Something Undeniable And Nontrivial Happens

I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters,” Saunders wrote in an essay on Vonnegut. “He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to ‘real life’ — he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit. . . . In fact, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us. If the change will be greater via the use of invented, absurd material, so be it.

–Joel Lovell interviews George Saunders for The New York Times Magazine

The Ground Is Sacred

There is something in the student-teacher exchange that is ancient, simple and powerful.

The ground is sacred, and it’s where you leave an imprint.

The goal is to get to a place where you actually have intuition, and that is the absolute in terms of art, where there’s no question, you just know.

There’s something that’s always present, we call the witness. Every artist talks about it — it’s that bigger objective. How could you not want to participate in that?

In the realm of art-making, what you’re really doing is training the heart and the mind.

The mirror is a problem, it’s kind of a habit in Western dance, for the most part the mirror is doubt, and doubt leads to failure.

The teacher is waking up the sleeping artist in the student. The dancer is listening to his own internal teacher, that’s what you want to wake up.

–Alonzo King (see video here)

This Exalted State

You know when you’re saying goodby to someone at the airport that you love and you get all soft. And you get, ‘Oh my God I hardly know you.’ What if that’s the truth, if that mode times ten is the mode we should exist in all the time? Then on another day you’re just yourself. There’s big gap between those two people. So, how much time do I spend in that regular old habitual stupid mindset of taking everything for granted, as opposed to this exalted state of being super-tenderized to the people you care about. And I’m guessing that, if there’s a heaven, it’s that at the airport times ten or twenty, or a thousand.

–George Saunders, interviewed by Max Linsky on Longform (found via Sampler)
Thanks to In A Spacious Place for typing up this quote

There’s So Much More In Here

The kind of energy and weight you bring into the room, like a team — when the energy is less, from your contribution, it pulls down, when it’s more it pulls up. If everyone is giving equal energy it’s an invincible alchemy that changes you. When I see you going to the mirror, I know that’s doubt and that you’re not really inside the three worlds: body, mind, spirit — they all have to be informed and they all need to be tapped into so that you can go into a place of deep concentration, and some of you want to remain on the surface, and it cheats you and I want to tell you, this isn’t for me, it’s for you.

When the body is tired, spirit inspires — they all support each other, but some of you insist on being external, and so it’s like your cheating yourself. I wish you would, against your will, say there’s so much more in here, believe it or not, that I can explore. And the other thing, is I know that there’s more, and I know that there’s better. And it’s also, how do you give to the group and how do you give to the greater world, it’s much bigger than the mechanics of what we call classical ballet.

–Alonzo King

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Confused

The last time we met, Saunders waited in the cold with me until the bus for New York came along. We were talking about the idea of abiding, of the way that you can help people flourish just by withholding judgment, if you open yourself up to their possibilities, as Saunders put it, just as you would open yourself up to a story’s possibilities.

I would say that this is precisely the effect that Saunders’s fiction has on you. It “softens the borders,” as he put it in one of our conversations. “Between you and me, between me and me,  between the reader and the writer.” It makes you wiser, better, more disciplined in your openness to the experience of other people.

It’s hard to maintain, the softness. It’s an effort. That Dubai story ends with these lines, wisdom imparted from Saunders to himself: “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

–Joel Lovell interviews George Saunders for The New York Times Magazine