Saturday, July 11, 2009

In drerd aufn deck

Which is Yiddish for the middle of nowhere. Which is how I'm feeling right now. A little shipwrecked. It happens.

Back to books-Saul Bellow round two is underway with a biography, The Victim, and soon to begin Ravelstein. Victim was his second book and it's really got the sensuousness of The Adventures of Auggie March, so I was right originally in thinking that this more Earthy descriptiveness and the wandering philosophy have been two strains of Bellow's style. Dangling Man, his first, was certainly thoughtful but not overtly philosophical. Often, as with Herzog & More Die of Heartbreak, the main character is a professor or in that vein (Mr. Sammler's Planet, Humboldt's gift, etc.).

Before getting into the value of the biographical, I just wanted to mention that Atlas, the one of Bellow's biographers that I'm reading, mentions that they used to have used books in huge barrels outside of Walgreens back in the 1920's, and it made me really sad to think that the modern equivalent is racks of really crappy movies. A couple of the names he mentions Bellow reading from the "Modern Library editions" (Altas, pg. 25) are Flaubert, Dryden, Maupassant, Romain Rolland. I would be such a much happier person if I lived in a time and place where you could get used books like that cheap from a Walgreens. I'm not saying I want to go back to a time before computers and such. I just wish the two weren't mutually exclusive. Can't we have talking color pictures, the internet, and books on equal footing? Does it have to be 140 characters or Maupassant?

So the issue of biographicality. I agree with Derrida to a degree when he says that the biographical is a smokescreen in trying to understand the work of an author or a philosopher (although he may have been intending to respond to the use of deconstructionism in American literary criticism in saying words to this effect [I'm a little confused by his explanation]), but I generally find it edifying, even if it's only a fictional edification. I think it's especially important when looking at the philosophical systems any individual sets up to know a bit about that individual. It helps to see where and why their system might have holes. That's kind of, sort of part of deconstructionism. I think.

In the literary world though, it's a little more gossipy to go and read biographies of famous authors. These are the kinds of books I imagine People magazine readers would read if they read books. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I love biographies, autobios, memoirs, the whole bit. I'm incredibly nosy about the lives of people who's work I enjoy and admire. That's not to say that it's not useful to a writer to compare the life of a writer with his work. It can be helpful but is also probably not the main reason I go for the bio. I'm not immune to that more salacious curiosity. That's not to say that biographies are all gossipy and so forth. It's a spectrum for sure, but there's always that element.

And with Bellow it's about the girls. I mean, that was the thing that I was most curious about. I wanted another opinion beyond his own on his relations with women. That's the one mainstay of his work is this problem with women. And there's almost always an ex-wife or girlfriend (sometimes more than one) who treats him rottenly. You figure, either he is drawn to this type of woman or he just paints himself in a favorable light. It's probably a mixture, but clearly in Atlas' opinion Bellow always romanticizes his past and sweeps over his own flaws. Wow, that got really gossipy. I think I'm gonna break off and try this again some other time. I had intended to talk more about the intersection of writing and life, but I guess with that intro I couldn't help but go right for the idle talk.

Also, Infinite Jest. I'm at the point where the payoffs start to occur. You start to see the tapestry as opposed to just a bunch of little threads. It gets yr mind working with all kinds of conspiracy-like thoughts about what it all means and how it all really, ultimately fits together.

I do have to say, although Bellow is really a straighforward writer, there is a certain mystery to him as well buried in the philosophical musings which are not always light-bright clear. That stuff can kind of wash over you when you read it in a work of fiction, and I can imagine rereading will be eventually quite rewarding with all sorts of unremembered stuff.

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