Fame is merely advanced sentiment.
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June 24, 2017 – Free MCAT CARS Practice
Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.
“Fame is merely advanced sentiment.”
Eileen Myles wrote that line. If you follow contemporary American poetry, you probably heard of her years ago: she is the author of 19 books, has been a central player in the poetry community of downtown New York City for decades, is a lesbian literature superstar, writes about and collaborates with renowned avant-garde artists in other mediums, and has toured and taught all over the world. That said, she’s a poet, and even famous poets are rarely household names. Lately, though, she’s hard to miss: last fall, two Myles books were published: a reissue of one of her most famous titles, the 1994 novel Chelsea Girls, and a volume of new and selected poems, I Must Be Living Twice. She’s become a media darling, profiled everywhere from the Paris Review to New York Magazine and featured in not one but two articles in the same recent issue of the Sunday New York Times.
One of Myles’s earliest influences was Andy Warhol, so it makes sense that she seems to be approaching the sudden spike in her celebrity with a mixture of bemusement, scholarly curiosity, giddy enthusiasm, and Zen detachment. It is not lost on her that as a poet who has often written about fame, she is now as famous as a poet can get, and that this role is fraught. Famous people are of course the repositories for the hopes, dreams, and shames of the non-famous. Through depictions of their lives and choices—no matter how manufactured or one-dimensional the versions we receive might be—we see our own.
This is also perhaps the purpose of autobiographical literature: the Confessional poem, the memoir, the fictionalized account of a life we recognize as the author’s own, all of which are genres and styles Myles has played with over the years. Sometimes the reception of such a literary work generates fame for the author, and thus both the life-depicting work and the life itself are altered ever after by celebrity so that the art and the image are indistinguishable. This is the hall of mirrors in which Myles finds herself in now.
For example, Myles pops up in a recent New Yorker profile of television-show creator Jill Soloway, her current romantic partner. In the kind of meet-cute that usually happens only on sitcoms, Soloway had never met Myles until she began researching her as the basis for a lesbian poet-academic character, Leslie Mackinaw, for Soloway’s hit TV show, Transparent. The research led to a virtual crush, and after the two appeared on a panel together in Los Angeles, an actual relationship began. Although the New Yorker piece is about Soloway, not Myles, Myles has the last word in the piece: There is “the fiction of being alive,” she said, how with “every step, you’re making up who you are.”
In a conversation with Adam Fitzgerald for (Warhol’s) Interview magazine, Myles talked about Warhol’s impact on her generation of artists. “There were all these constructed identities, made-up selves. And even though my fake persona was my literal persona, I was constructing it. I got to New York in the seventies, and I remember looking at Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen—these are working-class kids from New Jersey—and I thought, ‘I’ll be a working-class kid from Boston.’ Well, I was a working-class kid from Boston. … So it’s somewhere between constructing and believing, and I’ve been living that construction for as long as I can remember. But even before I was a poet, who hasn’t been making up a self?”
It’s true, of course: we all make up a self. We invent and perform multiple selves. But writers—especially writers who choose an autobiographical first person, as Myles does—have a particularly bizarre relationship to that invented self because the construction is also the basis for the art. Then the art generates further ideas about the invented self, and sometimes the maker gets a bit famous, and now which is which? Is the constructed self the writer? Is the writer the work? Is the work the image, the fame? Is the image or fame the same as the life? There it is: the hall of mirrors.
Adapted from poetry foundation.
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MCAT CARS Instructor.