Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Barry Miles describes the life of an eternal adolescent in Call Me Burroughs. William Seward Burroughs never seems to grow up in Miles’ well researched and fascinating biography of a twentieth century iconoclast. Burroughs lives a life of debauchery. With spoon fed income from family wealth, Burroughs lives on the fringes of society; observing and recording his experience.
Listening to Barry Miles’ smartly researched and narrated biography, a listener senses that Burroughs is, in one sense, a parasite of society. Burroughs is an eternal adolescent that lives off his parents until they die. He adjusts his life style to continue getting the hedonistic most out of life without working. He observes without being; he reports without doing. Burroughs does nothing in life that benefits anyone but himself. In another sense, Burroughs is an icon of change in society; i.e. a representative of the sex’, drugs’, and arts’ revolutions of the twentieth century.
The biographer of Wallace’s life, D. T. Max, works as a staff writer for “The New Yorker”. Dave Eggers, Tom Bissell, and Evan Wright (authors in their own right) say that Max delivers a history of Wallace that is ‘well researched’, ‘hugely disquieting’, and ‘indispensable’ in knowing Wallace and why he will be missed. One is inclined to agree with all of the former, but may question the latter; i.e., will Wallace’s writing be missed?
If one did not know anything about Wallace, after listening to “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story”, the uninformed becomes well-informed. Wallace is a smart, well-educated, germophobic heterosexual that drives for literary success with a manic-depressive intensity that is played out in his writing and ended by his suicide. His life is celebrated by academic success but marked by drugs, unhealthy human relationships, rehabilitation, and recidivism. He is shown to be an excellent professor of literature and an interesting conversationalist when his head is in the “game”. But, he is also shown to be violent and allegedly capable of planning a murder when his interest in a married woman (Mary Karr) is thwarted by uncertain divorce in a troubled marriage.
At the very least, one is compelled by Max’s biography to give “Infinite Jest” another chance to impress; maybe the fault is more in the reader than the writer.
The principle of the power of the pen comes from a play titled “Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy” written in 1839 with the suggestion that “The pen is mightier than the sword”.
Jonathan Swift is primarily remembered for “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World”; better known as “Gulliver’s Travels”. What is less well-known of Swift is that he was and is a revered Irish hero, a man blessed with the power of the pen.
The climax of Damrosch’s biography is Swift’s publication of “Gulliver’s Travels”. Swift’s dissection of societies’ follies is as relevant today as it was in the 18th century. One might argue that “A Tale of a Tub” is equally important but “Gulliver’s Travels” resonates with all who read for pleasure, politics, or enlightenment. “A Tale of a Tub” is trapped in the time of its writing.
There are other biographical details about Swift’s life, and Swift’s idiosyncratic habits but power of the pen is the thematic giant in Damrosch’s book. Damrosch shows how Swift became a feared satirist by England’s leaders.