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James Jones (1921 – 1977)


American author, who became famous after the publication of his first novel, From Here to Eternity.
James Jones
I have discovered only two writers whom I can take all the way, or at least nearly so; and those are Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Wolfe. I think Hemingway is confused on lots of things, just as I think the Fountainhead was confused; but I also think both are magnificently right in many things.)
Jones quotes
Somewhere along the line, he thought, these things have become your heritage. You are multiplied by each sound that you hear. And you cannot deny them, without denying with them the purpose of your own existence. Yet now, he told himself, you are denying them, by renouncing the place that they have given you.
Jones
You have to really work at it to write. I guess there has to be talent first; but even with talent you still have to work at it, to write.




Jones James quotes
This place is hell. They herd you around like cattle; they order you around like dogs; they work you like horses; and they feed you like hogs.
Jones James
There're so many young guys, you know young Americans and, yes, young men everywhere a whole generation of people younger than me who have grown up feeling inadequate as men because they haven't been able to fight in a war and find out whether they are brave or not. Because it is in an effort to prove this bravery that we fight in wars or in bars whereas if a man were truly brave he wouldn't have to be always proving it to himself. So therefore I am forced to consider bravery suspect, and ridiculous, and dangerous. Because if there are enough young men like that who feel strongly enough about it, they can almost bring on a war, even when none of them want it, and are in fact struggling against having one. (And as far as modern war is concerned I am a pacifist. Hell, it isn't even war anymore, as far as that goes. It's an industry, a big business complex.) And it's a ridiculous thing because this bravery myth is something those young men should be able to laugh at. Of course the older men like me, their big brothers, and uncles, and maybe even their fathers, we don't help them any. Even those of us who don't openly brag. Because all the time we are talking about how scared we were in the war, we are implying tacitly that we were brave enough to stay. Whereas in actual fact we stayed because we were afraid of being laughed at, or thrown in jail, or shot, as far as that goes.
James Jones quotes
He's a monumental figure, a novelist. I remember him best for From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line among the best war literature of Americans. Probably for this reason: I think it is one of the few war books written by somebody who was there, in the military and in combat. Most of our other war books are not.
James Jones
Prew bit his lips. He got his envelope roll out of the wall locker and the combat pack off the bed foot. He laid them on the floor and opened the light pack. Everyone in the squadroom sat up and watched him silently and speculatively, as they might watch a sick horse upon whose time to die they had gotten up a pool.
Jones James quotes
Also by the way, I have found a title for this book. From Here to Eternity. Taken from the "Whiffenpoof" song, of Yale drinking fame. It goes: "We are little black sheep who have gone astray, baa . . . baa . . . baa. Gentlemen songsters out on a spree, damned from here to eternity. God have mercy on such as we. Baa, etc." Maybe it's maudlin, but so am I. I get chills every time I sing it, even when sober.
Jones
In spite of all the training you get and precautions you take to keep yourself alive, it's largely a matter of luck that decided whether or not you get killed. It doesn't make any difference who you are, how tough you are, how nice a guy you might be, or how much you may know, if you happen to be at a certain spot at a certain time, you get it. I've seen guys out of one hole to a better one and get it the next minute, whereas if they'd stayed still they wouldn't have been touched. I've seen guys decide to stay in a hole instead of moving and get it. I've seen guys move and watch the hole they were in get blown up a minute later. And I've seen guys stay and watch the place to which they had intended to move get blown up. It's all luck.
Jones James
For novel readers who care about war and warriors who cared about novels, a great memory is the picture, seen in tens of millions of imaginations, and finally in a film, of Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt playing taps at Schofield Barracks, 25 miles from Honolulu, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, in James Jones's great novel, From Here to Eternity. It was published 55 years ago and sold three million copies, and it is on my mind today because I'm thinking about the taps we will all hear this Monday, Memorial Day, at ceremonies and in cemeteries throughout the country. When I hear it I'm going to think of what my father always said when he heard taps. "Play it, Prewitt," he'd say. Because that character was like men he'd known in the American army of World War II.
James Jones
James Jones was a curiously American phenomenon: the great novelist who comes out of nowhere, equipped only with talent and a fierce determination to write.




