Friday, October 30, 2009

How come most geniuses are also morons?

I think it's likely that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the greatest writer currently walking the face of the earth.

Saul Bellow might have shared that title with Gabo a few years back. I would go back and forth in my mind as to whose work I would rather be stranded on a desert island with. The Jew from Chicago, or the Colombian magical realist? Both had that aura of literature that a writer like, say, E.L. Doctorow or John Updike (as wonderful as they both are) simply can't reproduce.

But how could men with such lovely, brilliant voices -- whose understanding of human character is so rich, whose sympathies run so deep -- be such dumbbells when it comes to their politics?

Bellow is probably the lesser offender of the two. Bellow started out as a Trotskyite and later in life became a neocon (a la Paul Wolfowitz -- who was apparently a character in Ravelstein.) And he was pretty unapologetic about it. Early in Bill Clinton's first term, a friend of mine met Bellow at a dinner party and he asked her what she thought of Clinton. Well, she started, I think he's doing this right and that right, etc. Bellow listened politely and then said, "Well, I'd rather be young than smart."

What a shmuck!

Gabo, on the other hand, became a friend and apologist for Fidel Castro (a dictator whom I feel no romanticism about whatsoever).

For a wonderful portrait of the moral vicissitudes of the Garcia Marquez / Castro friendship, I recommend Enrique Krauze's cover story in the New Republic this week. (Provided you can get past Krauze's extremely lame homage to One Hundred Years of Solitude in the lede.)

I guess one shouldn't be surprised that great artists aren't always great thinkers. Most, in fact, are pretty shitty thinkers. Writers become infatuated with ideas -- most of which have horrible practical implications -- which they can't seem to shake off. Does this have something to do with the obsessive nature of writing? Perhaps. Or maybe the fact that in a novel the author is god, and god can paper over the flaws that tear things apart in real life?

Or maybe it's because writers are much fonder of failure than they are of success. Makes for a much better story.

I don't know how the man who wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude could look at the horrors of the man who put gays in concentration camps -- who throws writers in prison, who has refused to give his people the right to vote, who has tortured and murdered his political opponents -- with affection.

Or, rather, how he could feel sympathy for this dictator but apparently feel nothing for the dictator's victims? (Some of whom were his friends.)