Monday, March 23, 2009

the best of the two

Right now, I'm reading 'Death in Venice' by Thomas Mann (because one of my favorite songs is 'Grey Gardens' by Rufus Wainwright - in it he alludes to the character Tadzio from the short story, so I figured I'd read it and appreciate the song THAT MUCH MORE) and a few of Montaigne's Essays (because I've wanted to read 'The Mystery Guest' by Gregoire Bouillier for some time and in more than a few of its reviews, Montaigne is mentioned in reference to Bouillier's narrative honesty) and both are AMAZING so far.

There are so many kernels of truth in Montaigne's writing that I won't even bother making a list - but I will say that it's hard to tell that his essays were written in the 16th century. They're an exploration of his true character and I think it's safe to say that not much has changed about the human experience or psyche in 500 years. Montaigne seems so modern (and often so humorous and frank) because he holds nothing back from himself or his readers and that's refreshing to read - to this day.

"Hardly anything stirs in me that is secret or hidden from my reason; hardly anything takes place that has not the consent of every part of me, without divisions and without inner rebellion. My judgment takes the complete credit or the complete blame for my actions; and once it takes the blame it keeps it forever."

That quote from Montaigne sums up what each essay is like. He's putting his beliefs and personality on trial and baring himself for all to see - the best and the worst of who he is.

But that's not why I made this post. I wanted to talk about a quote from 'Death in Venice' that describes the wide appeal of the main character, the fictional author Gustav Aschenbach's, work (he's a writer).

"Remote on one hand from the banal, on the other from the eccentric, his genius was calculated to win at once the adhesion of the general public and the admiration, both sympathetic and stimulating, of the connoisseur."

Well, THAT must be nice (lol)!!! Literature that can be appreciated by the critics and the average Joe.... to call literature so widely satisfactory RARE would be beyond euphemistic. I recently went on several psycho-babbles about Trend Literature and how some of the books I was choosing were "not so much ‘compelling’ as ‘enslaving’" - and it's nice to see that a writer, even if he's fictional, has managed to gain commercial success while remaining substantive and 'literary' (whatever 'literary' means....).

I wrote an ode to hip hop a few years ago, I think when I was a senior in H.S., with the lines, "...your swag is bad. I know you'd pass the test in the 'hood./You're credible with intellectuals - the best of the two./That's why I'm messing with you. You've got skills..." - and though I was 17 at the time and writing about the kind of music I then liked, (hip hop with lots of metaphors) that's also what I want to read a lot of the time. I read for the beauty of the writing - some people like to stare at paintings for hours on end. I can read the same artfully phrased sentence or startlingly accurate and insightful descriptive passage over and over and over and marvel at how the writer could ever craft something so wonderful or poignant (or in some cases pithy - it was Nietzsche's “ambition to say in 10 sentences what others say in a whole book," but most of us aren't there yet lol) from scratch.

And because I ultimately want to be a (successful? talented?) writer - and am so conscious of what I like and don't like in what I read, this quote from 'Death in Venice' stuck out immediately. I can imagine that many writers wrestle with this concept - though it's easy to just say you'll write for the sake of your writing and not care about commercial success or critical acclaim. But what's the point of that? Is it wrong to want the best of the two?

...though I feel a bit presumptuous for assuming I'll ever acheive one or the other - seeing as I've yet written nothing to submit to either court of approval - save a short story or three (and the occasional poem) I've posted here....