Monday, February 28, 2005

Authors, Personality-Wise

So I've never (to my knowledge) actually met a real-live author. "Met" as in flesh-and-blood conversed, joked, dined with. And there are lots of people (including many authors) that say that that's the way it should be - we should know artists through their art, and not through their personalities. Oscar Wilde said in Dorian Gray that really good artists poured all of their interesting qualities into their art, which is why they're very dull to be with.

And by all accounts, a lot of writers are pretty disappointingly imperfect in real life. Take, for example, this article (link via Maud Newton) about Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Little Mermaid.
A hypochondriac and super-sensitive, he was so terrified of being buried alive that on his travels through Europe, he slept with a note -- "I only seem dead" -- by his side. He was snobbish, insecure and self-obsessed, never able to judge his impression on others.
Oh dear.

On one hand, this would offer a kind of viscious comfort if it were true for the general case (i.e. "Marcel Proust may have been able to tear out and polish piths about truth, love, and beauty, but at least he probably smelled bad!")... but I don't believe it. I haven't read The Little Mermaid, but I'm pretty sure that the book wasn't about Hans Christian Andersen. But a key component (and you either love it or hate it) of modern/postmodern/whatever literature is that it is oftentimes about the writer. In other words, I can't help it if, along with falling in love with the book, I end up falling in love with the author as well.

I mean, how do you want me to react when Vonnegut writes (in Welcome to the Monkeyhouse):
I am six feet two and weigh nearly two hundred pounds and am badly coordinated, except when I swim. All that borrowed meat does the writing.

In the water I am beautiful.
Do you honestly expect me to not want to ravish him, the Vonnegut that wrote this passage, to not want to moan yes, yes, you are beautiful? Or at least have coffee with him?

That is an obvious example, but little things do it, too. The use of uncommon descriptors - a blushing idea. Wry asides that make me giggle. Creative punctuation, I don't know. Suddenly it's in there, and, tobacco juice notwithstanding, I'm nothing but a puddle of oozy appreciation. Perhaps that's what I mean by a "literaison."