From Parul Sehgal’s New York Times review of , among others’:
Susan Sontag suffers from the same hamartia [as Julie Taymor, whose Spider-Man musical was a success, Mendelsohn apparently argues, not despite her own aesthetic betrayal, but because of it], according to Mendelsohn, who is endlessly fascinated by how the lack of self-knowledge makes self-betrayal inevitable. She belonged to the 19th century, he writes, which explains the “aspirations that were at odds with her temperament and her talent.” She insisted she be known as a storyteller, when the very qualities that made her so exciting a critic — the self-consciousness and “inability to resist any opportunity to interpret” — made her a clunky and banal novelist. The self, to Mendelsohn’s trained classicist’s eye, is gloriously rived. Forget reconciling its contradictions — the self can scarcely see them.
What makes it a good paragraph is the way it articulates what I’ve always felt but never been able to so well articulate: the limitations of my own fiction writing. It’s had its successes, but the truth of the matter is that all my instincts as a writer are toward obliterating mystery, not sustaining it. Much less creating it on a blank page. Ditto the bit about resisting interpretation. It’s a daring but in the end accurate charge to make against the author of “Against Interpretation”, but there Mendelsohn is, making it.
Unclear whose ideas I’m working with here, but I see my novelist banalities less as a innate scourge than as a momentary handicap. Like: I hope one day to be more interested in mystery. In the meantime, there’s NF to write.
I’m fully aware that people under the age of 60 write novels, and that many of them are actually very good. But how to do so when this perplexing world needs so much solving and sorting just to know how to get out of bed every morning remains a mystery to me. One maybe I could write a novel about.
Then again, I’m deluding myself if I think things are getting less perplexing as I age. Moral of this blog post: finish that damn novel.