Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Author of the Crime

My Collins paperback Italian-English dictionary informs me that while the word autore is, unsurprisingly, Italian for 'author,' the phrase autore del furto (literally, "author of the theft") means "person who committed a robbery." This Italian usage appeals to me, and I wish it were operative in English. For just as every Platonic poet is a liar, every autore is del furto. Jean Genet, career criminal, metaphysical wanker, and author of novels that read like the works of a raunchy, proletarian Proust (read Swann's Way and then Our Lady of the Flowers and you'll see exactly what I mean), is only the most obvious example of a general type. Every author is a thief. He steals from his predecessors and calls it influence, from his life and calls it recherche, from his family and calls it Patrick Melrose, from his country and calls it Ulysses, from his birthplace and calls it Lonesome Dove, and from all the claptrap coating the caverns of his mind he mines more volumes of formulaic genre fiction than anyone would care to count. A writer will steal anything from shit to Chopin--to paraphrase that lyrically stercoraceous klepto, Henry Miller--so writers' relatives and friends, lovers and haters, should hardly be surprised when it happens to them. As Czeslaw Milosz once said, in a line Philip Roth liked to quote, "When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished." Or maybe 'finished' is too extreme, too melodramatic, Maybe they're merely stolen. Like the Gardner Rembrandt, they'll turn up eventually. You might see them a couple years from now in the window of your local pawnshop--or, more tragically, in the bargain bin at your favorite remainder bookstore.

Roth, to whom my thoughts still return as obsessively as Portnoy's circle back to his childhood (That's the 'secret' psychoanalytic structure of Portnoy's Complaint. Everyone knows the novel takes the superficial form of a psychoanalytic monologue, but that's only the manifest form; Roth was smart enough to also give his novel a latent form mimicking the shape of Portnoy's infantile obsessions.), wrote about this phenomenon at great and comitragic length in the Zuckerman Bound books and The Counterlife, his major works of the 1980s.

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