I have never read a book by Edmund White. The innumerable interviews I have read over many years left me with the impression that he is a dirty old man, a quintessential troll, the kind of character Hollinghurst comes up with that makes gay sex seem evil. He is an exemplar of that strange species, the tawdry gay intellectual. (Is anything worse? “Here, I can eroticize it for you.”)

Obviously, then, I am reading his autobiography, which makes him seem like all of the above and a total fuckup to boot. What a mess. Of course some of it can be attributed to the 1950s and the closet. Of course it can. And some people never get better. But how many of those people become novelists, essayists, biographers, founders of important health charities, and ultra-long-term AIDS survivors?

The book is marred by myriad spelling errors (to cite one that is well suited to a victim of Freudian analysis, “vice” instead of “vise”) and by imposed anglicisms (not only does it use single quotation marks, phrases are metaphorically said to be uttered inside or between “inverted commas”). Nonetheless one reads the following gloss on the trite scaremongering about the Internet vs. books (p. 242):

I had a small but faithful readership, and I had always placed the overall longevity of my talent, such as it was, above the success of any one book. Perhaps I was the last writer to care about posterity; believing that there would be readers in the future had become an act of blind faith. Of course people would always read things (captions, E-mails), but would they want to read long imaginative or confessional works written by writers in the past, even the recent past?

Yes, they will want to read such things, along with captions and E-mails. Yes, some of us care about posterity for more than just books. And yes, he really meant captions.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.08.13 14:03. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

(Values you enter are stored and may be published)



None. I quit.

Copyright © 2004–2024