On the late French critic Roland Barthes: "Of all the contemporary critical reputations, the most ridiculous is that of Roland Barthes, who, for my money, is no critic at all. I've always called him 'Roland Frou-Frou' because he is the critical equivalent, in terms of fashion, of someone who determines where ladies' hemlines should be."

On the Connecticut poet, Wallace Stevens: "One feels his spirit here. There are moments when I am walking down the street and it is impossible not to recall some lines of his. In the early spring I'll remember that moment in 'A Discovery of Thought': 'One thinks, when the houses of New England catch the first sun,/ the first wind would be of the susceptible being arrived,/ the immaculate disclosure of the secret no more obscured.' "

On contemporary fiction: "I've written about the Jewish-American novelists, and I suppose of Bellow, Malamud, Mailer and Roth, the one I admire most is Roth from a spiritual point of view. Also he makes me laugh, a scorching laughter though it may be. But of all them, the living American fiction writer is Thomas Pynchon."

On Ezra Pound: "Pound is, for my money, the most overrated poet of the 20th century. There were a few grand fragments scattered in him and that is all. Pound as a critic was abominable beyond description. My 'favorite' remark of his, humanly and critically, comes from his letters: 'All the Jew part of the Bible is black evil.' That, my dear, is Pound as a critic."

On his own place in academe: "I am the pariah of the profession. If you went to a convention of the Modern Language Association and asked who were the 10 most eminent people in the profession, I would not be among them, I assure you. But if you asked who was the satan of the profession, 50,000 would vote for me."

On his own personality: "I do not regard myself as hostile or aggressive. I am a real Caspar Milquetoast."

On his place in literary history: "I wouldn't want to evaluate it. But if I look at the talent in the room -- and here I sound like the equivalent of Mr. Norman Mailer -- I am not much impressed. Against Dr. Johnson or Hazlitt, I can't even bat .050, but if I had to compare myself with what is going on now, I ain't very worried."