Friday 17 July 2009

Love of Literature

In a recent issue of The New York Review of Books (16/07/09), Michael Greenberg begins his article by giving us a snippet of Gerald Martin’s biography of Gabriel García Márquez. It is a famous anecdote in which penniless Márquez and his wife are trying to send a manuscript of One Hundred Years of Solitude from Mexico to his potential publisher Buenos Aires.
The package contained 490 typed pages. The counter official said: "Eighty-two pesos." García Márquez watched as [his wife] Mercedes searched in her purse for the money. They had only fifty and could only send about half of the book: García Márquez made the man behind the counter take sheets off like slices of bacon until the fifty pesos were enough. They went home, pawned the heater, hairdryer and liquidizer, went back to the post office and sent the second tranche.
A story like this is a biographer’s jewel — it makes us love Márquez more (if at all possible); it fills the heart with joy and reminds us of our own love of literature. One might think that the reason for this is witnessing Márquez’s poverty. This indeed could be it — many writers have experienced and continue to experience destitution. Yet it seems that what makes this scene poignant is not the background of Márquez‘s penury but the acts of giving up.

It is the act of giving up — of the heater, the hairdryer, the liquidizer, even muted giving up of pride as they stood at the counter under the irritated eye of the post office clerk or the know-all eye of the pawn shop owner – that makes one feel that through their giving up they said “literature above all!” The scene may also prick at our heart because we have a witnessed an act of choice made for the love of the written word, and feel unsure of our own dedication to it.

Of course, we may think that we, too, would give up. Here, take my hair-dryer, take my liquidizer, take my heater. But it’s not the same. In our materially ample age, giving up of material things is like children giving up their plastic toys. We may even think there is nothing meaningful left to give up. Yet the choices need not be loud to be real choices. We give up time (though we’ve been prudently warned that time is money) to create manuscripts which, in their imperfection, require us to give up pride. And there may be other choices, subtle, unwitnessed acts of giving up, that shape both our lives and the life of literature as surely and as gently as ocean shapes a coral reef.

1 comment:

Fran Caldwell said...

What about giving up that wellpaid job, climbing down the ladder, just to write? I did that.

I'm not poor, but I'm sure as hell not rich.

And I don't need to be...

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