Sunday, September 21, 2008
The Proclivities of Obscurity and Fame
Writers have one big fear--obscurity. That no will really care you ever wrote anything is the writers silent nightmare. Untimely death brings up the second biggest fear of the writer--that you will become hugely successful. Imagine someone telling you that you are a genius with your first novel. Imagine being twenty four when that happens. You are set. Everything that follows will be lauded, fawned over, more proof you are in fact a genius. This is the rare fate of most writers. Most of us are thrilled that anyone will read our work and if they comment on it then that is even better. An online review is analyzed, a casual note from a friend scoured. Writers are wobbly. It's their nature. But the rarified air at the top of the mountain is a different sort of hell. Once annointed then it is hard to shirk the cloak. You are photographed doodling. Your dress becomes a mark of genius, your beard, your hair. You brood. You wear glasses. Genius. Genius. My brother tells me that when he saw Dave at an undergraduate party he was already surrounded by groupies. Imagine that. A writer with groupies. Most writers, even well known writers can walk down a street and no one will ever pick them out. But here is this man being told right off the bat that he is the annointed one. Then he publishes a thousand page rant called Infinite Jest. Any other writer would be edited to pieces--the age of Wolfe and Joyce long over--but this tomb was called the final proof that the superior voice of a generation truly belonged at the top of the mountain. Genius. There is it. All thousand plus pages for everyone to pour over. Dont even bother boys--game over. Then what? Well the genius will write essays, short fiction, more essays. What does a genius do after putting out the longest work of literary fiction in the last forty years? Not much. You breathe. Genius. You piss. Genius. Writers need friction. It's what moves their pen. Too much succcess ruins them. Financial success is one thing, but what about the superlative success of the critical mind? What if you suspect you are not a genius and just a writer. Where do you go with that? The world hasnt' really changed because of your genius. In fact, the main doesn't really read your work. They are watching movies. Nothing new. The novelist as celebrity is a quaint footnote to a bygone era. So what does the genius do to stay relevant? How to keep on being a genius and not an echo of ones own press? The truth is, a real genius knows there is no genius. Just men looking for answers. That's hell for a writer seeking validity.