A Zing, Even

Thomas M. Disch wrote in The Castle of Indolence

“Poets who have endorsed the public’s estimate of their art by their own suicides, after long threatening such a stroke of poetic justice in their writing, generally seem to have made the most significant dent on the Collective Consciousness.”

This line became even more depressing to read after Disch himself joined the ranks of poet-suicides in 2008 — the more so since I never detected any threat of such a thing in anything Disch himself wrote anything. But maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention?

In Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow offered an explanation for why Americans prefer their poets suicidal —

“This country is proud of its dead poets. It takes terrific satisfaction in the poet’s testimony that the USA is too tough, too big, too much, too rugged, that American reality is overpowering. And to be a poet is a school thing, a skirt thing, a church thing. The weakness of the spiritual powers is proved in the childishness, madness, drunkenness, and despair of these martyrs. Orpheus moved stones and trees. But a poet can’t perform a hysterectomy or send a vehicle out of the solar system. Miracle and power no longer belong to him. So poets are loved, but loved because they just can’t make it here. They exist to light up the enormity of the awful tangle and justify the cynicism of those who say ‘If I were not such a corrupt, unfeeling bastard, creep, thief, and vulture, I couldn’t get through this either. Look at those good and tender and soft men, the best of us. They succumbed, poor loonies.”

From Roberto Bolaño’s 2666

“… the United States, which likes vanished writers (vanished writers or millionaire writers) or the legend of vanished writers…”

Bolaño’s grandest plots hinge on the search for vanished writers, and he had to die himself in order for us Anglophones to “discover” him.

From J. D. Salinger’s “Seymour – an Introduction” —

“It seems to me indisputably true that a good many people, the wide world over, of varying ages, cultures, natural endowments, respond with a special impetus, a zing, even, in some cases, to artists and poets who as well as having a reputation for producing great or fine art have something garishly Wrong with them as person: a spectacular flaw in character or citizenship, a construably romantic affliction or addiction — extreme self-centeredness, marital infidelity, stone-deafness, stone-blindness, a terrible thirst, a mortally bad cough, a soft spot for prostitutes, a partiality for grand-scale adultery or incest, a certified or uncertified weakness of opium or sodomy, and so on, God have mercy on the lonely bastards.”

OK, so he strikes a homophobic note towards the end there — but you get the general idea. Tomorrow: how do you spot a suicidal poet?

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