GREATNESS and IMPORTANCE
|March 8, 2012|
The Poor Poet, Carl Spitzweg, 1839
Since when did being a writer become a career choice, with appropriate degree courses and pecking orders? Does this state of affairs make any difference to what gets written?
A natural selection process favors those writers whose style and content cross borders easily. Success and celebrity breed imitators. Lots of them. Nobody can read everything. Nobody can read the hundredth part of everything. Nevertheless international prizes purport to tell us which is the best novel of the year, who the greatest writer.
The ultimate achievement of the career writer, after a lifetime of literary festivals, shortlists and prizes, readings, seminars, honorary degrees, lectures, and, of course, writing is, or would be, to place himself inside “the canon.” But in the publishing culture we have today any idea that a process of slow sifting might produce a credible canon such as those we inherited from the distant past is nonsense. Whatever in the future masquerades as a canon for our own time will largely be the result of good marketing, self-promotion, and of course pure chance.
Is all this bad news? Only if one is attached to dreams of greatness. In a droll lecture entitled “Ten Thousand Poets” delivered at the annual conference of The Association of Literary Scholars and Critics at Boston University last October, the excellent poet Mark Halliday reflected:
“I think all of us who keep striving and striving to publish another and another book of poems are still in love with the ideas of GREATNESS and IMPORTANCE.”
As Halliday concluded such ideas were simply not compatible with the era of the career writer.
Merleau-Ponty’s Child Psychology
As much as death signals the end of the self, birth is just as mysterious. Both extend out to infinity and signal the brevity and contingency of our lives. As mysterious are those first few years of life that one does not have access to as an adult, I know I existed before my earliest memories. I know I interacted with others, I learned to walk and talk. I was willful from my parent’s tales.
William Pope.L: Reader Friendly
William Pope.L is famous for (among other things) carrying a business card that identifies him as “The Friendliest Black Artist in America.” It’s a clever gag because it makes itself true, in a way, every time it draws people closer. The card must be especially useful when Pope.L does business with people who dread Black men or Black artists.
10 Things the NSA Has Seen Me Do
One winter in my early twenties myself and some good friends — a merging of art, music and literary ladies of New York, full-grown girls aspiring to be women — got together, had a lovely dinner, some wine and delightful chat. Then we decided to spend an hour practicing “Teach Me How To Dougie”. NSA — can you teach me how to Dougie? You know why? “Because all my bitches love me.”
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On the subject of death I’m inclined to turn to my two favourite writers. Vladimir Nabokov begins Speak Memory, an autobiography of sorts, with the kind of banality any reader of his knows better than to get cosy with: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ Given how much respect he had for common sense we shouldn’t be anything but wary.
The first time I visited Leipzig, Germany was late in the winter of 1992, not long after the much-hyped reunification. The East was still very much “The East,” and though money was pouring in from the federal government, no one really seemed to know what the rules were. Out of sheer uncertainty, or else habit, people continued to shop at the old communist grocery store chain, Konsum, where there was one kind of bread, one kind of butter, one kind of milk in a bottle you brought back for your 10-pfennig deposit.
How fitting and dispiriting that an opera so determined to adapt to the times was produced by a company that ultimately failed to do so. The libretto by Richard Thomas is a vibrant mash-up of contradictory attributes, at once slangy and poetic, filthy and elevated, hilarious and touching. The most trenchant lines were delivered by the chorus, a hortatory crew who in the NYCO presentation were as admonishing as any band of onstage commentators since the ancient Greeks, though rather more profane