James Jones quotes
I learned a lot about the play of emotion. There was a part of me that whistled in the dark, and said, "It's all right, he wrote a very good book; it's probably better than The Naked and the Dead." I must tell you now, in this point of my literary existence, I think it was better than The Naked and the Dead, because it went into the taproot of Army experience. I had learned a lot in the Army from a couple of years in it, and it had had a huge effect on me, and I'd been able to write a pretty good novel with it. But it hadn't been my life in the way it had been for Jones. He hadn't had a successful career life as an adolescent and a young man, so he went into that Regular Army. That was going to be his life; that was going to be his existence. It wasn't something he was going to get out of necessarily. And so his book, I felt, went deeper into the nature of what it was like to be a soldier. So I thought, yes, it was a better book than I had written.
James Jones
This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and the leaders, the monuments and museums which we erect to them in the name of PEACE.
Jones quotes
Here's the way I wrote in one of the things I wrote a while back: "But since he had been in the army, he had come to understand his ungraspable longing and his phantasmal and belly-shrinking dissatisfaction: there were such things he wanted to be, to do, to write: He wanted to be the voice that shrieked out the agony of frustration and lostness and despair and loneliness, that all men feel, yet cannot understand; the voice that rolled forth the booming, intoxicating laughter of men's joy; the voice that richly purred men's love of good hot food and spicy strong drink; men's love of thick, moist, pungent tobacco smoke on a full belly; men's love of woman: voluptuous, throaty voiced, silken-thighed, and sensual."
I suppose that sounds an awful lot like Wolfe, but if it does, it's exactly the way I feel.
Jones James
I am at the moment trying to write a novel, a combat novel, which, in addition to being a work which tells the truth about warfare as I saw it, would free all these young men from the horseshit which has been engrained in them by my generation. I don't think that combat has ever been written about truthfully; it has always been described in terms of bravery and cowardice. I won't even accept these words as terms of human reference any more. And anyway, hell, they don't even apply to what, in actual fact, modern warfare has become. QOTD 20071106 Sound file
Jones James quotes
The perfect ideal would be that a man who is essentially nonviolent would be able to defend himself against any form of violence. But this is very rare in life. But this raises one of the most important themes in Eternity, why Prewitt does not shoot back at the MPs who kill him as he tries to get back to his unit after his murder of Fatso Judson. You see, when Prewitt kills Fatso he is carrying the theory of vengeance by violence to its final logical end. But the thing is that Fatso doesn't even know why he is being killed; and when Prewitt sees that, he realizes what a fruitless thing he has done.
James Jones
He wanted to go very deep ... but he was not a stylist at all. Sometimes his efforts to go deep seemed superficially very clumsy. But consider the effect that the book From Here to Eternity had on everybody I knew on writers, on fans and myself included. It just knocked me absolutely cold. We didn't care about the style; I mean, who could care about the style? You were just tremendously moved. I think Prewitt became the prototype for all the laconic, quiet, mysterious, basically tragic heroes populating almost every novel there is now.
James Jones quotes
He looked at his watch and as the second hand touched the top stepped up and raised the bugle to the megaphone, and the nervousness dropped from him like a discarded blouse, and he was suddenly alone, gone away from the rest of them.
The first note was clear and absolutely certain. There was no question or stumbling in this bugle. It swept across the quadrangle positively, held just a fraction longer than most buglers hold it. Held long like the length of time, stretching away from weary day to weary day. Held long like thirty years. The second note was short, almost too abrupt. Cut short and soon gone, like the minutes with a whore. Short like a ten minute break is short. And then the last note of the first phrase rose triumphantly from the slightly broken rhythm, triumphantly high on an untouchable level of pride above the humiliations, the degradations.
He played it all that way, with a paused then hurried rhythm that no metronome could follow. There was no placid regimented tempo to Taps. The notes rose high in the air and hung above the quadrangle. They vibrated there, caressingly, filled with an infinite sadness, an endless patience, a pointless pride, the requiem and epitaph of the common soldier, who smelled like a common soldier, as a woman had once told him. They hovered like halos over the heads of sleeping men in the darkened barracks, turning all the grossness to the beauty that is the beauty of sympathy and understanding. Here we are, they said, you made us, now see us, dont close your eyes and shudder at it; this beauty, and this sorrow, of things as they are.
James Jones
I want to make everybody in the world groan with the inevitability of sorrow.
Jones James
It's rare that a song grounded in reality moves me because I don't feel like I'm getting the whole story. Songs are made to exist in and of themselves, like a great James Jones or Robert Louis Stevenson novel they're not autobiographical, and yet there's a reality in every single page. It's real life of the imagination.


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