Monday, March 16, 2009

In memoriam James Purdy


I'm sad this morning to learn that James Purdy has died. (His New York Times obituary draws a line from my own interview with James Purdy posted on this website.)
James trembled with a sense of literary injustice and neglect, but was also canny enough to recognize that the establishment is more likely to pin awards on those who mimic rather than threaten it. James Purdy trimmed his life back to bis Brooklyn walk-up and kept on writing. His books are audacious, often scabrously funny, and sexually they seem almost impossibly daring for their age. Patrick White and Paul Bowles achieved greater acclaim, and indeed are in my pantheon, but Bowles used hs gay aesthetic to write of those who are pinned between conflicting cultures (largely in his adopted homeland of Tangiers) while Patrick White fed that gay displaced sense onto an Australian landscape, people's tiny lives swirled into strange dances of death with the landscape and spirits of Australia. Purdy is rawer. It's as though he turns his whole life inside out, for opening wounds is an act of healing.
His books dominate my shelves. He's been my favourite living author. Now, it seems, he's simply my favourite author. When other books seem pointless I pick up one of his.
I flew to New York to be with him, because it was too late to sit with Henry James and that is the league in which James Purdy belongs. Some day I'll mine my interviews and write of him again. Some day soon I may post the photograph of him I took in our meetings. Today I moved from the news of his death into finishing a final draft of a new story. That's something that James has to teach - the folly of writing in expectation of due recognition, and the primacy of writing.

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