The concepts of the philosopher speak, the words of the novelist are mute; the philosopher invites us to pass through his words to his subject: man, God, nature, moral law; while the novelist, if he is any good, will keep us kindly imprisoned in his language – there is literally nothing beyond.
That is simply nonsense. Gass tries to establish a fundamental difference between philosophers and writers and, in some senses, he may be right. But here he goes too far. A philosopher, if he is any good, will indeed invite us to pass through his words to his subject. But so too, will a writer. Is Moby-Dick a mute example of wordplay, or is it an exercise in the understanding of humanity and human nature? Are Flannery O'Connor's tortured souls, Tarwater and Haze Motes, mutely imprisoning us in a cage of beautiful words, or are they beckoning us to the vision that O'Connor wants us to apprehend? Of course there is something beyond the words on the page. Otherwise there would be no point in either writing or reading them.