Writer vs. Artist Revisited

Truman Capote

Truman Capote

It’s been a week since I finished reading Belva Plain’s The Golden Cup. I’m revisiting it in my mind to ask myself what I remember: It was a charming story, entertaining, but it has not left an impression. I’m not rushing out to read more of Ms. Plain’s stories, although I would pick one up if it came my way and I needed a diversion. Nothing related to my life–including my writing life. The writing was good, or I wouldn’t have read it through, but not good enough to want to critique it. There was nothing to emulate. I’m thinking, when it was published, that it might have been avant-guardish to have a gay character in main stream fiction, but I don’t know that for a fact. Gay fiction has been around forever, although more for literary types and not so much for commercial consumption. While Plain wrote about homosexuality, Capote was homosexual–and it isn’t a significant part of his oeuvre: He simply is who he is.

On the other hand, I am still reading, and reading about, Capote. I have a half dozen books on the shelf bought in the last two weeks. Not only is he fascinating as a person and a writer, what has been written about him is also fascinating. His prose is substantial–I don’t mean that in the sense of being voluminous, it isn’t that; but in the sense of being significant; it has something to say to me. His life has something to say to me, as unlikely as that may seem. His writing has something important to say as well.

Capote likely was always a troubled person. At any rate, his life or his life-style caught up with him. I prefer to think it was his life. When one processes more information, and with more nuance, I imagine life could become distressing. One might want to be able to shut it down, turn it off, escape from being bombarded from continual impressions and, especially, from needing to follow them obsessively to some sort of resolution in one’s mind.

I’ve been fond of the notion of structural functionalism since the 1980s when I discovered that sociological theory–Compte, Durkheim and, more recently, Parsons. It stands to reason that structure does reinforce, even predict, function. If you build a fence, you can’t step from one side to the other without going over or around; if you plant a tomato seed, you will not grow a daisy from it; if you buy a one-story house, you won’t be looking out of third-story windows when you go to bed at night . . .

Capote’s writing is literature, Plain’s is entertainment. There it is. It would be hard for me to believe that Capote ever wrote a word thinking to entertain, although what he wrote did entertain–he wrote for theater and screen! He took great care with words, although not arranging them artificially. His prose isn’t about shock value, thought it can be shocking; it isn’t pretentious, though it may be hyperbolic; and it isn’t dodgy: On the contrary, it is reliable and sound even when it is surreal–everything adds up.

His words precisely ‘see’ the world he brings to the page. The words flow from the page to the mind of the reader and stick while Plain’s words flow from the page through the mind of the reader and fade away.

Mona L S Baisch