21st June 2013
Sometimes these blogs feel like me marking time, a Robinson Crusoe effort to score life onto a piece of desert island bark. But that is only because I was born with a fertile imagination and daily events in my twisted universe take on gargantuan proportions. It is both a blessing and a curse, and made me very difficult to live with when I was a child. Perhaps even more so now. Too often, I am like that mother in Neil Simon's "The Good bye Girl," shaking her daughter awake to insist that the new flatmate's guitar playing in the middle of the night must be disturbing her.
Enough of the preamble. Here I was all week floating around the Aspen Writer's Conference, handing out the postcards advertising my book which came overnight from New York (thanks to my editor at Simon and Schuster!) Being terminally socially awkward, it suits me much better to be able to hand someone a card instead of actually converse with them. The cards are bright green, green cards, in fact. So buy my book and you will automaticially have leave to stay in the USA for an indeterminate time. "Time is indeterminate," is what I should say when people ask me what my book is about. Instead, they get handed a green card.
Enough of the post preamble. Let's get down to the nitty gritty. I came to the conclusion after attending (and part of the time moderating) the local writer's group for ten years, that gatherings like this are only of limited value. I am always telling beginning writers to attend them, because at that stage a sounding board is a good thing. It is helpful to know if your writing is on the level of some of the folks (usually of the male sex) who came to our local writer's group and mumbled a section from their journal (when the journal comes out, you start to worry.) More often than not, it was beyond incoherent. You can't do better than a roomful of people agreeing on a piece of writing missing its mark. But for more advanced writers, the variety of reader responses might only be confusing, and you definitely shouldn't change anything unless it resonates at a deep level with yourself.
And now to Paul Harding, at whose feet I had the privilege to sit this week. The paradox of the artist is that he or she is the vessel for what Nietzsche calls "the desires of the gods," without actually being a god him or herself. This is Peter Shaffer's point in his brilliant play "Equus." Mozart couldn't possibly have lived up to Salieri's high minded expectations, because he was a human being. And it is the all-too-human folly of the supplicant to expect him to.
Harding has a new book coming out in September called "Enon." (Geez, my editor would never have allowed me to keep that title!) You should buy it, because Harding is a Mozart of the word. You should buy it because in this age of high literary fashion, he is an artist who talks about the essence of truth and beauty. That's why he couldn't publish the pulitzer prize winning "Tinkers," for five years, and why it is some kind of minor miracle that it was published at all. I am expecting the same great things of "Enon," and I will be equally fanatical about foisting it on everyone who comes within arm's reach.
Paul Harding is a man with his particular heroes. He is annoyingly sure of his ideas. (Anyone who knows me will be laughing at this point with a dark sarcasm.) He has his own particular universe, his own cosmology. I sat at his right hand and nodded at most everything he said. But my hackles went up when he opted for the thology of Saint Paul, John Calvin and Karl Barth and dismissed Nietzsche as a quack. Calvin? I said, that's like putting your money on Quasimodo over Heathcliff. (Well, I wanted to say it!)
In "Equus," Salieri, hidden from view but witnessing Mozart spout obscenities, is aghast. If truth is beauty and beauty is truth, how can Mozart be all so human? How can Paul Harding have this rigid avenue of himself so divorced from himself as an artist?
This is the question. And the truth is, it is Paul Harding's prerogative to have avenues of himself that look any way he likes.
All that counts is that Paul Harding keeps churning out books. Whatever it takes. A hundred years down the line, this is all that will matter. Vessels become broken and fall away, but the unfathomable essence of what they contain persists. In the beginning was the word.
Get your hands on a copy of Tinkers and see how good literature begs to be read again. Get lost in the images and the layers, and don't concern yourself with the speaker. He's a nice guy, but for the purposes of art, he doesn't matter. And neither do I. Thus spake Zarathustra.