First as Immortality, then as Farce
I’ve never met a successful writer who didn’t sometimes wonder if their own success wasn’t some kind of farce being staged for a mysterious audience.
The author of the profile, John Jeremiah Sullivan — himself an admirably successful profiler and essayist for major magazines, in other words someone who regularly wins a good share of the chips on the increasingly shrinking poker table of the American mainstream media marketplace — goes to lengths to demonstrate just how successful Antrim has finally become. Not only has he published many books, not only has he gotten a post teaching writing at Columbia, not only are his short stories regularly published in the New Yorker, but he’s the recipient of a MacArthur grant. And yet:
Antrim was like most other writers. Only the next project was real. The rest was some kind of weird dream.
I don’t know how there can still be writers who believe in literary immortality. I understand those who believe in the immortality of the soul, I can even understand those who believe in Heaven and Hell and the touching waystation Purgatory, but when I hear a writer talk about the immortality of certain literary works I want to slap him. I’m not talking about hitting him but just slapping him once and then probably hugging him and comforting him… a kind of slap for the person’s own good, like the kind they give hysterical people in the movies so that they snap out of it and stop screaming and save their lives.
Though I devote more time lately than ever to the business of getting published, I find myself also letting go of an attachment to getting published, and more serious about writing something good.