In other thanatopic news, all the American prizes in fiction this year went to a dead Chilean man.
Note well, fellow fiction writers. These awards and accolades are not being given in praise to the best work of the year or to raise the bar for future endeavors in experimentation and inventiveness.
We have not suddenly busted through into a new age where experimentation is JUST FINE and where America suddenly respects its fiction writers to the same extent that it respects its people who can swim really, really fast or its screen-tested pedigreed dogs who can pretend really, really well to be someone else.
If Roberto Bolano were alive and happy, you would still not know who he is. If David Foster Wallace was still happily working on his IRS auditor novel in California, no one would stoop to call him the voice of his generation, or a true, authentic hero.
No, the sudden surge in interest in the work of Bolano and Wallace is not a result of the prose they wrote. But it is instructive nonetheless, insofar as it tells us exactly what is on the mind of critics, literary fiction readers, and the Academy, (what has ALWAYS been on their mind).
They wish that we were dead.
"Perhaps I will die at thirty?
Perhaps you will have the pleasure of defiling my pauper's grave;
I wish you joy, I proffer you all my assistance.
It has been your habit for long
to do away wih good writers,
You either drive them mad, or else you blink at their suicides,
Or else you condone their drugs,
And talk of insanity and genius."
-- FROM "Salutation the Third," by Ezra Pound
For me, Wallace was like somebody pacing you during a long-distance run. If he could see the things that he saw and by god, make a LIFE even though the world was as wrong in his mind as a throbbing, inverted zit, then I could put words on a page, too, and be okay with my lot. Writing could be better than murder or better than sitting down on a nice leather couch and eating everything in the medicine cabinet with a knife and fork.
As a dead man, however, Wallace is simply another warning to us all, another casualty, another demon.
Fiction writers must have courage and persistence above all else. Poets and musicians are allowed to hang themselves: when fiction writers do it, you can only feel betrayed. Instead of Wallace as a model for a writing life, I'd rather recommend somebody like Harlan Ellison, a pugilistic provocateur who remains -- despite his monstrous defects -- all spleen and all warrior.
The world is frequently not a good place. And nobody likes the people who tell the truth about it. They would prefer these messengers to be dead and buried. Dead writers embody dead truth -- truth that once-was -- not truth about our ongoing hell.
But you are not dead. We still (you and I) have the guts to wake up every day with our hearts aching from the strain and madness of perception. We awake raw, feeling awful, and we sit down and turn our rage, loathing, and occasional joy into something that ennobles us, and therefore ennobles humanity (we remain a part, no matter how much we try to become astronauts orbiting our own species).
YOU GO AHEAD AND WRITE STUPID SHORT STORIES THAT DON'T GO ANYWHERE OR FLATTER THE OPINIONS OF PEOPLE WHO ARE EMOTIONALLY DEPENDENT ON IMAGINARY FRIENDS.
YOU GO AHEAD AND BE AS SELF-INDULGENT AS YOU WANT TO BE, AS LONG AS YOU KEEP WRITING AND NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU WHEN YOU ARE DOWN.
YOU GO AHEAD AND WORK WITHOUT A NET, MOVING FROM IRRESPONSIBLE DAY JOB TO IRRESPONSIBLE DAY JOB, BORROWING MONEY LIKE SUGAR AND STEALING AS MUCH AS YOU NEED FROM THE UNCARING UNIVERSE TO KEEP YOURSELF GOING.
YOU GO AHEAD AND LOSE FRIENDS AND SPEND DAYS ALONE AND TREAT NOVELS LIKE LIFE PRESERVERS IN A SEA OF PISS.
YOU GO AHEAD AND WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE, NOT WHAT YOU THINK WOULD SOMEDAY MAKE A GOOD MOVIE. BE SPECIFIC. BE CRUEL.
When you are down, find other writers and bitch to them for as loud as you can for as long as you can. Jitter and cry and fry and drink and then wake up in the morning and write yourself numb.
I may be alone in the world on this, but I believe that any living writer is better than any dead writer. The world is a living theater, and we should give our attention to the actors, not the backdrop, nor the footlights.
Anyway, if you have an hour to kill and you are interested, you can listen to some television critics at Slate discuss Wallace's "Infinite Jest" and decide that it is a failure because it does not cohere.
And here is a profile of David Foster Wallace at the New Yorker that blames his suicide on his inability to surpass his final novel.
And here is an article about his life and death at "Rolling Stone": "the disease was life itself."
Also, some asshole in Hollywood has made a movie out of one of Wallace's short story collections.
Let Ezra Pound take you home. Repeat after me:
"But I will not go mad to please you,
I will not flatter you with an early death,
Oh, no, I will stick it out,
Feel your hates wriggling about my feet
As a pleasant tickle,
To be observed with derision,
Though many move with suspicion,
Afraid to say that they hate you,
The taste of my boot?
Here is the taste of my boot,
Lick off the blacking."
Posted by miracle on Thu, 26 Mar 2009 12:15:48 -0400 -- permanent link