norbert blei | catching up: death notices & last words

18 08 2012

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND  # 216 (& Poetry Dispatch) | August 18 , 2012

Catching Up: Death Notices & Last Words

by
Norbert Blei

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.” –Gore Vidal

I’ve sung this song before: I’m having a hard time keeping up with everything. But I sing it again. The too many websites I maintain; writing my own books and other works; publishing the books of others I have every intention and desire to publish by my own small press, Cross+Roads Press; promoting neglected writers and publishers I promise myself (sometimes them) to bring to light—bur too often disappointing us both when I fail to do so for any number of the usual reasons; falling behind on preparations to teach, do readings and/or talks; maintaining communications (e-mail, snail mail, phone, texting, personal meetings) among a network of writers, family, friends…not trying to mention maintain some kind of private and social life beyond the written word—though I may be kidding myself since my life, for more than fifty years of it at least, one way or another, has been associated with the word and getting it out there.

So, yes, I’m behind. Again. Yes, I’m tired. More so than usual. But yes I’m enthused and renewed by all that I do and the many lives I try to reach… so it seems I must continue because this is who I am or seem to have become. Given all that’s on my plate, and no matter how frustrated I become every day, the writing is also on the wall: I’m going to leave a hell of a lot of unfinished business when the light goes out. And I’m just going to have to live with it. Saddest of all, the number of my own minimally noted and planned, partially written, almost finished, totally unwritten books–except for their daily life in my head, where I am an accomplished writer beyond belief, writing two or three books a week in thin air! How I wish there were more time. Or I had done it differently. Or I was different. But as Gore Vidal suggests in that opening quote: “Style is knowing who you are…” It takes time enough to just arrive there.

Which brings me back to the beginning of today’s commentary, which has been on my mind for sometime.

I wanted to say a few words about Vidal’s death…as well as a number of others, recently and not so recently…Christopher Hitchens, Ray Bradbury, Harry Crews…not to mention small press writers, Leonard Cirino, Todd Moore. etc. but I never got around to it. What a loss, all of them, Vidal especially. We can’t replace the likes of him, such truthsayers, on the American landscape. I guess ‘acerbic’ is the right word when it comes to him: “I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say, but a great deal to add.” said Gore Vidal on writing.

He had much worth noting about the arts. Things many of us in practice need to be reminded of: “This is not at all bad, except as prose.” Or, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Vidal’s line: Though I could take him or leave him when it came to Warhol’s art, Vidal’s critique always makes me smile: “Andy Warhol is the only genius I’ve ever known with an I.Q. of 60.”

When it comes to politics in this country…how we will miss him in the upcoming election.
“Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.”

Better yet, weaving a writer’s words into the American political fabric: “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”

I’m especially mindful of authors and artists who refuse titles and honors by one interest or another: “I don’t want anything,” said Gore Vidal. “I don’t want a job. I don’t want to be respectable. I don’t want prizes. I turned down the National Institute of Arts and Letters when I was elected to it in 1976 on the grounds that I already belonged to the Diners Club.”

He IS missed.

Speaking of last words. I remain a huge lover of the works of James Joyce and have given up trying to defend him–especially ULYSSES. You either love him or hate him. Though you may hate him at one point in your life…give him time. We read him, are ‘taught’ him too early.

He needs to be aged. Don’t read or revisit ULYSSES until at least the age of 40.

I love this recent rebuke that appeared in the NYTimes. I have read only a little of Paul Coelho, but it did my heart good to read how Guardian critic Stuart Kelly responded to Coelho’s remarks:

Since its publication in 1922, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” has been put on trial for obscenity and subjected to reckless over-correction of its punctuation. But now the novel, widely considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century, has suffered per­haps its gravest indignity: being insulted by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, Mr. Coelho…whose mystical novels, including “The Alche­mist,” have sold a reported 140 million copies worldwide, declared that Joyce, right, had dam­aged the 20th-century novel by reducing it to “pure style.” “There is nothing there,” Mr. Coelho said. “If you dissect ‘Ulysses,’ it gives you a tweet.” Mr. Coelho, described in the article as being online “almost 24 hours a day,” also boasted of his social media prowess, declaring: “Twitter is my bar. I sit at the counter and listen to the conver­sations, starting others, feeling the atmosphere.” But within hours some corners of the bar had turned distinctly against him. “Coelho is, of course, entitled to his dumb opinion,” the critic Stuart Kelly wrote in a much retweeted post on The Guardian of London’s books blog, “just as I am entitled to think Coelho’s work is a nauseous broth of egomania and snake-oil mysti­cism with slightly less intellect, empathy and ver­bal dexterity than the week-old Camembert I threw out yesterday.” — jennifer schuessler NEW YORK TIMES 8.10.12

I leave you with this:

“Writers, since they have so many words, often have the last one.” –Gore Vidal.

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9 responses

18 08 2012
gbusha

Good comments and essay. I have much more to read of Vidal, but I’ve read some and like his crustiness.

18 08 2012
Sean M.Poole

I had the privilege of meeting Gore Vidal in 1980. I ran audio at a television station in Houston. He was doing a spot on a local talk show. He was friendly with the crew, generous with his time and his comments. He signed and dedicated a copy of Kalki for me.
It’s one of my treasures.

19 08 2012
Alice D'Alessio

Always loved Vidal. Fearless, intelligent, and yes, certainly ascerbic. Of course, it helps to be born rich…

20 08 2012
Phil Hansotia

Yes, Vidal will be missed. His chaste, fiercely honest voice,cut through layers of public hypocrisy, to speak to power, irrespective of popular approval.What would he say to our politicians today? Thank you Norb.

20 08 2012
Mary Wehner

I’m miles past 40 and about to embark on a trip with “Ullyses.” It should be a good ride at my age.

20 08 2012
carol gresko

I just know Gore and Oscar Wilde are having the best time of it now…… two of my favorite author quick wits.

21 08 2012
Robert M. Zoschke

Glad to see Capitano Blei devote some time and space to Vidal and his passing…over a dozen of Vidal’s books on my shelves and his death prompted me to take down and swiftly re-read my first-edition copy of In A Yellow Wood, the city-kid-supposed-to-be-a-businessman equivalent to On the Road. Vidal was the genuine article, as is Blei.

22 08 2012
Jay Jeff Jones

For many years, when he was resident over here in Europe, Vidal’s honed wit was what British media turned to for an explanation of the latest American political embarrassment or outrage. For us other long time expatriates he could make this feel like a saner place to live.

21 01 2013
Stephen Thomas

As Vidal might have said to the Customs officer upon returning to the United States: “I have nothing to declare, except my own genius.”

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