Friday, February 26, 2016
Why We Shouldn't Even Try to Meet our Favorite Writers
The extremely common desire to meet an artist we admire--to sit down with Tom Pynchon and talk Benny Profane over a beer, to share a bottle of tequila with Gabo or a big fat blunt with Roberto Bolano, to accompany W. G. Sebald on a train out of Liverpool Street Station or to meet Samuel Delany in a dank Times Square pornhouse, (fill in the blank with your own favorite literary daydream)...--this desire we have all felt at one time or another is not a desire to meet the flesh-and-blood historical individual who authored the works that have enthralled us. Rather, it's a desire to meet the artist implied by those works, a fictional character constructed by the reader that may bear only a ghostly resemblance to the actual coughing, spitting, farting, griping author of genius. This is why it's more than just a bad idea to meet the writers we admire: it's positively impossible, because those writers exist only in our heads. The writers we imagine are idealized figures cobbled together from their own best artistic moments, while the writers we actually meet are embodied and embedded in the conflicts and contradictions of mundane existence. They, like us, are lesser, merely human, beings. Yes, you can stand in line for an hour and spend a few seconds exchanging banalities with big names at book-signings, or you can go to an SF convention and have an actual conversation with Delany or Gene Wolfe or Harlan Ellison, or you can go to Princeton if you're rich and take a class from Toni Morrison, but the people you meet will probably differ greatly from the writers you admire, and that difference will almost certainly disappoint.