Friday, October 31, 2014

`Tributes to D.G. Myers'

Thanks to the generosity and hard work of Greg Wolfe and his staff of volunteers at Image, our tribute to the late D.G. Myers is posted. Go here to see it. Below is my contribution:
He was shorter than I expected and when he climbed out of the cab he was still talking to the driver – about baseball, I learned. The conversation lasted a minute or two after David had paid the fare. Only then did he turn around to greet me. I’ve never known D.G. Myers to be at a loss for words. Some expansive talkers are merely filling vacuums with ego-gas. David seemed to have a surplus of ideas that required frequent venting. For three and a half years I’d been reading A Commonplace Blog and his sometimes daily emails, collaborating with him on such online projects as “Best American Fiction, 1968–1998” and “The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time” (both David’s ideas), and indulging in protracted bull sessions on the telephone, but this was the first time I had met him in person. 

My next surprise was his limp and the accompanying cane. This was March 2012, in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant in Houston, and David had been diagnosed five years earlier with metastatic prostate cancer. Typically, his illness provided a ready-made bond: Both of us were devoted to the work of L.E. Sissman, the American poet laureate of cancer, dying and death. From the start I had been struck by the readerly enthusiasms we shared: Ronald Knox, Janet Lewis, Stanley Elkin, Whittaker Chambers, J.V. Cunningham, Peter De Vries, A.J. Liebling, Nabokov, and so forth. Not that we were always simpatico. David loved sports and the literature of sports, especially baseball and football. I had decided in third grade that nothing was more boring. He could write admiringly of Philip K. Dick, who never once wrote an interesting sentence, but I enjoy the Parker novels of Donald Westlake (dba Richard Stark), and David thought they were nihilistic trash. His opinions never intimidated me; only that he was more articulate in expressing them than I could ever be. David always insisted I was a critic, a charge I’ve always vehemently denied. I don’t possess a sliver of his analytical skills, but he was often good at making you feel more intelligent than you truly are. 

When David arrived on the scene in 2008, in the bookish precincts of the blogosphere, he promptly pissed off and intimidated a lot of people simply by pointing out their dishonesty, ignorance, narcissism, bad writing and thinking and, in some cases, anti-Semitism. He never let politeness get in the way of truth. With time, David fine-tuned my literary conscience. While writing, I found myself sometimes wondering: What would David have to say about this?  We shared a fondness for the Yvor Winters admonition: “Write little; do it well.” I admired his audacity and fearlessness in making judgments and his indifference to fashion and correctness, political and otherwise. I came to rely on his judgment in matters other than the strictly literary. During that visit to Houston in 2012, David gave me the Library of America edition of Henry James’ criticism of American and English writers.  James was a writer who suited David – a thinker who never hobbled a story with mere thinking. Collected in the volume is James’ 1885 review of a biography of George Eliot, who had died five years earlier. James makes Eliot, one of his literary mentors, sound like David Myers, one of mine: 

“The great foundation, to begin with, was there—the magnificent mind, vigorous, luminous, and eminently sane. To her intellectual vigour, her immense facility, her exemption from cerebral lassitude, her letters and journals bear the most copious testimony. Her daily stint of arduous reading and writing was of the largest. Her ability, as one may express it in the most general way, was astonishing, and it belonged to every season of her long [not long enough] and fruitful career. Her passion for study encountered no impediment, but was able to make everything feed and support it. The extent and variety of her knowledge is by itself a résumé of an existence which triumphed wherever it wished. Add to this an immense special talent, which, as soon as it tries its wings, is found to be capable of the highest, longest flights, and brings back great material rewards. George Eliot of course had drawbacks and difficulties, physical infirmities, constant liabilities to headache, dyspepsia, and other illness, to deep depression, to despair about her work; but these jolts of the chariot were small in proportion to the impetus acquired, and were hardly greater than was necessary for reminding her of the secret of all ambitious workers in the field of art--that effort, effort, always effort, is the only key of success.” 

David’s efforts are at an end. As old Artur Sammler says in one of David’s favorite novels: “Wherever you looked, or tried to look, there were the late. It took some getting used to.”

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