If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, for you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
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26 thoughts on “Is he wrong?”
Rad. Laundry can be fun.
Well, it certainly helps to be born into some money, and to later have wealthy patrons, like Rilke did! He was a clever one…
I wonder what people who were born with money say to this? Does anyone who was born with money read Big Other?
Yet the poor in the pocket can gain wealthy patrons. Being seductive helps. This is excerpted from one of the most read/required manuals on becoming a writer in our time.
Mr. Jung said something similar. How a person needed to solve their money issues before embarking on the artistic path. Well that’s a bunch of shite. The real artists will create regardless of money.
They will create, but they may not have health care. In which case they may create for only so long.
Well, probably most of the great art was created by people without health care – and I dare say created before the age of 40 or so.
Not to be too cheeky so early in the morning, but what’s the source for the “most great things have been accomplished by people under 20/30/40” meme? (I don’t put any stock in that view myself.)
As far as I can tell, it traces back to the 1960s, when youngsters were set against their elders. From there it became a cliché, eventually appearing on posters in classrooms in the 1980s and 1990s.
Bordwell and Thompson did a neat survey where they saw how most Hollywood directors get started before 30, because Hollywood fetishizes youth. But that’s not to say those directors do great things.
Just saw L’Argent projected last night. Bresson was 81 when he made it.
Let’s test this idea. Greg, what are your five favorite novels (or five of them)? We’ll see how old their authors were when they wrote/published them. Others, feel free to chime in.
(We can also try to tell whether they had health care or not! Though that might be harder.)
So here are ten of my current favorite novels (well, nine plus one story collection):
Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies (1943). Bowles was 26.
Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965). Dick was 37.
John Cheever, Bullet Park (1969). Cheever was 57.
Donald Barthelme, City Life (1970). Barthelme was 39.
Ann Quin, Tripticks (1972). Quin was 36.
B.S. Johnson, Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry (1973). Johnson was 40.
Patricia Highsmith, Ripley’s Game (1974). Highsmith was 53.
Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986). Miller was 29.
David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988). Markson was 61.
Yuriy Tarnaswky, Three Blondes and Death (1993). Tarnawsky was 59.
Publication range: 1943–1993
Age range = 26–61
Median age = 39, 40
Average age = 43.7
Five were younger than 40, one was 40, and four were older than 40.
It’s a limited sample, to be sure, but it looks like writers are humming by the age of 40, not necessarily before. (At least the ones I like.)
Your honesty fucked you up a little bit here. You should’ve just lied and said your top five were written by a bunch of old farts. This made me laugh, though. Honest.
I blame my small sample size. But, no, I’m genuinely curious as to whether this is true. I’m unconvinced, being skeptical of the valorization of youth. But maybe it’s true? Others should chime in. When we have 1,000,000 results, we’ll know!
One thing Greg has in his favor is that life expectancies used to be shorter.
Note that all of these writers who were under 40 went on to publish more post-40. Except for Quin and Johnson, heavy alas.
But Barthelme, Miller, and Dick all did. Did they get “better”?
I’d argue that Barthelme didn’t; he got different and did lots of great work, but I’ll take his 60s and early 70s work over the second-half of his career.
Miller got very different, so it’s hard to say. But I prefer his earlier work.
So that’s two “pre-40.”
Dick got both “better” and “worse” at the same time; one can clearly divide his career into pre-/post-1974 (“The Event”). Some prefer the earlier stuff, others the later stuff. I tend to like both, for different reasons.
Markson got better as he aged, up to a point. So did Highsmith, I’d argue. Bowles didn’t go on to write much more, heavy alas. Tarnawsky—I have mainly read his later work, so I can’t say.
I prefer Cheever’s later work to his earlier work, but he was also always just good.
Yo have you guys seen that post over at Huffington Post where some guy calls a bunch of American writers a bunch of one hit wonders? Check it out (sorry for spamming this post): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/19/the-12-greatest-literary_n_580934.html#slide_image
It’s ridiculous. Salinger’s on that list and he only wrote on novel. Armstrong only went to the moon one time so does that mean he’s a one hit wonder?
Anyway, back to this topic. Here’s TIME’s Ten Greatest Books of All Time (in no particular order):
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (over 40)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (under 40)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (under 40)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (drunk (vodka, probably), over 40)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (over 40)
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (under 40, but did he even write it?)
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald (drunk (highballs), under 40)
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (under 40)
The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov (not sure, I gave up)
Middlemarch by George Eliot (over 40)
You can see that I have included (at least) the age of each author when each book was first published. They go both ways.
Awesome! Thank you for this!
I think we’re seeing a real split so far: half of the work by people under 40, half by people over. So nothing conclusive yet either way. (I imagine it will stay this way until the end.)
Just wanted to shake it up a bit. My list is similar. Seizing the day.
The more I read that quote the more I like it. We live in such blame-based society. Bodies in wreckage are still breathing with life and already the pundits start assigning blame.
Though the Huff. Post author should probably not be taken seriously for calling Melville and Fitzgerald one-hit wonders. Hell, the entire Huff. Post should not be taken seriously after allowing an article like that.
Melville was anything but a one-hit wonder. Calling him such is really funny, because Melville was hugely successful as a young writer. Typee was a bestseller! As were Omoo, Mardi, Redburn, and White-Jacket. Those were the novels Melville was known for in his time—part of the “30 under 30” set of his day.
By age 33, he was totally washed up. Went crazy and wrote some insane book about a whale, plus some ambiguous other books and long poems that nobody wanted to publish. Drank too much. Beat his wife. Had to go out and work for a living. Died forgotten, miserable, broke.
People said, “We liked your earlier, funnier movies.”
I’d like to direct you to this link to an article fairly recently written by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/20/081020fa_fact_gladwell
Title: Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?
It opens with an anecdote about Ben Fountain, a writer who’s been practicing for 18 years and is finally making it…..seems to address the issue of age. Comes down to practice?
Let’s get back to the quote. No matter what your circumstances are, young, old, rich poor, health care or no health care, etc. There is no excuse for not being able to find inspiration in the world around you. So, yes I think he is right. If everyone took personal responsibility and didn’t blame someone or something else for anything, can you imagine how much better of a world we’d be living in?
We’d be living underground, with the rest of the existentialists.
Is he even referring to money here? He needs to say what he needs to say: If you’re a G (a poet), then there’s beauty in everything that you do. For example, dirty laundry is beautiful. A poor bastard is only poor because she or he can’t see the riches, the beauty in life.
He’s not talking about anything, necessarily—but he can be read as referring to money, alongside other readings; that’s not his decision to make (incidentally, I really love Rilke, and agree with some readings of this sentence—and this has been a sentence about a sentence that I love).
“…and this has been a sentence about a sentence that I love…”
Ha! I was wondering when we’d get one from you, Adam.
Oh, you’ll get a real one soon enough.
About Barthelme’s “Sentence.”
Damn, and I thought the next sentence I was going to write about was ambitious.
I once retyped it, so I actually have it on my computer.
I just thought it would be funny to post the entire thing. Although that would probably earn us an email from Frederick Barthelme…
Ah, I’d say you should post the whole thing.
Jeremy M. Davies and I have been talking about the sentence-sentence series, trying to figure out what the cleverest sentences would be to comment on. Barthelme’s “Sentence” was one idea. But it’s too clever.
Thanks for chiming in Jason.