Writers. I consider there to be two major classes of writers and then two sub-classes of writers.

First, there is the writer who can only write from an experiential perspective. Meaning he has to have experienced all/part of something to be able to write about it. Witness Hemingway. Jack Kerouac. Ian Fleming. John Steinbeck.

In the other major class of writers there are those who wrote chiefly out of their imagination. Witness Borges. Saul Bellow. Italo Calvino.

Sub-classes. There are the classicists. Writers with truly literary ambitions. Writers who play with form. Writers who create form; where the story itself is just the backdrop or better said, the story itself serves to exist only to act as an artifact of the writer’s living, breathing act of creation. Steinbeck fits here too. Who is not to say that ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is both experiential and yet classic American literature?

Lastly, there is the sub-class of story-tellers who write to capture their vision of the world. And maybe the story is told from the perspective of how they see themselves in their world. Maybe that world is idyllic. Maybe through the telling the writer chooses to be the hero. Witness Ian Fleming wanting to be James Bond. Or John D. McDonald wanting to be Travis McGee.

I say all this thinking about my last post where I ended up writing a postscript about Trevanian and Brett Easton Ellis. Trevanian’s writing convinces me that he created the Jonathan Hemlock character in order to have a literary vehicle from which to posit his cosmology.
Where Brett Easton Ellis is much more the artiste. Like how he used American Psycho to put an incredibly twisted face on American consumerism. And in doing be that terrible child of letters, to show the world that he could take any setting, in this case a Harvard MBA and the swank upper east side, and do with it as he pleased. A story composed of brutally dismembered bodies told with savage humor, sophistication, and yes, elegance.
I once read an interview with B.E. Ellis in which he told the interviewer that he had more or less accomplished all he had set out to do with the novel. Jaded? Egotistical? Perhaps. But he is one hell of a writer. I’ve read everything he has written at least twice. And for me, he writes better dialogue than anyone out there.

Last. A few days ago I just finished rereading Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. I didn’t want to reread it because I knew how it ended. And the story itself is the kind of story that I’ve come to mostly avoid in my old age. I can’t suffer my way anymore through stories about suffering. I had to put down ‘Crime and Punishment’ a few months ago because by page 100 I just wanted to gouge my eyes out with a mechanical pencil.

I also hate stories about losers, drunks, gamblers, and drug addicts. I just can’t do those stories anymore. Maybe because I miraculously survived the ’60s, I can’t read anymore about those who didn’t.
I know how all those stories end and I find them too impossibly selfish not to mention narrow of scope. To gen those stories, however someone might try, is a waste; as there is no such thing for me anymore as a beautiful loser. Self-destruction is so ’70s.

But I needed to read some Hemingway just to be reminded of the power and elegance of brevity. And I remembered that ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ was short on dialogue (something that Hemingway never came close to mastering) so that was that.

And I was glad that I read it. I had forgotten the details. Yes, the old man fought the great billfish for something like an astounding two days and two nights. The fish dies. The sharks eat the captured dead fish. And the old man limps into port with the only the fish’s carcass lashed to the boat. But that’s only the back story.

The real story is the old man had nothing, he was dirt poor. He was old. He had gone 85 days without catching a fish. But he doesn’t ever complain, he just continues to go out fishing every day.
He reminds himself several times after he finally hooked the big one that he was a man and as great as the fish was and as much as he loved the strength and bravery of the fish, one of them was going to have to die.

It is a story that ends sad, but doesn’t. The old man loses his greatest fish to the sharks, as well as his harpoon, his knife and one of his oars. But never his manhood or his dignity. And he fought both the big fish and the sharks with everything he had. Yet never complained once.

Let that story be a lesson for us all.

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