Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hic Sum

photos: Paul Auster (Lotte Hansen), J.M Coetzee (Bert Nienhuis)
In his review of Here and Now, Letters 2008-2011, (New York Times Book Review, 3/16/13) Martin Riker remarks, “Arriving at the end of the print-letter tradition, Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee’s collected correspondence, ‘Here and Now,’ is all about new beginnings.” Whether these letters will compete with Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin, James Agee and Father Flye and a host of other literary and historic figures who have thrived in the epistolary form, only time will tell. But one thing's obvious from the pictures of the two writers that accompany the review. They are the last of a generation of writers that modeled their publicity photos on the great writers and creations of the past. Lotte Hansen’s photo of Auster’s makes him look like Mr. Kurtz after he saw the Heart of Darkness.  Bert Nienhuis photo of Coetzee is more stoic; he looks a little like Conrad himself, set against a background of civilized vegetation. The self presentation of most writers today is more veiled by the ironies that their own works offer. Sam Lipsyte, George Saunders, and the Bens, Lerner and Marcus, don’t look this way. You might say that our post-modernist generation suffers from an anxiety of the anxiety of influence in which they discountenance a form of photograph that makes them look like they are this year’s contribution to the canon. One can love Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but one wouldn’t wish O’Neill’s existence on one’s worst enemy.

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