GL: . . .you’ve concentrated much of your efforts on exploring characters that have weathered considerable trauma. These figures are both sustained and potentially crippled by their fantasies that lead them away from their suffering. Delmore Schwartz wrote: “In the unpredictable and fearful future that awaits civilization, the poet must be prepared to be alienated and indestructible. He must dedicate himself to poetry, although no one else seems likely to read what he writers, and he must be indestructible as a poet until he is destroyed as a human being.” Masculine gender bias aside, do you see any value in Schwartz’s above proclamation and prescription for the poet? Must a poet be (at least temporarily) “alienated and indestructible” in order to dramatize suffering in her work? Or should the poet share in the suffering of her creative progeny in order to reveal it?
KGLS: Ah, civilization and its discontents. The future is scary. People suck. Poets rule. Yes, poets should prepare themselves for a good dose of marginalization, Schwartz’s prescription has some truth. This sort of glorification of artistic alienation always put me in mind of The Residents’ Theory of Obscurity, the idea that the artist creates work in isolation for the art itself without consideration for audience, or “market.” In the case of The Residents the artist goes so far as to conceal her “real” identity, which doesn’t matter, only the art does. Artists like Fever Ray and even Lady Gaga do this to a limited extent. So this is like what Schwartz is saying about the indestructibility of the poet and the destruction of the human being. Although I don’t think Schwartz is prescribing concealment of identity, but rather that the poet and the art merge to transcend finite material existence. It is an exaltation of poetic identity, a superidentity. At its best, it has something to do with souls, or that part of ourselves that is eternal, the stuff we hope our art is made of.
Great works of art can come from alienation or not, to answer your penultimate question. As for the final question—“should the poet share in the suffering of her progeny in order to reveal it”—yes. This is not to suggest that a character or a character’s circumstances in a book should be conflated with the author or the author’s life, they shouldn’t. But if there is suffering, or any measure of emotional depth in a work that exceeds the merely rhapsodic, that lives and has truth and guts, it is because the author has experienced that emotion.