Anne K. Yoder recently pointed out this Susan Sontag quote to me (it’s from the opening of her review of Camus’ notebooks, written in 1963):
Great writers are either husbands or lovers. Some writers supply the solid virtues of a husband: reliability, intelligibility, generosity, decency. There are other writers in whom one prizes the gifts of a lover, gifts of temperament rather than of moral goodness. Notoriously, women tolerate qualities in a lover—moodiness, selfishness, unreliability, brutality—that they would never countenance in a husband, in return for excitement, an infusion of intense feeling. In the same way, readers put up with unintelligibility, obsessiveness, painful truths, lies, bad grammar—if, in compensation, the writer allows them to savor rare emotions and dangerous sensations.
Coupled with this, I recently paged through a John Gardner interview and found something striking:
Samuel Beckett-surely one of the great writers of our time despite my objections-is loved by critics, but except for John Fowles, I hear no one pointing out that the tendency of all he says is wrong. He says it powerfully-with comi-tragic brilliance, and he believes it, but what he says is not quite sound. Every night Samuel Beckett goes home to his wife…he lies down in bed with her, puts his arms around her, and says, “No meaning again today…” Critics can, and do say, Well it doesn’t matter what he says, it’s how well he says it. But I think in the long run Beckett is in for it. Because great writers tell the truth exactly-and get it right.
Two of the most influential American critics (as well as fiction writers) of the last century. They each use the term great writer.
Is there bias in what they say?
Good old Albert and Sam. Nothing like two existentialists get the morality wheel rolling.