Notes to a biographer

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  • Published 20090220
  • ISBN: 9780733323942
  • Extent: 256 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

INK THIS: IN the afternoons he would begin to drink – not very much, but steadily – to gauge the state of his soul, he said. He also said he could not calibrate the soul by thinking too hard, or by measuring it according to the Plimsoll line on a glass. He used the word entelechy, understood by examining liquid motion and listening to pouring sounds. His mind was used up, his soul a dog. Less sighted but with a keener nose, he tried to sniff out perfection. A small change of mind by the season brought bad memories or illness. He remarked on how hard writing really was – not in producing anything but in being true to the notion that nothing should be produced; writing should occur through knowing something deeply. For that, I should let him tell his story if he has one, because it would be wrong of me to take it from him if it were his to begin with.

It may have been late summer in the year when everything in his life started going wrong. Although he said that was nothing. Life had always gone wrong for him. He had given up his job as a teacher – a job that paid well, with generous holidays – and had decided to spend a year living in a cabin in the mountains, trying to become a writer. Everyone had probably tried that, I said to him – trying to become a writer that is, as if by willing it you could turn yourself towards talent. That was cruel. I didn’t know it was his intention to kill himself. That was the kind of fanatic he was. I can say that now. He’d read a lot of Hemingway, who killed himself by way of explanation – after the fact – that he’d written himself out. The author must always die dramatically. It’s the romantic ending, that’s what I thought. But my friend was not Hemingway. Besides, his name was Witold. A spent wit, you could have said. I, on the other hand, cultivated my lambency on the talk show circuit, smoothly and spontaneously putting people at ease before unsheathing my rapier.

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