Monday, May 03, 2010

When writers get too old ...

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.
E.L. Doctorow

I was watching "Iconaclasts" the other night. It's a great show. On Sundance. Two people from politics and/or the arts are chosen - to be interviewed, and to perhaps to talk about each other.

My favourite Iconoclast was the one with Sir Richard Branson and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. An unlikely pair. But mutul friends and inspiring men. And interesting.

Last weekend the two "iconoclasts" were Robert Redford and Paul Newman. At some stage Newman commented about how when he was young, he wondered why Hollywood stars past a certain age, kept appearing publically. Why didn't they just roll up and die, he remembered thinking. And at seventy he then wondered at the callousness of youth. "It is what it is," he said. "I'm not hiding."

Anyway, it got me thinking about novelists. And how like actors, they could become "past it."

The first novelist I remember thinking had "lost it" - when she was past her prime - was Doris Lessing. The visionary Lessing. Not lyrical. Not a writer that brings out the best of her language - English. But a visionary. A thinker.

Take "The Four-Gated City" part of the "Martha Quest" trilogy, published in 1969.

Lessing foresaw a way of living where, unlike in the past, people did not understand how the equipment of their daily lives actually worked. And this was pre PCs. But of more interest was her prediction of fashions., People, especially young women wearing anything with everything. Evening dresses with gym boos. Frilly dresses with army disposal socks. And this in the age of Carnaby Street and of the remnants of the fifties - the matching of handbags and shoes.

And now? The last Lessing book I read was "Mara and Dann" (1999). Two kids in a desert. Figuratively and literally. A boring tale going nowhere. Slowly.

I didn't finish it. If it hadn't been written by Lessing I doubt it would have even been published.

Then there's Coetzee. His novels - "Disgrace" and "Waiting for the Barbarians". Impeccable. Masterly. Un-put-downable. What happened? In Cotzee's case it wasn't an age thing. Perhaps it was a comfort thing? In any case he moved from post-apartheid South Africa to the gentile white protestant city of Adelaide Australia. And like Adelade, his post-South Africa novels have no edge.

There's Ian McEwan. I still hold out hopes for Mr McEwan. But his last novel, "Solar" although it started off well, after chatper 4 went downhill all the way.

The first few chapters were worth it though. So he's still hanging in there ... The jury's out.

So now I am wondering - was the young Paul Newman right?

Is there a time to call it quits? When is one is past one's use-by date?

If so, perhaps I'm there ...

Stay tuned.

Or not ...


Jaded NYer said...

"Is there a time to call it quits? When is one is past one's use-by date?"

That's an easy is past one's use by date when one has nothing left to say.

As long as someone has an imagination, opinion, or knowledge to share, one should speak up.

To be clear, I am not referring to pompous airbags like Teaparty people who spout just for the sake of spouting.

One is never too old to think, to dream, to experience, or to share.

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on what you're quitting. Public life? Exposing one's self to the world when they don't give a crap? Nah, I live inside my head and am a great survivor. I like life and will fight like bloody hell to hang on to it as long as I'm not burdening anyone in my family. So far, it works.
As to actors and others with mighty egos? Yeah, I sometimes think they should not expect anyone to respond the same way as they did when the personage was younger and produced better work. But oldies can still produce good stuff. I live in a community where old people still produce good art and writing.
Jus' keep on doing what you like to do and live for the moment.

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