Friday, June 01, 2007

A passage from the master

He was a writer, which is virtually to say that his life is of no interest except in the ways that he was also a crud. Some writers are fine people—some are heroes, lead popular struggles, or save lives at the risk of their own, or at least feed the hungry or shelter the homeless—while a great many are shells, whose finer qualities have been siphoned off into their books. On the basis of his work, you would think that Simenon possessed extraordinary insight into the human condition, with an endless capacity for understanding the fragility of the psyche. (His characters step into his trap from all walks of life, with a wide variety of temperaments; as on Judgment Day, they wind up in identical shrouds.) And he did have that prodigious capacity for entering the minds and souls of others, although he seems to have been able to access this gift only while in the self-induced trance state in which he did his writing. You could probably say much the same thing about Balzac—in both cases, the fiction, which when piled up could actually attain the volume and mass of a human body, walks alongside the author like a conjoined twin, endowed with all the qualities its creator lacks. The corollary is that you can hardly imagine there being room in the average human to hold the contents of that golem, not with the appetites and weaknesses and Saturday nights and Monday mornings that are already there. The compression would be explosive. The work may look like a body, but it contains entire populations.
—Luc Sante, "Soul Inspector," Bookforum

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