Tuesday, April 6, 2010

No better, no worse

West understood that mass culture had spawned a scary hunger for borrowed and processed "authenticity," and this makes his novels appear, in the words of the novelist Jonathan Lethem, "permanently oracular," anticipating such piranhaesque spectacles as reality TV and Gawker. Against the urge to idealize writers of the past, "Lonelyhearts" presents a portrait of a literary milieu as double-dealing, bitchy, hypocritical and self-deluding as pretty much every conglomeration of ambitious artists since the dawn of time. It certainly was no better than our own. The switcheroo?: Ours is no worse. (Laura Miller, “‘Lonely Hearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney,” Salon, 21 March 2010)

As soon as s/he was born, I was aware s/he would die

This week we learn that literary milieus – with people being people and all -- were, are, and always will be ambitious but also double-dealing, bitchy, hypocritical and self-deluding. Last week we learned that being adult means knowing enough of life to be respectful of its wounds, and enough of history to be leery of all ostensibly new, out-of-the-blue, grand and sweeping claims. The week previous, that genius may be more available than we thought, but only after a lifetime of hard, persistent and focused work (Einstein being the genius, not because he dreamed big, but because he persisted in his efforts longer than anyone else). Like the ’30s AND ’40s over the presuming, hard-playing, elder-mocking, juvenile ’20s, do you see yourself as a kind of vulture overhang -- part of the gallows and proof that nothing can be so brilliant that it can't be mastered and broken by something longer, deeper, and totally self-balking?

Link: "Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney" (Salon)

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