Sunday, January 30, 2005


It is widely assumed that the reason many painters do a lot of self-portraits (since Dürer basically invented the form, and Rembrandt developed its possibilities), is the ready availability of a free model to practice on. In fact, most of it is simply overinflated egotism. Consider this instance from a lefty heavily hyped in recent obits, Susan Sontag:
Machado de Assis's novel [Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas] belongs in that tradition of narrative buffoonery -- the talkative first-person voice attempting to ingratiate itself with readers -- which runs from Sterne [The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy] through, in our own century, Natsume Sōseki's I Am a Cat, the short fiction of Robert Walser, Svevo's Confessions of Zeno and As a Man Grows Older, Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude, much of Beckett.

Again and again we meet in different guises the chatty, meandering, compulsively speculative, eccentric narrator: reclusive (by choice or by vocation); prone to futile obsessions and fanciful theories and comically designed efforts of the will; often an autodidact; not quite a crank; though sometimes driven by lust, and at least one time by love, unable to mate; usually elderly; invariably male.

(No woman is likely to get even the conditional sympathy these ragingly self-absorbed narrators claim from us, because of expectations that women be more sympathetic, and sympathizing, than men; a woman with the same degree of mental acuity and emotional separateness would be regarded as simply a monster.)

--(from the foreword to the 1990 edition of Epitaph of a Small Winner)
Such startling self-awareness would be witty if intentional, but insulting to the reader in its hypocrisy if unseen by willful self-blindness. As Peggy Noonan once said of The Clenis, it would be irresponsible not to speculate which is the case here.

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