Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for January 26th, 2014

The magpies of knowledge

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Edmund White

I suppose that as Midwesterners, the children of chemical engineers and homemakers, we experienced the arts as so foreign, even so preposterously unreasonable, that once we’d decided to embrace them we did so with lots of conviction and little discrimination. Surely it was no accident that T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, the two great poetic synthesists of our day, the very men who had ransacked all of world culture and could refer in the same poem to the Buddha and to Sophocles or to Confucius and to Jefferson—it was no accident that they were both from the heartland. Public-library intellectuals, magpies of knowledge, like most autodidacts we were incapable of evaluating our sources. As a teen-ager, I tried to write verse like Milton’s; later, I wanted to write novels like Nabokov’s. In a novel I wrote in college, I imitated Evelyn Waugh. If someone had said to me, “But do you, the graceless son of a Cincinnati broker of chemical equipment, do you seriously imagine that you can just write a Renaissance Christian epic or something in the style of a Cambridge-educated Russian aristocrat or of the spokesman of the Bright Young Things of London circa 1925?”—if someone had spoken like this to me, I wouldn’t even have understood his point.

Edmund White

Written by nevalalee

January 26, 2014 at 9:00 am

Posted in Quote of the Day, Writing

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