Translating Oscar Wilde,

December 7, 2008 at 9:30 am | Posted in sheer selfindulgence, writing | 18 Comments
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“There are men so arrogant who cannot praise a great man whom they admire, without representing it as a link or a path that leads to themselves.” Nietzsche.

Further to our conversation. Ever put arrogant writers into a search engine? Here’s my two favourites. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (damn the man for having the hardest name ever to spell, worse than Mr N). Spent a lot of time in a freezing hell with nothing but a pencil being worked like a slave. And wouldn’t shutup. One of the greatest writers ever to live on this tiny tiny short-lived planet whose books changed the world and continue to resonate. Accused again and again of being arrogant.

Norman Mailer, need I say more. In the fine American tradition of dissent, Gore Vidal one of the greatest political novelists ever, the equal of the ancient Greeks in many ways. Books which changed things, which engaged the culture. Both accused again and again of arrogance.

I contend there is a connection here in terms of the mindset required to create something like that and other people saying, oh you are loud and arrogant. I’ll leave it to other people to work out what that connection is. Not to mention, Bill. I’m a little too close to the subject said Dr Benway tapping his cigarette,


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  1. Velasquez. I just noticed today, the man was a true master of light. I’ve seen that painting a thousand times and I just noticed, look how the skin around her buttocks and thighs glows a little redder. I’m always distracted by the line of her shoulders. Now there are some people who say, rightly as it turns out, she has too many vertebrae, her torso is too long. But she is supposed to be an idealisation,

  2. A certain amount of arrogance is a sign of a great mind, sometimes, I think.
    Almost a noble virtue.

    Falso modesty is so often arrogance of a different kind.

  3. Humble people are almost always guilty of something. No problem with arrogant writers as long as they have the right to be.

  4. wow i mean WOW so true, well said, yes sir
    and as for the velasquez the painting, the beauty is just right there as it unfolds over time perhaps or in one moment you ‘see’ something like a distracting line, like the red glow i’m sure is no accident, being derived/engaged-in-language-of-color upon close seeing all painting is abstract (even as it represents a figure reclining

  5. As I say often, I consider myself to be illiterate (w.r.t. “literature”). I don’t know how many years it’s been since I’ve read a novel or short story, and at this stage in my life, I would not be surprised if I ever will again.

    I wonder though if novelists are more arrogant than poets. They seem so to me when I watch them on C-SPAN2’s BookTv.

  6. Oh I would say novelists are way more arrogant than poets. An interesting post Paul and one to which I think my opinion is simple – accusations of arrogance are usually led by jealousy. If the person was no good at what they did, you would call them deluded or laughable, so I would say that arrogance is a good back-handed compliment. Me? I have to disown my work in order to comment on it, humble novelist that I am. I’m a flippin’ arrogant poet though.


  7. It wouldn’t be surprising if novelists are more arrogant because most of them are rich thru commerce. On the other hand, most poets don’t like the limelight and aren’t rich.

  8. Interesting post, I know a lot of arrogant poets actually too.
    Yes. Me too, Juliet, Wilde (“I have nothing to declare but my genius”), Byron, it’s a long list. Arrogant or confident? Should every poet be shy retiring and modest? It makes those of who are merely confident in our work seem arrogant in comparison, I think. Where does confidence end and arrogance begin?

  9. Maybe the most humble, “honest” writer is the copywriter. They are called whores of the writing world (not that “whore” is necessarily pejorative) and they don’t automatically shrug off that label.

    I wonder how many poets make living money as copywriters? Hmm. I’ll think about that today.

    (Gordon Comstock, a copywriter and frustrated poet in George Orwell’s Keep the Aspadistra Flying: “William Shakespeare wrote ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’. William Blake wrote ‘Tiger Tiger, burning bright, in the forest of the night.’ Gordon Comstock wrote ‘corner table enjoys his meals with Bovex.’ “)

  10. Hey Phillip, you’re deep. You gave me food for thought. Thanks.
    Actually, there’s this scamming Europian publisher who published me on the web only as a freelance then virtually dumped me (personal– I’m not strong yet for libel but I’m still planning to erupt).

  11. woots. arrogance eh? hmm.

  12. hey paul, on your search for arrogant writers, did you turn up anyone else we know??

    i agree with bill, and can’t blame the good doctor: we must be arrogant about our ideas or else why would we suggest that others should read them? know them? think they’d want them?

    w/o a certain amount of arrogance, the writing would just sit in a drawer or on a page with no links, a blog with no authority (btw, paul, you’re up to 77 last time i checked–and i am about to favorite you–woo hoo! a little monday pick me up)

    pass me the scotch, now that i’ve had my say

  13. Solhenitzyn may be tough for us, but I’d bet the Russians have just as much trouble with Gore Vidal, adding a lot of extra h’s, z’s and y’s.

  14. Cool, I like Gwendolyn’s idea. I was thinking similarly, that it takes what others see as arrogance in order to tackle the big ideas and feel that you have done so in a way that is worth sharing with others. It also takes that kind of confidence to hold to a position that is new when everyone around you is telling you that you’re wrong. So that might explain why it is an accusation fired off at the kind of writers who write big, culture changing books.
    And of course, as Narnie points out, arrogance is the easiest insult to reach for. Really, these days, anyone who has a belief, thinks that their belief is well founded and tries to argue for it is almost certainly going to be accused of arrogance by people who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo but who don’t have the intellectual firepower to justify their disagreement. Oh and Narnie found me a great Mr N quote which I will edit into the piece. Thanks for all the feedback, it has certainly helped me to get this question sorted and in place in my mind.

  15. Exactly. You have to be bold and loud to bring about change.

    Btw, I got that book you recommended awhile back, Tristam Shandy. Thanks.

  16. this all (post and comments) seems very like an ongoing discussion friends of mine have had since adolescence about attempting to live “extraordinary lives” (i.e. one worth writing a biography about) whether that included writing or not.

    i’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply not possible to live a writerly “extraordinary life” (e.g. paul’s examples above, kerouac, miller, etc.) without being incredibly selfish. arrogant, sure, but the selfishness must above all out.

    just a thought. and paul, i’m sorry man, by my definition you are far too unselfish and generous with your praise and support to ever lead an “extraordinary life”. sucks to be you.

  17. i think if you drilled deep enough into most of these men’s “psyches'” (i say men because more often than not men have the rep for being arrogant) you would likely find an inordinate amount of insecurity and self-doubt, also essential qualities in any good writer… the bluster is just salesmanship and PR… a tool designed to get people to read them…

  18. Love the Bootsy header.

    I would suspect that whoever accused those two greats of being arrogant was in fact, jealous. Pencil envy, perhaps?

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