(written on November 20, 1972, for Saturday Review)

     The awakening, quickening, or creative  impulse,  esp.  as
manifested in high artistic achievement.

               Webster, Second Ed., unabridged, 1957

     The  enthusiasm  that sweeps away (entraine) poets.
Also a term of physiology (insufflation): ". . .  wolves
and  dogs  howl  only  by inspiration; one can easily ascertain
this by causing a little dog to howl close to one's face
(Buffon)."

               Littre. ed. integrate, 1963

     The enthusiasm, concentration, and  unusual  manifestation
of the mental faculties (umstvennyh sil).

               Dal, Revised Ed., St. Petersburg, 1904

     A  creative  upsurge.  [Examples:] Inspired poet. Inspired
socialistic work.

               Ozhegov, Russian dictionary, Moscow, 1960


     A special study, which I do not  plan  to  conduct,  would
reveal,   probably,  that  inspiration  is  seldom  dwelt  upon
nowadays even by the worst reviewers of our best prose.  I  say
"our" and I say "prose" because I am thinking of American works
of  fiction,  including  my  own stuff. It would seem that this
reticence is  somehow  linked  up  with  a  sense  of  decorum.
Conformists  suspect  that  to  speak  of  "inspiration"  is as
tasteless and old-fashioned as to stand up for the Ivory Tower.
Yet inspiration exists as do towers and tusks.
     One can distinguish several types  of  inspiration,  which
intergrade,  as  all  things  do  in this fluid and interesting
world of ours, while yielding  gracefully  to  a  semblance  of
classification.  A  prefatory  glow,  not  unlike  some  benign
variety of the aura before an epileptic  attack,  is  something
the  artist learns to perceive very early in life. This feeling
of tickly well-being branches through him like the red and  the
blue  in  the picture of a skinned man under Circulation. As it
spreads, it banishes all  awareness  of  physical  discomfort--
youth's  toothache  as  well  as  the neuralgia of old age. The
beauty of it is that, while completely intelligible (as  if  it
were  connected  with  a  known  gland  or  led  to an expected
climax), it has neither source nor object. It  expands,  glows,
and  subsides  without  revealing  its secret. In the meantime,
however, a window has opened, an auroral wind has blown,  every
exposed   nerve  has  tingled.  Presently  all  dissolves:  the
familiar worries are back and the eyebrow redescribes  its  arc
of pain; but the artist knows he is ready.
     A  few  days  elapse.  The  next  stage  of inspiration is
something ardently anticipated-- and no longer  anonymous.  The
shape  of the new impact is indeed so definite that I am forced
to relinquish metaphors  and  resort  to  specific  terms.  The
narrator  forefeels  what  he is going to tell. The forefeeling
can be defined as an instant vision turning into rapid  speech.
If  some  instrument  were  to  render this rare and delightful
phenomenon, the image would come as a shimmer of exact details,
and  the  verbal  part  as  a  tumble  of  merging  words.  The
experienced  writer  immediately  takes  it  down  and,  in the
process of doing so, transforms what  is  little  more  than  a
running  blur  into  gradually dawning sense, with epithets and
sentence construction growing as clear and trim as  they  would
be on the printed page:
     Sea  crashing, retreating with shuffle of pebbles, Juan
and beloved young whore-- is her name, as they say.  Adora?  is
she  Italian,  Roumanian, Irish?-- asleep in his lap, his opera
cloak pulled over her, candle messily burning in its  tin  cup,
next to it a paper-wrapped bunch of long roses, his silk hat on
the stone floor near a patch of moonlight, all this in a corner
of  a  decrepit,  once  palatial  whorehouse, Villa Venus, on a
rocky Mediterranean coast, a door standing ajar gives  on  what
seems  to  be a moonlit gallery but is really a half-demolished
reception room with a broken outer wall, through a great rip in
it the naked sea is heard as a  panting  space  separated  from
time,  it  dully booms, dully withdraws dragging its platter of
wet pebbles.

     This I jotted down one morning at the very end of 1965,  a
couple  of  months  before the novel began to flow. What I give
above is its first throb, the strange nucleus of the book  that
was  to  grow  around it in the course of the next three years.
Much  of  that  growth  obviously  differs  in  coloration  and
lighting   from   the   foreglimpsed  scene,  whose  structural
centrality, however, is emphasized, with  a  kind  of  pleasing
neatness,  by  the  fact  that it now exists as an inset
scene right in the middle of the novel (which was  entitled  at
first   Villa   Venus,   then   The  Veens,  then
Ardor, and finally Ada).

