Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Notoriety

After reading Orson Scott Card's lunatic ravings on the subject of gay marriage (http://mormontimes.com), I have trouble thinking about buying any more of his books, because that would mean I was supporting his particular brand of church-related lunacy. That he's a good writer makes it worse that he's trying to stir up hate. My little revenge is removing his blog from my sidebar.

One of the commenters on John Scalzi's blog post about Card's ravings (http://scalzi.com/whatever) compares him to Ezra Pound, which strikes me as right on the mark. Sure, I read Ezra Pound, but that doesn't mean I agree with his support of fascism any more than watching a Tom Cruise movie means I want to give money to Scientology.

The thing is, I don't think my little boycott of Card will make any difference. What will? Um, writing about how I disagree with his views? Boy, do I. You can call it by any name you want, but gay people ought to be legally entitled to form a legal union in this country, and it's way past time for our laws to guarantee that in every state.

How much difference should a writer's wacko views make to how--or whether--you read his fiction? If someone is notorious in real life, reading about that is obviously almost as much fun as reading what he wrote. Do we still believe in reading things like Lives of the Saints in order to imitate them more perfectly? Consider this poem by Louis Simpson, Lives of the Poets:

Dickinson had a cockatoo
she called Semiramis
and loved dearly.

Whitman was a trencherman,
his favorite dish
a mulligan stew.

Frost went for long walks,
Eliot played croquet,
Pound took fencing lessons.

There is a snapshot of Yeats
in a garden with a woman
naked to the waist and smiling.

Auden when he was old
counted the sheets of toilet paper
that a visitor used.

And speaking of toilet paper, wasn't there something in the entertainment columns a few months ago about how Sheryl Crow wants to ration how much we can use for one visit?

I guess I usually think that a writer's notoriety is beside the point, and the work should be judged on its own merits. But many of my favorite works of literature are topical satires, which can't be removed from their historical context without removing that which makes them comprehensible, much less funny or perceptive or clever.

Does it help you, my readers, to decipher my tone today if I tell you that I had a traffic accident in Columbus yesterday about noon, which didn't hurt any people but damaged my minivan so severely that I couldn't even drive it home, but had to leave it in Columbus awaiting an insurance estimate and then, someday, repairs? And that even though I was the meat in a car sandwich and felt like I couldn't have done anything differently without hurting people, the state trooper who kept us in the noonday sun for two hours gave me a $110 ticket for not having "assured clear distance" from the man ahead of me who threw on his brakes so suddenly that the force of the collision from the car behind me sent the hood of my van partially under his bumper? Did you hear all that in my annoyance today?

Didn't think so. And, of course, I'm not a famous writer. But does it matter--do we need to be always paying attention to "the man behind the curtain" as we read?

4 comments:

Jeanne said...

Ron restored some of my equanimity with his response to the Card article:

He's just still sore that Utah wasn't allowed to join the United States until they renounced *their* idea of legal marriage...

- Ron

Alison said...

This comes up in music a lot with regard to Wagner. He was, from all reports, a fairly unpleasant human being, and his fan club can't help but taint his legacy.

I don't know what the answer should be, really. In the case of Wagner, I am content to dislike him on purely musical grounds.

harriet M. Welsch said...

This is a very interesting question. I was going to leave you a long comment on this, but instead I think I'll just refer you to a post I wrote a number of years ago in response to someone asking if it was okay for her, a Jew, to sing Bach's St. John Passion, which features famously anti-semitic passages. If you're interested, you can read it here.

permanentquivive said...

Then again, this is a blog. The back story IS the story.