Friday, July 04, 2008

Meet Market

When Joyce met Proust they exchanged a mere few sentences. When Celan visited Heidegger they spoke about - well, nobody knows, but it probably wasn't the weather. What did Borges and Ballard discuss during their epochal encounter in the late 1960s? (Simon Sellars, that scurrilous paparazzo, has the shocking photo!) Best guesses on the back of an envelope to the usual address.

I'm a big fan of "when such-and-such met so-and-so" stories, especially when the details are vague, possibly apocryphal. What really happened is impossible to pin down, so you get speculation, or a Rashomon-esque kaleidescope of viewpoints. (eg. Did William Burroughs once tell Ian Curtis to "fuck off"? Mr Sellars once again has the story.) Literary gangs (Bloomsbury, the Lost Generation, etc.) are interesting in their way but it's the run-ins between incongruous (or even incompatible) individuals that are especially tantalising.

It's harder to get worked up about encounters between contemporary writers, most of whom are distinctly unmysterious and relatively accessible. I saw Ian McEwan, Peter Carey and Paul Auster yacking with Jennifer Burne a couple of months ago on ABC and it had all the intensity, conflict and significance of an informal Rotary Club meeting. Writers are too present these days, always shilling their wares or appearing at festivals or worrying away in public at the gnawed and marrowless femurs of their political obsessions. You can watch them chat to one another on tv, you can read their blogs and newspaper columns, you can see them live at book signings and literary festivals and dispensing advice in creative writing classes. Honestly, you get sick of the sight of them - and then they want you to care about their bloody books!

I prefer shadowy figures, your Pynchons and DeLillos who hide out in bunkers for decades at a time before emerging (in Pynchon's case in cartoon form) to hand over their latest work before disappearing once more from sight. I also prefer dead figures, who are by definition shadowy (no: shady) and unknowable and whose interactions took place in that dim, inadequately documented time known as "the past". Am I saying dead authors are more interesting than live ones? Possibly. All I know is that I'll take Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson letters over Dear Four-Eyes, Dear Plummy Git: The McEwan-Amis Emails any day.


Beth said...

"all the intensity, conflict and significance of an informal Rotary Club meeting" - contemporary literary culture in a nutshell, innit?

Although the stakes are raised, and the narky comments more entertaining, around prize season.

Do you read that column in the back of The Monthly on encounters between incongruous famous people? Shane Maloney writes it and there are fun illustrations.

Mark Thwaite said...

"Writers are too present these days" -- for sure, that is spot-on. And too present within their writing too. Not simply that there are too many novels that are merely veiled biography, but that there are too few writers who understand how to disappear within their own work.

TimT said...

Paco has a doozy today on his blog, a story about the encounter between Samuel Johnson and Adam Smith. It'd be nice to get Kingsley Amis, Chesterton, Jane Austen, Samuel Johnson, and James Ballard all in a room together, though you have to wonder whether they'd hit it off.

Ben.H said...

My choice moment for the meeting of literary minds is when Kurt Vonnegut introduced Nelson Algren to José Donoso. They had nothing to say, until Algren remembered Donoso was Chile, and said, "It must be nice to come from a country that long and narrow."

Didn't Proust and Joyce spend most of their time together fighting over the window in their taxi?