     Reverting  to  a  more  generalized  account,   one   sees
inspiration  accompanying  the author in his actual work on the
new book. She accompanies  him  (for  by  now  we  are  in  the
presence  of  a  nubile muse) by means of successive flashes to
which the writer may grow so accustomed that a sudden fizzle in
the domestic illumination may strike him as an act of betrayal.
     One and the same person can compose parts of one  and  the
same  story  or poem, either in his head or on paper, pencil or
pen in hand (I am told there  exist  fantastic  performers  who
actually type out their immediate product or, still more
incredibly,  dictate it, warm and bubbly, to a typist or
to a machine!). Some prefer the bathtub to the  study  and  the
bed  to  the windy moor-- the place does not matter much, it is
the relationship between the brain and the hand that poses some
odd problems. As John Shade says somewhere: "I  am  puzzled  by
the  difference between two methods of composing: A, the
kind which goes on solely in the  poet's  mind,  a  testing  of
performing words, while he is soaping a third time one leg, and
B,  the  other kind, much more decorous, when he's in his study
writing with a pen. In method  Btbe  hand  supports  the
thought,  the  abstract  battle  is  concretely fought. The pen
stops in mid-air, then swoops  to  bar  a  canceled  sunset  or
restore a star, and thus it physically guides the phrase toward
faint  daylight  through  the inky maze. But method A is agony!
The brain is soon enclosed in a steel cap of pain.  A  muse  in
overalls directs the drill which grinds, and which no effort of
the  will can interrupt, while the automaton is taking off what
he has just put on or walking briskly to the  corner  store  to
buy the paper he has read before. Why is it so? Is it, perhaps,
because  in  penless work there is no pen-poised pause . . . Or
is the process deeper, with no desk to prop the false and hoist
the picturesque? For there are those mysterious  moments  when,
too  weary  to  delete, I drop my pen; I ambulate-- and by some
mute command the right word flutes and perches on my hand."
     This is, of course, where inspiration comes in. The  vords
which   on  various  occasions,  during  some  fifty  years  jf
composing prose, I have put together and then canceled may have
formed by now in the Realm of Rejection (a foggy but not  quite
unlikely  land  north  of  nowhere)  a huge library of scrapped
phrases, characterized and concorded only by their wanting  the
benison of inspiration.
     No  wonder,  then,  that  a  writer  who  is not afraid to
confess  that  he  has  known  inspiration  and   can   readily
distinguish  it  from  the  froth of a fit, as well as from the
humdrum comfort of the "right word,"  should  seek  the  bright
trace of that thrill in the work of fellow authors. The bolt of
inspiration  strikes  invariably: you observe the flash in this
or that piece of great writing, be it a stretch of fine  verse,
or a passage in Joyce or Tolstoy, or a phrase in a short story,
or  a  spurt  of  genius  in  the  paper  of a naturalist, of a
scholar, or even in a book reviewer's article. I have in  view,
naturally,  not the hopeless hacks we all know-- but people who
are creative artists in their own right, such as, say, Trilling
(with his critical opinions I am  not  concerned),  or  Thurber
(e.g. in Voices of Revolution: "Art does not rush
to the barricades").
     In  recent years numerous publishers have had the pleasure
of sending me their anthologies-- homing  pigeons  really,  for
all  of  them  contain  samples  of  the  recipient's writings.
Amongst the thirty or so  of  those  collections,  some  flaunt
pretentious  labels  ("Fables  of  Our  Time"  or  "Themes  and
Targets"); others are presented more  soberly  ("Great  Tales")
and their blurbs promise the reader that he will meet cranberry
pickers  and  hunkies;  but almost in each of them there arc at
least two or three first-rate stories.
     Age is chary, but it is also forgetful, and  in  order  to
choose instantly what to reread on a night of Orphic thirst and
what to reject for ever, I am careful to put an A, or a C, or a
D-minus,  against  this  or  that  item  in  the anthology. The
profusion of  high  marks  reconfirms  me  every  time  in  the
exhilarating belief that at the present time (say, for the last
fifty  years) the greatest short stories have been produced not
in England, not in Russia, and certainly not in France, but  in
this country.
     Examples  are the stained-glass windows of knowledge. From
a small number of A-plus stories  I  have  chosen  half-a-dozen
particular  favorites  of  mine.  T list their titles below and
parenthesize briefly the passage-- or one of the passages--  in
which  genuine  afflation  appears to be present, no matter how
trivial the inspired detail may look to a dull criticule.
     John Cheever's "The Country Husband"  ("Jupiter  [a  black
retriever] crashed through the tomato vines with the remains of
a felt hat in his mouth." The story is really a miniature novel
beautifully  traced,  so  that  the impression of there being a
little too many things happening in it is  completely  redeemed
by the satisfying coherence of its thematic interlacings.)
     John  Updike's  "The  Happiest  I've Been" ("The important
thing, rather than the subject, was  the  conversation  itself,
the  quick  agreements,  the  slow nods, the weave of different
memories; it was  like  one  of  these  Panama  baskets  shaped
underwater  around  a  worthless  stone."  I  like  so  many of
Updike's stories that  it  was  difficult  to  choose  one  for
demonstration  and  even more difficult to settle upon its most
inspired bit.)
     J. D. Salinger's "A  Perfect  Day  for  Bananafish"
("Stopping only to sink a foot in a soggy, collapsed castle . .
." This is a great story, too famous and fragile to be measured
here by a casual conchometrist.)
     Herbert  Gold's  "Death  in Miami Beach" ("Finally we die,
opposable thumbs and all." Or to do even better justice to this
admirable piece; "Barbados turtles as large as children .  .  .
crucified  like  thieves  . . . the tough leather of their skin
does not disguise their present helplessness and pain.")
     John Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse" ("What is the  story's
point?  Ambrose  is  ill.  He  perspires  in the dark passages;
candied apples-on-a-stick, delicious-looking, disappointing  to
eat. Funhouses need men's and ladies' rooms at interval." I had
some  trouble  in  pinning down what I needed amidst the lovely
swift speckled imagery.)
     Delmore Schwartz's "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"  (".
.  .  and the fatal merciless passionate ocean." Although there
are several other divine  vibrations  in  this  story  that  so
miraculously  blends  an  old cinema film with a personal past,
the quoted phrase wins its citation for  power  and  impeccable
rhythm.)
     I  must add that I would be very pleased if a Professor of
Literature to test his students at the start or  the  close  of
the  term  would  request  them to write a paper discussing the
following points:

     1. What is so good about those six stories? (Refrain  from
referring to "commitment," "ecology," "realism," "symbols," and
so forth).

     2.   What   other  passages  in  them  bear  the  mark  of
inspiration?

     3. How exactly was that poor lap dog made to howl in those
lace-cuffed hands, close to that periwig?


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