Vivian Gornick

American author (b. 1935)

Vivian Gornick (born June 14, 1935) is an American radical feminist critic, journalist, essayist, and memoirist.

Vivian Gornick in 2018

Quotes edit

  • A lot of it was just sheer grinding shitwork. You think making a revolution is all agony and ecstasy? It's not, it's mostly drudgery. Hard, disciplined, repetitive work that's boring and necessary. But what keeps you going is that twenty times a week something would happen—out there in that lousy capitalist world or inside among your comrades—and you'd remember. You'd remember why you were here, and what you were doing it all for, and it was like a shot of adrenaline coursing through your veins. The world was all around you ail the time. That was the tremendous thing about those times. The sense of history that you lived with daily. The sense of remaking the world. Every time I wrote a leaflet or marched on a picket line or went to a meeting I was remaking the world.
    • The Romance of American Communism (1977)
  • Knowledge brings pain and anxiety, exhilaration and an undreamt-of courage.
    • Introduction to the 1987 edition of Jo Sinclair's Wasteland from The Jewish Publication Society
  • inner freedom inevitably releases one into the larger world.
    • Introduction to the 1987 edition of Wasteland
  • This is the intimacy that will bind us all our lives, holding us forever to the task implicit in all love relations: how to connect yet not merge, how to respond yet not be absorbed, how to detach but not withdraw.
    • The End of The Novel of Love (1997)
  • If you don't leave home you suffocate, if you go too far you lose oxygen.
    • The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative (2001)
  • Collectively speaking, if we chart the internal mood of every successful movement for social integration we find that, ironically, with each advance made it is anger—not hope, much less elation—that deepens in the petitioners at the gate. Ironic but not surprising: to petition repeatedly is to be reminded repeatedly that one is not wanted, never had been, never will be.
    • The Men in My Life (2008)
  • Responsible for every successful connection ever made between a book and a reader--no less than between people--is that deepest of all human mysteries, emotional readiness: upon which the shape of every life is vitally dependent. How morbidly circumstantial life can seem when we think of the apparent randomness with which we welcome or repel what will turn out to be--or what might have turned out to be--some of the most important relationships of our lives. How often have lifelong friends or lovers shuddered to think, 'If I had met you at any other time...' It's the same between a reader and a book that becomes an intimate you very nearly did not encounter with an open mind or a welcoming heart because you were not in the right mood; that is, in a state of readiness.
    • Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader (2020)
  • Between what we know and what we cannot hope to know about how we come to be as we are lies an emotional dumping ground into which exceptional writers pour all the art they are capable of making.
    • Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader (2020)

Essays in feminism (1978) edit

  • Awareness of the self is more acutely at the heart of things than it has ever been before. On the foundation of self-awareness alone rest all our hopes for a new politics, a new society, a revitalized life. If we do not genuinely know ourselves, the void will now, at last, surely rise up to meet us. ("Why Do These Men Hate Women?")
  • Women occupy, in great masses, the 'household tasks' of industry. They are nurses but not doctors, secretaries but not executives, researchers but not writers, workers but not managers, bookkeepers but not promoters. ("A Feminist Magazine: Radical Questions That Reach the Mainstream")
  • Art and psychoanalysis are both reflections of the natural process of human growth: the adult body rises from the childish form, the mature mind flows directly out of the early personality. All is of a piece, all clearly related, logically concluded. The conscious relatedness of one's entire existence is what produces the integrated self; the recognition that what one is now one has always been — to hold live in one's hand the sense of what one has always been — is to have oneself. For the integrated human being there is no past: there is only the continual transformation of original experience. ("Toward a Definition of the Female Sensibility")
  • What Marxists share with capitalists is a profound belief that we are all defined, utterly and entirely, by our functional circumstances in The System. And, indeed, no one could deny the truth of this insight; certainly, I would never deny it. Nevertheless, for me, the beauty of feminism is that it is a social and political movement that has redefined the power and obligation of the self: self-possession and self-regulation as a tool for social reform. ("The Price of Paying Your Own Way")
  • Slogans deaden us. They reduce our ability to see clearly, to experience ourselves anew, to replenish the continually flagging urgency that must be kept alive at all times in this war of nerves and emotions that threatens at every turn to undo us. What is necessary is the ability to call the shots exactly as they are being played; to see our life in all its complexity; to recognize that sometimes we are the victims and sometimes men are the victims, but neither of us is always the victim. To fail to see that is to fail to see the truth of our lives, and without the truth we will never come close to possessing ourselves, for self-possession is the ability to face without fear life in all its contradictions. What has made men our oppressors is their inability to face the contradictions, but what will allow us to become strong is our increased ability to face the contradictions. That, to me, is feminism carried to its magnificent conclusion. ("Feminist Writers: Hanging Ourselves on a Party Line")
  • that is the whole sickening trickery in life — the idea that one cannot fight for one's humanity without, ironically, losing it — and it is a piece of trickery that the blacks sometimes seem helpless against and the women now sometimes seem helpless against, and, in the final analysis, that trickery is the real enemy and the very essence of the thing we must continually be on our guard against. For what shall it profit a woman if she gain an end to slavery in marriage and in the process lose her soul? ("On the Progress of Feminism: The Light of Liberation Can Be Blinding")

