[I know when one of my posts is less than great -- mainly because I hit "post." I know when one is far less, too. Also, just from the years, I know when I stumble across my nuts, blind squirrel that I am, and so I share this letter, occasioned by anger at hearing a rather indulgent interview on BBC World Service's "Strand" program.]
An open letter to the novelist of the recent Pulitzer prize win.
It is true that love is like the thing that cures one of its diseases, mercury (who the Greeks called Hermes), in that it moves with speed, splits, rejoins, and cannot be touched directly. Also like mercury, love is poisonous if taken too deeply, and, like the element, love compounds readily.
We have no power over who loves us, cannot fling love like a brick or fire it like a dart or spitball at the objects we would desire, and our desires and loves are themselves frequently jarring with one another. Married couples of deep mind find that they cannot imagine a world without one another and cannot bear to think of a romantic touch from the other, while the febrile teen's desires overwhelm reason and wisdom alike, and would make him or her suffer any consequence for the chance to join sex. Love itself, though, flickers, jolts, smites, ebbs, flares, and generally frustrates, if it shows up at all.
I understand, quite well, why the fundamental injustice of humanity, a pain as great as our first sin – in fact a mirror of our sin so that we may feel what we have done to God's divine providence by that unrequiting sin – would make a person flee. Closing down the receptors to love is sensible. Cauterizing the wound is a normal reaction for the disaffected, although it rarely works. Diversion is another normal reaction, where we decide that, if we cannot command love that has full meaning, we will take the half love that is under command, whether it is from collecting dolls or imagination or payment.
What I do not understand, though, is why, with all of the possible reactions to being unable to make the desired love, you chose to fall in love with yourself!
Admiring the work of one's hands is a secret joy that any author should be allowed. There is a shame in gazing with dew in one's eyes at the marvel of one's own invention, but it is a shame possessed as a shared secret and each forgives the next without a word. The thing of art may be a joy, yes. Galatea is lovely indeed; Pygmalion is not.
In the fullness of time, I have seen pornography. The voyage of adolescence compelled it, and the liberty of adulthood made it possible. I noted that each item, every year, sought to be more shocking than the one before. Pornographers thereby chug into absurdity long before they peter out of imagination, and that is why pornography, as opposed to sex, is an assault and battery that only a very young man can endure. As time matured, I put away all such clownish efforts of the pornographers to make me feel dirty and sneaky and criminally triumphant.
However, when you go on interviews and explain that your novel was a mere onion skin's chuff of your genius, that it was your craft, that you worked without inspiration from any but approved, monumentalist, classic culture, that contemporary history meant nothing to you, that, most importantly, your novel was a way for you to uncover, to discover, to mine, to produce your own psyche, I have a real pornographic feeling.
Worse yet, I finally feel quite, quite dirty.