Remember: it was the "wafer thin" that did him in.
[Alexander Theroux’s essay “Theroux Metaphrastes” was published as an appendix to David R. Godine’s 1975 edition of Theroux’s 1972 novel, Three Wogs. It would be obtuse for me to attempt a capsule summary of a defense of expansiveness, and so I hope that the present superfluity will instead be taken as the advertisement for the essay itself it is intended to be; seek it out, I exhort you.]
“Eschew surplusage,” snapped Twain, that anti-European, anti-Catholic pinchfist from the American Midwest, with his unlovely spray of scentless botanicals. Blink the incidentals! Fract that chicken! Scumble that depth-of-field! Rip off that wainscoting! Slubber that gloss! Steam down those frills!
Ah, but these, you see, are not the cries of people with lexical gifts and the leisure, the languor, necessary to art. The artist, in fact, unlike Pushkin’s gambler, must be ready to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of acquiring the superfluous. The periphrastic Mr. Micawber is not funny, ha-ha, to me. Like me, he’s a throwback. He’s a thirteenth century schoolmaster, lessoned well in Dionysius Thrax’s Techne Grammatike, a fatty fellow shaking out poems and encyclopediana at every turn, flung, as he was, into a society of aphasiates, monoglots, and verbal slugs, each locked into the crochets of his bankrupt vocabulary and isolated on the Mt. Hecklebirg of his head.
“When people call up Rush Limbaugh and say, ‘It’s an honor to speak to you,’ I want to shoot myself.” – interview with Colin Marshall on The Marketplace of Ideas
“Her only loyalty seemed to be what she compiled in her witchy journal, her daybook listing the crimes of others against her, forgetting her own poisonous gossip that she always gave to the new man in her life of all the previous ones.” – Laura Warholic
I am currently indulging in Mr. Theroux’s evocative, witty, sometimes incredibly embittered prose. There are many varied books to choose from. Four novels: Three Wogs, Darconville’s Cat, An Adultery, and Laura Warholic. Monographs on the artists Edward Gorey and Al Capp. A book of poetry, a doctoral thesis on Samuel Beckett’s language (unfortunately not readily available), fables, as well as an upcoming book on Estonia. The two books on colors: The Primary Colors: Three Essays and The Secondary Colors: Three Essays, are compelling compendiums. This is how the 108-page mediation on the color orange begins:
Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.