Friday, May 12, 2006

Hang On To Your Ego

There are some things that you should make an added effort to see in New York. For instance, I had to see a Spike Lee Joint in New York; I would like to see Sonic Youth play in New York; Jackson Pollock's masterpieces are more effective in New York.

Last night, I had to see Edmund White do a reading in New York. I've never actually read any of his work, as I've always been more captivated by his life than his writing. He is the closest persona we have today, I think, to Oscar Wilde, in that he stirs up controversy and is not afraid to have a little fun. Sure, he's teaching at Princeton right now, because he's old, but it is not as though he spent his entire writing career detained in academia.

So it was positively vital to hear him read from his new book, My Lives: An Autobiography. At sixty-five, he's not quite as old as I expected, though. And the urgency with which I tore out of my office last night -- under the reasoning that if I missed the reading, the famous writer was going to fossilize at any moment -- is admittedly dramatic.

He's very charismatic in-person and had the small audience at McNally Robinson Booksellers completely enamored. ((I was surprised to find that George Saunders draws a bigger crowd than Edmund White.)) Because there were a few French audience members, White chose to read about his friendship with Michel Foucault. Or, as he said, "Foucault and I were merely acquaintances because I only met him about thirty times." Most amusing was White's anecdote about rescuing Foucault from a bad LSD trip, where he went down to one of the bathhouses in the East Village to find "a ball of naked French philosopher, crazed and hissing, in the corner of a cubicle."

White's continuous namedropping is more endearing than flashy and, when I get around to it, I plan to read more of his work, especially now that I can read his musings on New York in New York.


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