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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
--difficult to see, and not always comfortable to read. But make no mistake about it, Wm Gass is a brilliant writer and *Finding a Form* a book of essays that give off light with the profligacy of a sun on steroids.

--How many times in how many reviews must I feel it incumbent upon me to warn prospective readers: this book isn't for everyone.

--Sadly, quite a lot. And this is indeed one of those books.

--Where Gass might say something in a sentence of eight words he'll say it in eighty; where he might get his meaning across concretely, he prefers instead a suggestive metaphor. These are not faults, as far as he's concerned, but the play of an intellect that loves language, that caresses words and sentences until they waken, breathe, and sing.

--And this is not a fault as far as I'm concerned either.

--Gass is an unabashed sensualist when it comes to words. He believes passionately that the sentence, properly fashioned, lives the way Adam lived when created by God. He believes that a sentence is a living piece of the author's very consciousness--joyful, mournful, pensive, playful, intense and intent upon discovery and expression.

--Many of these essays are about the act of writing and the complimentary act of reading themselves; two are semi-biographical musings on the philosophers Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. Trained as a philosopher, Gass has a philosophically-inclined mind himself and a particularly interesting and cogent insight on the subject. Other essays take as their starting point a review of a particular book or author Gass has read. But as you can't judge a book by its cover, it's not easy to deduce what a Gass essay is by its title.

--Part of the thrill of reading these essays is in how beautifully they're written, but also in being treated to the breadth of Gass's eclectic and astounding intellect. There are always detours, segues, surprises, and even non-sequiturs...often the sidetrips and dead-ends prove more rewarding than the scheduled destination. So it is that an essay that examines the abuse of the present tense in contemporary literature, for instance, roams far afield into areas of philosophy and psychology and the politics of self-identity. Personal anecdotes pop up, fresh interpretations of mythology, musings on near and ancient history...basically anything can turn the essay enroute towards a new direction.

--As Gass proposes in the final essay of this collection, the best sort of writing encourages a communion between author and reader, in which the former extends an invitation into his mind and the latter finds the invitation enticing enough to accept. Together, they set off on a shared journey of discovery that lasts until interest flags, the writing sags, or the pages run out.

--I cracked this book open to the essay on Wittgenstein and before I'd even finished it I got online and bought the other available collections of Gass's essays, as well as his novel *The Tunnel.* I had a feeling I wouldn't regret it; and so far, I was right.
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VINE VOICEon September 17, 2010
A supremely enjoyable and intelligent collection of essays by the novelist, philosopher, and man of letters, William Gass. `Finding a Form' proceeds as its sounds-it is a journey through the aesthetic imagination and complex itinerary that is the mind of the author. I particularly enjoyed the essays on Ford, Pound and the Book, but there is more on literature in this text than in most college English courses. Gass has the gift of delivering us creative brilliance with clarity-he hates obscurantism but blithely critiques some of Nietzsche's most astonishing commentators. There are plenty of old fashioned philosophical questions in here as well, the divide between aesthetics and ethics, the role of truth in fiction, the nature of knowledge and poetic creation, etc. Yet there is no denying the work that has gone into Gass' formidable intellect. He has indeed read everything and this collection is a testament to his remarkable commitment to the text.
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The essays are interesting, varied, well thought out as is always the case with Gass. Certainly a collection was not a a bad idea; thoughts on Robert Walser, Ezra Pound, Nietzsche and more, but the essays were first published as reviews, magazine pieces etc. and so are, on the whole, brief and bright, bits and pieces. One is left feeling a bit undernourished.
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This book requires every inch of the reader's attention, for many reasons, including quality and complexity of thought, yes--first and foremost, as it unfolds in sentences that are often long lovely tangles of nouns, verbs and all of language's like, perilous, yes, now and then, but ultimately so worth the trip.
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on January 5, 2015
Nothing I say could do it justice. Such an inspiring work.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2012
Deformed findings.

Anything produced by scholars, including an essay on Nietzsche, is likely to have pulled up all the epistemic stakes on idiosyncratic thinkers who do not share the group identity which clings loosely to some notion of culture. William H. Gass, in Finding A Form (1996, 1997) mentions Napoleon as the sole figure for whom "Not every hero has fallen, clay-footed, from his pedestal by the time Nietzsche comes to write" (p. 136). Each analysis becomes a fiction in search of a situation that might redeem life from "rueful longing" (p. 137). Traditional organizations which try to look at society the way Nietzsche admires "a herd of grazing cows, unmolested by memory or foreboding, the present passing from one ruminating stomach to another as if life, when processed, produced only milk" (p. 137), reach the bottom of the page with:

Or, rather, it is
as if the crutch has invented us. (p. 137).

Cash flow has suddenly become the liquidity issue that provides a burn rate for the notion that a society can collapse. Gass mentions "our expulsion from Eden" on page 138. Then,

Rilke wrote, "that we're not happily
at home, here, in this our interpreted
world." (p. 138).

Art arises from a duality that:

describes a consciousness fatally
turned against itself and
continuously engaged in
civil war. (p. 140).

Civilization is not worth repairing. (p. 140).

Nobility is a concept of culture. (p. 140).

One cannot expect societies
to improve themselves. (p. 141).

Nietzsche worked at a level that considered new fantasies, but other people had to see him as being so idiosyncratic that he could be described in a book called Conversations with Nietzsche as too far out:

Conversations with Nietzsche: A Life in the Words of His Contemporaries

The superman as a substitute for God
and the doctrine of return as a
substitute for immortality, however,
seemed not to be very tenable
idealistic fantasies. (p. 143)

Riding on the back of a tiger has the highest priority for those who are already riding on the back of a particular tiger.

In the Christian drama of
redemption, for example,
the future is past before
it reaches the present.
This is no less true in Nietzsche. (p. 144).
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14 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 1999
Gass is so cutesy he makes me puke. He consciously seeks to be "postmodern." Every sentence is an occasion for another metaphor which serves only to prove how good Gass is at coming up with unusual metaphors. When he reviews the works of others, he preens himself on enjoying their "subtleties" like any 4th-rate critic. Ick, ick, what a pri__!
The ideas behind the writing are nothing new. Basically the modern world has embraced TV and other media and abandoned literature, and Billy isn't too happy about this. Well, Billy, the philistines aren't listening to you. They can't even understand you. That's why they're philistines. Genuinely strong spirits don't need you to tell them.
His sentences strike defeatist-defiant and heroical-stoical poses; seldom could I find any genuine enthusiasm for any pleasure simple or complex. It's all forced and repulsive.
For genuine thought-poetry, read the Philosophical Investigations of Wittgenstein, not this literary pretender.
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