The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (2015) edit

  • There are two categories of friendship: those in which people enliven one another and those in which people must be enlivened to be with one another. In the first category one clears the decks to be together; in the second one looks for an empty space in the schedule.
  • I began to realize what everyone in the world knows and routinely forgets: that to be loved sexually is to be loved not for one's actual self but for one's ability to arouse desire in the other...Only the thoughts in one's mind or intuitions of the spirit can attract permanently...
  • One's own best self. For centuries, this was the key concept behind any essential definition of friendship: that one's friend is a virtuous being who speaks to the virtue in oneself. How foreign such a concept to the children of the therapeutic culture! Today we do not look to see, much less affirm, our best selves in one another. To the contrary, it is the openness with which we admit to our emotional incapacities - the fear, the anger, the humiliation - that excites contemporary bonds of friendship. Nothing draws us closer to one another than the degree to which we face our deepest shame openly in one another's company... What we want is to feel known, warts and all: the more warts the better. It is the great illusion of our culture that what we confess to is who we are.
  • The exchange will always deepen, even if the friendship does not.

Interview (2015) edit

  • All my life I've made do with less, because 'stuff' makes me anxious.
  • If a memoir is to achieve literature, it has to have an organizing principle, it has to have an idea, it has to have something that will be of value to the disinterested reader. And that doesn’t happen so often, because most people who are writing memoirs are not writers...The ability to turn yourself into a persona who is able to generate drama, narrative drive, conflict, all the things that are required, is very hard, and not too many people achieve it.
  • at least they're active, at least they have a notion that working is more important than getting married and having children. And for that, I have hope. I have lots of hope.

Interview (2020) edit

  • It came from a piece in which I said that a time will come when men and women will approach each other at eye level – an idea, and a phrase, to which I was devoted.
    • about the title Approaching Eye Level.
  • It's a much longer struggle than we ever dreamed of, and it's painful to see how the same battles must be fought again and again. When #MeToo happened in 2017, I couldn't believe my ears. They were saying everything we'd said 40 years ago. But then I realised that every generation repeats and repeats – until it’s over. It isn't over until it’s over.
  • Loneliness, the difficulty involved in becoming an independent yet attached person, and the way to find a reasonable agreement between these two positions: these are existential questions, and that's where the women's movement tapped in so deep by asking them [...] But to name these things is not to cure them. It's a battle every day. We struggle to bring to life what we say and believe. Our insides tell us one thing, but living that out is quite another.
  • My late blooming was very much attached to my being a girl. It's a major thing, being a girl. But after that, you also have to figure in the personal neuroses of each human being. I was smart. My mother saw it, and decided I should get an education – but I had to remember that love was the most important thing in a woman's life. College was only to protect me against the possibility that my husband would die or leave me stranded. I was so hesitant to believe in myself.
  • Thinking is the hardest thing in the world. The mind resists order...You have this flash of insight, then you have to put flesh on it. Days of misery follow – after which, out comes only an approximation of what you originally thought and felt.

Quotes about Vivian Gornick edit

External links edit

Wikipedia has an article about: