Wednesday, July 19, 2017


John Irving went a long way out of his way, in his novel The World According to Garp, to diss the Austrain writer Franz Grillparzer, 1792-1872, remembered today for dramas such as Das goldene Vlies. Actually, in den US today he's probably most famous for being the first famous writer better than whom the fictional novelist Garp, a thinly-disguised version of John Irving, was certain he could write. This was supposedly an important milestone in any developing writer's life: finding a writer to whom one feels superior -- as a writer, at least.

I don't know whether or not that makes any sense: that you have to find some famous writer whom you are certain you can outwrite in order to become a successful writer. Perhaps it makes sense only for kinds of writers I was never interested in being. I'm not sure whether anything that John Irving has ever asserted makes much sense for people like me: the implication that he is a better writer than Grillparzer is really rather silly; the implication that he even deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as someone like Grillparzer is rather silly. The assertion by Irving that he has read anything by Grillparzer in German and understood it strains my credulity. I think Irving thinks that the name Grillparzer sounds silly, and that that is about the extent of what Irving has to say about Grillparzer. Or consider the advice he gave at a writer's conference for dealing with writer's block. He called it the constipation method: wait as long as you possibly can, and then run to the typewriter. I am certain that another writer's retort was much wittier than anything Irving has ever written: she asked, what if you don't make it to the typewriter in time? I'm sorry that I don't remember her name.

I was sure, as a young squirt reading The World According to Garp, that I could outwrite Irving, but I already knew by then that I could outwrite many -- no, most writers of bestsellers: Crichton, Ludlum, Richard Adams (Author of Watership Down), Peter Benchley, son of Robert, author of Jaws, and so forth. That I could add one more to that list, Irving, who managed to fool some people for some time into thinking he was the sort of author who deserved awards, was no big deal.

The big deal was discovering writers like Gaddis, Gass, John Hawkes, Robert Musil, Pynchon, Yeats, Doeblin, writers who really challenged me and continue to do so, and learning how close to unknown some of them were during their lifetimes, and how far most of them were from bestseller lists for most or all of their lives.

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