Monday, April 10, 2006

Patronizing Genius

Update: Someone has lent Wife a book by the author discussed below. I guess there's just no escaping the bugger. — The Eds.

Most of us sane folk generally avoid contact with snobs, assholes, and other loathsome types. We also try not to give them our financial support.

Such an arrangement plays out like this:

JERK: You stupid shit. I'm smarter, better, and handsomer than you.

YOU: Here's my money.

JERK: I am so supremely talented that the rules don't apply to me.

YOU: Here's my money.

JERK: Fuck you.

YOU: Here's my money.

As ludicrous as that sounds, it’s not a far stretch from what happens when we patronize artists who are jerks. And patronize we do.

And five wives to show for it

The obvious example are the entertainers — musicians, athletes, actors — whose condescension and exquisite sense of entitlement make them revolting.

Writers, with less media coverage than Russell Crowe or Christina Aguilera, don’t have the rep for being such types, at least in the eye of the general public. But you and I know better.

The lecherous middle-aged fart preying on coeds at MFA programs or the seductress of married men working the conference circuit, the full-of-themselves jackholes who slam other writers in workshop, the monstrous “genius” who destroys others but gets away with it because of his talent.

The problem is, some of them are great writers whose work can enrich our lives. I’m thinking of one writer in particular, of course. This person is known as a snotty, pretentious ass and a genius with the word processor.

I know the former is true from both media reports and personal accounts. A magazine story chronicled this writer’s refusal to associate with other writers on a trip, deigning them unworthy of his or her time; I have heard from a reliable source that this writer showed up to a group dinner at an expensive restaurant, ate, and left without paying, as if entitled to be wined and dined.

Unfortunately, this (young) person has published several books to almost universal praise, won awards, been feted and lauded, and generally thought to be one of the best spinners of fiction today.

(And if you think I'm going to say who it is, let there be a cottage industry on the response board trying to figure it out.)

For these reasons, I can't bring myself to buy one of his or her highly acclaimed novels. Can't do it, even if it would make me a better writer.

A psycho writing teacher (and I have had more than one) would scream at me and say, "Fool! Read everything. You have to learn as much as possible, even if the writer runs over cats for fun."

“I’m not buying Mein Kampf, either,” I would say back.

In the 20th Century, when media made private lives public, we can see plenty of brilliant writers who were about as nice as cancer. Saul Bellow was notoriously churlish and mean, evidenced by his five marriages. D.H. Lawrence (nutjob!) thought of himself as a Superman, and once wrote to a dying woman that he was glad she wouldn't be around any more. And Hemingway was…well, in addition to turning on his friends and being misogynist while leeching off women, Hemingway was way way way fucked up.

Great writer

I've read all of these folk, and as a writer, have purloined and learned from their work. But I take comfort in the knowledge that they are dead, and any money I spend on their work goes to their issue, who probably suffered mightily for it.

All the bloody time I make this compromise in my life. I'll watch a Russell Crowe movie even after he plunked a telephone at a hapless desk clerk. I rooted for Sammy Sosa and the 2003 Cubs even though Sosa was a selfish, steroid-inhaling loser. Brahms was a hateful crank, but I love his music.

Really, my position is indefensible. Just as I wouldn't buy a book by a lousy writer just because he or she is a saint, I probably shouldn’t disqualify writers who are crappy human beings. In fact, that would probably remove half of the Great Books ever produced.

So I’ve got a new attitude. I’m going to start using the library.