Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sordid Lifestyles of the Artistic and Famous

Just in case you wanted to know, Michael Chabon is mad good in bed. Oh, and let's have one more look at how William Faulkner was a crazy alcoholic. But it'd be mendacious to say that I didn't devour both of these articles. Like a vacuum cleaner. The J.M. Coetzee one was really nicely done, too.

But I feel like I read these things (and this is why I've resolved to avoid literary biographies) for entirely the wrong reasons; namely, 1) to deplume the writer of all her mystery and 2) to gain insight into "what she meant" in her literary work. I've talked about the first reason before, although not very luculently. In fact, I think I'm setting myself up to contradict that post.

The point is, I don't think we're supposed to like authors, the way we like our friends, or dislike authors the way we dislike people that don't tip waitresses well. Because putting them on the same level as normal people, with all their pettinesses and faults and insecurities, causes one to unconsciously degrade the art that they make as well. Maybe. It takes away from the nobleness and beauty of their art, which good art is, even if the art's subject matter is ignoble and grotesque. So just because I desire to familiarize myself with artists doesn't mean it's good for me.

Re: the second reason. I'm all for attempting to discover what a writer means by something he writes. I'm not (yet) Mr. Stanley Fish, who is all "the true writer is the reader" and "interpret the text however the hell you want." But I don't think that this is the proper way to go about it, by snooping through his private life and trying to reconstruct his state of mind at the time. On the one hand, it makes everything super-mundane; I'm reminded of Wallace's review of a Borges biography in the NYTBR a few months ago - he felt (like Coetzee, re: the Faulkner biography) that the biography sucked the magic out of Borges's stories by reducing them to reflections of Borges's broken heart/other piddling emotional trauma.

So don't read those articles. And if they do publish that unpublished Hemingway novel, don't read that either. But who am I to tell you what to do.
A book is the writer's secret life, the dark twin of a man: you can't reconcile them. - William Faulkner, Mosquitos