Quotations from Louise Bourgeoise, Tennessee Williams, and Flannery O’Connor

Louise Bourgeoise (1911 – 2010)

“Through self-knowledge we recognize and understand the mechanisms of our fears. We cease being dependent on the unknown and the acting out stops. The goal is to become active, and to take control. Until the past is negated by the present, we do not live.
….In our refusal to confront our fear, we retreat into nostalgia. Fear condemns us to a rejection of the present. The present is kept intolerable. We must call for help from the past to solve the problems of today.
…Some artists act all their lives instead of thinking. Self-expression excludes learning. Sublimation is a fantastic pleasure but also a fantastic privilege. Sublimation is living in heaven with the permission of your conscience. But the price of this sublimation, this acting out, is the absence of self-understanding or even of the desire for it. It is humiliating to be a toy in the hands of a fear that grips you so tightly.
…Self-knowledge makes artists better artists… Ignorance is bliss, but its ransom is to keep you a prisoner of your own fears….So the moral of this Cell is, you better grow up.”

Reprinted from Marc Dachy, ed. Et tous ils changent le monde, exh. cat., Bienneale d’art contemporain de Lyon (Lyon: Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 1993), 236-37. (this is the reference, missing the ` over the e’s, for the statement in Louise Bourgeois; The Locus of Memory, Harry Abrams, Inc., New York, 1994, p. 70-71.


“In fact, the basis of her work may seem modest in comparison to the aims of those other artists: it involves her attempts to be responsible for herself, and to understand herself and her needs. Her work, in some way, takes the form of a strategy or survival. This is a deeply moving and humanistic aim.

Bourgeois looks to herself for the sources of her art. What might be considered the conflicts or pathologies of one’s life are seen by Bourgeoise as her themes, in fact, the definition of herself. Consequently, her work expresses a personal and deeply autobiographical content. It is bound by life, and her life in particular. Rather than being mystical or cosmic, it is profoundly human….An encounter with a Bourgeoise work reminds one, and makes one vividly feel, what it is to be human.”

From “Louise Bourgeois: One and Others,” essay by Deborah Wye, Louise Bourgeois, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 1982, p.33


Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

“What I am writing about is human nature,” he said. “I write about the South because I think the war between romanticism and the hostility to it is very sharp there.” p.45
From an interview with Louise Davis

“Let us not deny all the dark things of the human heart, but let us try to cast a clear light on them in our work.” p.75
From an interview with Edward R. Murrow

“Give a person an acute sensibility and you’re bound to find a person who is under a good deal of torment, especially in this particular time.” p. 82
From an interview with Studs Terkel

“All creative work is autobiographical.” p.116
From an interview with John Gruen

“…I don’t know what I am here for…what is the purpose of my being here.” p.130
From an interview with Walter Wager

“Without deprivation and struggle there is no salvation and I am just a sword cutting daisies.” p.197
From an interview with Rex Reed

“This essence of life is really very grotesque and gothic. To get to it you’ve got to do what may strike some people as distortion.” p. 264

also— “…the feminine sensibility is more usable to me as a writer…I think it is closer to art…” p. 265

also—” they are closer to life, it seems to me. I may be mistaken, it seems to me that men bury themselves in businesses and moneymaking, competition and that sort of thing; women seem to me organically closer to love which is where life is, where it began, where it is.” p.278
From an interview with Cecil Brown

“My work is emotionally autobiographical.” p.342
From an interview with Dotson Rader

Conversations with Tennessee Williams, edited by Albert J. Devlin, copyright 1986 by the University Press of Mississippi, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson and London.


Flannery O’Connor (1925 – 1964)

“Southern identity is not really connected with mocking birds and beaten biscuits and white columns any more than it is with hookworm and bare feet and muddy clay roads. Nor is it necessarily shown forth in the antics of our politicians, for the development of power obeys strange laws of its own. An identity is not to be found on the surface; it is not accessible to the poll-taker; it is not something that can become a cliché. It is not made from the mean average or the typical, but from the hidden and often the most extreme. It is not made from what passes, but from those qualities that endure, regardless of what passes, because they are related to truth. It lies very deep. In its entirety, it is known only to God, but of those who look for it, none gets so close as the artist.”
From The Regional Writer, p 846-7. In the same article and page, explaining why the South still has a degree of advantage in fiction, she quotes Walker Percy….

“Every serious writer will put his finger on it as a slightly different spot but in the same region of sensitivity. When Walker Percv won the National Book Award, newsmen asked him why there were so many good Southern writers and he said, ‘Because we lost the War.’ He didn’t mean by that simply that a lost war makes good subject matter. What he was saying was that we have had our Fall. We have gone into the modern world with an inburnt knowledge of human limitations and with a sense of mystery which could not have developed in our first state of innocence —as it has not sufficiently developed in the rest of our country.”

“The hermaphrodite here is no invention of mine, it having appeared at a fair here last summer where our dairyman’s daughter attended its performance. She came back and told me about it and my account in the story is substantially hers. The freak told them that God had made it this way and that therefore it was making the best of it.”
In a letter to Beverly Brunson, dated Sept. 13, 1954, in reference to The Temple of the Holy Ghost, p. 925

“God done this to me and I praise Him.”

“Raise yourself up. A temple of the Holy Ghost. You! You are God’s temple, don’t you know? Don’t you know? God’s Spirit has a dwelling in you, don’t you know.”

“I am a temple of the Holy Ghost.”
From The Temple of the Holy Ghost, quotes from the hermaphrodite, p.207

“Every time I heard about the School of Southern Degeneracy, I felt like Brer Rabbit stuck on the tar-baby.”
From Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction, p. 814

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive.”
From Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction, p. 818

“…in order not to destroy, he [the novelist]will have to descend far enough into himself to reach those underground springs that give life to his work.”
From Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction, p. 821

All quotations are from: Flannery O’Connor; Collected Works, The Library of America, volume arrangement, notes, and chronology © 1988 by Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. NYC, NY. All previously unpublished material is © 1988 by the Estate of Flannery O’Connor.