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John Dos Passos (1896 – 1970)


American novelist and artist.
John Dos Passos
For something like forty years I've been getting various sorts of narratives off my chest without being able to hit upon a classification for them. There's something dreary to me about the publisher's arbitrary division of every word written for publication into fiction and nonfiction. My writing has a most irritating way of being difficult to classify in either category. At times I would find it hard to tell you whether the stuff is prose or verse. Gradually I've come up with the tag: contemporary chronicle.
Dos Passos quotes
There are too many "creative writing" courses and seminars, in which young wirters are constantly being taught to rewrite the previous generation. They should be experimenting on their own. Every writer faces different problems which he must solve for himself.
Dos Passos
Humanity has a strange fondness for following processions. Get four men following a banner down the street, and, if that banner is inscribed with rhymes of pleasant optimism, in an hour, all the town will be afoot, ready to march to whatever tune the leaders care to play.




Dos Passos John quotes
The only excuse for a novelist, aside from the entertainment and vicarious living his books give the people who read them, is as a sort of second-class historian of the age he lives in. The "reality" he missed by writing about imaginary people, he gains by being able to build a reality more nearly out of his own factual experience than a plain historian or biographer can.
Dos Passos John
In the last twenty-five years a change has come over the visual habits of Americans . . . From being a wordminded people we are becoming an eyeminded people.
John Dos Passos quotes
Organization kills.
John Dos Passos
"all right we are two nations."
Dos Passos John quotes
A satirist is a man whose flesh creeps so at the ugly and the savage and the incongruous aspects of society that he has to express them as brutally and nakedly as possible to get relief.
Dos Passos
Walt Whitman's a hell of a lot more revolutionary than any Russian poet I've ever heard of.
Dos Passos John
The business of a novelist is, in my opinion, to create characters first and foremost, and then to set them in the snarl of the human currents of his time, so that there results an accurate permanent record of a phase of history.
John Dos Passos
If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works, with all the misconceptions, the omissions, the failures that any finished work of art implies.




John Dos Passos quotes
The mind of a generation is its speech. A writer makes aspects of that speech enduring by putting them in print. He whittles at the words and phrases of today and makes of them forms to set the mind of tomorrow's generation. That's history. A writer who writes straight is the architect of history.
John Dos Passos
I think the satirist is always basically optimistic. The satirist's complaint about society is always that it doesn't measure up to a fairly high ideal he has. I think that even the bitterest satirist, even a man like Swift, was probably rather an optimist at heart.
Dos Passos quotes
He is walking up an incline. There are tracks below him and the slow clatter of a freight, the hiss of an engine. At the top of a hill he stops to look back. He can see nothing but fog spaced with a file of blurred archlights. Then he walks on, taking pleasure in breathing, in the beat of his blood, in the tread of his feet on the pavement, between rows of otherworldly frame houses. Gradually the fog thins, a morning pearliness is seeping in from somewhere. Sunrise finds him walking along a cement road between dumping grounds full of smoking rubbishpiles. The sun shines redly through the mist on rusty donkey-engines, skeleton trucks, wishbones of Fords, shapeless masses of corroding metal. Jimmy walks fast to get out of the smell. He is hungry; his shoes are beginning to raise blisters on his big toes. At a cross-road where the warning light still winks and winks, is a gasoline station, opposite it the Lightning Bug lunchwagon. Carefully he spends his last quarter on breakfast. That leaves him three cents for good luck, or bad luck for that matter. A huge furniture truck, shiny and yellow, has drawn up outside.
"Say will you give me a lift?" he asks the redhaired man at the wheel.
"How fur ye goin?"
"I dunno. . . . Pretty far." (pp. 403-404)
Dos Passos John
Before the ferry leaves a horse and wagon comes aboard, a brokendown springwagon loaded with flowers, driven by a little brown man with high cheekbones. Jimmy Herf walks around it; behind the drooping horse with haunches like a hatrack the little warped wagon is unexpectedly merry, stacked with pots of scarlet and pink geraniums, carnations, alyssum, forced roses, blue lobelia. A rich smell of maytime earth comes from it, of wet flowerpots and greenhouses. The driver sits hunched with his hat over his eyes. Jimmy has an impulse to ask him where he is going with all of those flowers, but he stifles it.
Dos Passos John quotes
Great works of the imagination are not produced quickly nor do they take quick effect on the popular mind.
John Dos Passos
There is a part of me in every character, naturally. That's why novelists rarely write good autobiographies. You start one and it becomes another novel - bound to.
John Dos Passos quotes
One of the most extraordinary things about industrial society of the present day is its idiot lack of memory. Tabloids and movies take the place of mental processes and revolts, crimes, despairs pass off in a dribble of vague words and rubber stamp phrases without leaving a scratch on the mind of the driven instalment-paying, subway-packing mass.
John Dos Passos
Pursuit of happiness, unalienable pursuit... right to life liberty and... A black moonless night; Jimmy Herf is walking alone up South Street. Behind the wharfhouses ships raise shadowy skeletons against the night. "By Jesus I admit I'm stumped," he says aloud. All these April nights combing the streets alone a skyscraper has obsessed him, a grooved building jutting up with uncountable bright windows falling onto him out of a scudding sky. Typewriters rain continual nickelplated confetti in his ears.
Dos Passos John
And he walks round blocks and blocks looking for the door of the humming tinsel windowed skyscraper, round blocks and blocks and still no door. Every time he closes his eyes the dream has hold of him, every time he stops arguing audibly with himself in pompous reasonable phrases the dream has hold of him. Young man to save your sanity you've got to do one of two things... Please mister where's the door to the building? Round the block? Just round the block... one of two unalienable alternatives: go away in a dirty soft shirt or stay in a clean Arrow collar. But what's the use of spending your whole life fleeing the City of Destruction? What about your unalienable right, Thirteen Provinces? His mind unreeling phrases, he walks on doggedly. There's nowhere in particular he wants to go. If only I still had faith in words. (pp. 365-366)


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