Norman Mailer was a brawler, a boozer, an insulter, and yet he was naive enough to champion a man convicted of a crime who eventually went on the lam when Mailer had him sprung. Oh, and Mailer’s works included The Naked and the Dead, The Armies of the Night, and Ancient Evenings.
David Foster Wallace was a college professor who suffered twenty years of depression before killing himself. Oh, and he wrote Infinite Jest, a highly respected, self parodying look at the future of the U.S.
And I could go on to mention Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Zelda Fitzgerald, and others.
But why the personal items before parenthetically mentioning these writers’ works? Because that’s the way we see them. In our culture, writing ponderable literary works is simply an avenue to fame. Once gaining Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, such creative types are fair game, and we reduce them to their peccadilloes, their quirks. And more likely than not, those who seek to emulate Mailer, Plath, Wallace, Zelda, et al, assume the posture of drunks, boors, bullies, overly sensitized “suffering for their art” types as a way to literary heights. Some of these actually gain fame through this avenue, and, sadly, the arts are the lesser for it.
But is this what creativity is all about? Is it about fame? Notoriety? Self destructiveness? Emily Dickinson was a virtual unknown during her lifetime. Leo Tolstoy happened to be rich and he gained literary fame, but he worked his farm’s field with the serfs, simply because he wanted to – the sort of activity that would bore today’s armchair deconstructionists. All of these writers took the time to study, to examine life through a wider lens, and to write carefully and majestically, but we hardly consider that when thinking of them.
Isn’t it time to quit lionizing drugs, booze, boorish, sometimes flaky behavior? Isn’t it time to pay attention to what matters most – the writing, and it’s impact on the rest of us?
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