I’ve just had a coffee and a maple and bacon muffin; now I’m around the corner, in Waterstones. I spot a novella so thin and ethereally scant there’s barely fifty pages between the covers.
How can this be? It’s nigh on impossible to get a novella published these days, and one without a plot to speak of is pushing the odds. Pulling off the impossible like this really tells you that a writer has made it.
J D Salinger provides what might be considered the ultimate role model for the wannabe literary legend. He went from a successful writer into a mysterious phenomenon, confounding the world and disappearing off the literary map. In a good way.
Salinger reputedly wrote sitting in an old Jeep seat, wearing overalls. He kept to himself apart from the occasional jaunt to the local shops for food and drink.
Rock stars and pop musicians generally have a shorter career spans than writers. The cliché of the rock musician’s success is a Byronesque afterlife of bohemian drugs and alcohol. Others head in the opposite direction, for Pilatus, meditation and raw food diets. The ultimate rock/pop star model is the Bono one — transcending the need to keep making music and becoming a business investor.
Clement Greenburg wasn’t just an art critic, he was a legendary art critic. When the Open University interviewed him, he was drinking whisky and chain smoking, mumbling weird replies to straightforward questions about Jackson Pollock.
‘When was the first time you met Pollock?’
Acceptable answers here include: before he was famous; while he was doing his monochrome series, and so on.
But Greenburg refers to a bizarre account of Pollock wearing a hat and wryly observing that he never saw Pollock wearing a hat at any other time.
Brilliant. Just brilliant. And, so revealing.
His way of closing the interview? An off-the-cuff comment about Pollock being like everyone else… full of crap.
You knew Greenburg had made it because he didn’t need to care anymore. He didn’t need to be the obedient art critic type, because he was already a legend with the soul of an artist.
Marcel Duchamp shocked the art establishment with his readymades, which were supposed to be the end of modern art. Instead it opened a new chapter in 20th Century conceptual art. He was bored and didn’t need it anymore, so, like the consummate gentleman he was, to bowed out to play more chess.
Making it isn’t just about money, it’s about transcending the need to do what made you a success in the first place. It’s about confounding the rules, and doing what really matters to you, like giving up your day job to play your favourite board game.