EDITOR’S NOTE: The author profile piece is a tricky and intricate journalistic genre. How do you make an author, who is often mumbling an answer he has uttered a dozen times into a glass of water, interesting? Where lazier journalists might produce a simple Q&A transcript, this is simply not enough for the true journalistic blueblood, who, aspiring for more literary heights (or selfsame delusion of such), simply must describe how David Foster Wallace’s shock of hair curls over his shoulder when he is cowering from a hard question or the aggressive manner that Zadie Smith stabs her fork into quiche when discussing E.M. Forster.
The mix between meaningful conversation and seemingly picayune observational details is a delicate one, often confused for highbrow and lowbrow writing alike — the former practiced by the New York Times, the latter by People and US Weekly. Because of this, Return of the Reluctant has commissioned a new series entitled Deconstruction Profiles, enlisting the help of two grad students (referred to helpfully as Grad Student #1 and Grad Student #2) to remark upon some of the more perplexing details to be found in today’s author profiles.
We should note that this series is not intended to impugn the writer of the profile, who is often just as baffled as the reader. It cannot be overstressed that the blame must be leveled almost exclusively at the author (and adjunct publicists) for perpetuating a public image that, upon close examination, rings false and redolent.
Article Deconstructed: “I See Him in Me” by Lev Grossman
Author Profiled: Dave E—–
Excerpt #1: “E—– is, of course, a famous writer…”
Response of Grad Student #1: By what measure is the author famous outside of New York and San Francisco? And why should these two cities be the qualifier? Is he, for example, uttered in the same breath as Stephen King? Is he known in the Midwest? Or is he, much like Mailer before him, in the process of inventing his fame, of constructing an image of benevolence that renders criticism of his rather feeble efforts at fiction null and void?
Response of Grad Student #2: Spinoza wrote, “I could see the benefits which are acquired through fame and riches, and that I should be obliged to abandon the quest of such objects, if I seriously devoted myself to the search for something different and new. I perceived that if true happiness chanced to be placed in the former I should necessarily miss it; while if, on the other hand, it were not so placed, and I gave them my whole attention, I should equally fail.” This suggests, rather clearly, that the point of whether the author is famous is a moot one. It is, I would argue, largely unimportant in the grand scheme of the author’s worth. But since fame is of apparent concern to the author, then one must conclude, like Spinoza, that he is quite possibly a deeply unhappy individual. Perhaps because the author in question of terrified of even amicable criticism and thus inures himself of the world’s sullies by opting for hugs instead of punches. This munificence is often an affliction for politically correct liberals, but should have no bearing on who the author is or where he might be placed in the literary canon.
Excerpt #2: “Intrigued, E—- agreed to a meeting, and the two became friends. Now they’ve collaborated on a moving, frightening, improbably beautiful book, a lightly fictionalized version of Deng’s life titled What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng.”
Response of Grad Student #1: Properly speaking, this autobiography is something of a misnomer. Amazon and McSweeney’s list the book as being authored not by Valentino Achak Deng, but by one Dave E—–. In fact, Mr. Deng is not listed here as author. E—- seems not to have learned anything from The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley), which was written by both Alex Haley and Malcolm X. One might argue that this solipsistic authorship is not, in fact, the actions of a “friend” at all, but an opportunist.
Response of Grad Student #2: The notion of E—- “agreeing” to a meeting sounds more like a capitalist than a philanthropist. It is a wry verb chosen by Mr. Grossman, who I suspect, burdened by the oppressive sunniness of writing author profiles, is having a good deal of fun on us here. (See also his use of “synergistic collaboration” in a later paragraph.) Further, the over-the-top string of modifiers suggests a mildly satirical form of high praise.
Excerpt #3: “What could have been an awkward literary three-legged race became instead a synergistic collaboration. In person there’s an obvious and rather touchingly empathic bond between the two: E—- is the confident, gregarious one, while Deng speaks in quiet, melodious, not-quite-grammatical English.”
Response of Grad Student #1: While I quibble with the redundant phrase “touchingly empathic,” there is much to be said of the “three-legged race” imagery and the notion that these two authors (well, one author, if you look at the spine) are possibly inseparable, suggesting that the two authors work in a kind of Maoist communal sense more at home in an autocracy than authorship. Note also the connotation of “legged” and “E—–.”
Response of Grad Student #2: If one is to value silence over gregariousness, then it is clear that Mr. Grossman is implying that Deng is the more noble of the two men. In what sense, for example, is a “synergistic collaboration” any way preferable to an “awkward literary three-legged race?”
© 2006, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.