps I should do your predicting for you and say no. I am pleased, naturally, that someone should make such a mistake in my favor, but consider - I have no proofs of books because I have no books; there are no translations for there are no translators; I have no letters from writers about my work because writers do not write me; I have no letters from editors, either, except those that say no; I have made no tapes, attended no workshops, conferences or symposia, and I have made only one public appearance; all I possess are dull and repetitious sheaves of typed or pen and pencilled papers representing my staggery attempts to cross a paragraph - and then imagine how many "scholars" are going to nose the gates of your vaults throating for an eyeful of the building of my prose (the Pharaoh passes in the distance wearing a cardboard hat and carrying a stone, a shovel, and a hose); and won't it be confounding to us all when your appraiser values my wads at $5.67 or whatever they might bring per lb? I'd fire both Leibowitz - charming but confused - and start over.
Of course you are welcome to the things I have, and to all of it if you want it. It would consist primarily of worked over drafts, and there is probably quite a lot considering the slenderness of what's emerged. Measured absolutely, however...I don't know. And would you want it decently arranged? Some sort of order can be given to it, but beyond a certain point I doubt that I can even imagine what version was the original and what came after that, and what after that, and so on.
I'll make a tape if you wish, though you've heard me read.
Putting restrictions on the use of such papers would be like dividing zero.
I am very interested, though, in the progress of your plan. Think of my scratches, filed alongside Ford's, receiving radiation. Ford's mss would be a great thing to have and I hope you get them, and since you seem to want them, I hope you get all the junk you're asking for.
Give my best to all of Washington's good people. I think I remember almost everybody.
Images by Frank Di Piazza.
"Twisted" - Colt Ford (mp3)
"Tailgate" - Colt Ford (mp3)
"Gangsta of Love" - Colt Ford ft. Bonecrusher (mp3)