“She reads the New York Times only once a year. Last time, she found an article on the links between caffeine and breast cancer, and promptly gave up coffee. She does not have a TV, and in her loft the windows are covered with white curtains. The only view looks out onto a brick wall. ‘I’m almost impervious to information.'”
That paragraph is from an article The Telegraph did a few years ago on writer Deborah Eisenberg. Another Deborah Eisenberg post? Yes, it’s my blog. And Deborah Eisenberg is in my opinion the best writer working in American fiction today, if hardly the most promoted. It’s possible the only time she’s been referenced in widely-diseminated mainstream media was when longterm companion Wallace Shawn mentioned her near the beginning of the movie My Dinner With Andre.
Her works are rich in insight, knowledge and a worldly grasp. They are also political, sociological and contemporary. You would think she would be plugged into the internet, watching CNN and subscribing to a half dozen international newspapers and magazines, right?
Wrong. If reports are correct, Deborah Eisenberg lives more like a monk than a modern big city resident. Being she has no fan pages or twitter stream or social media presence, I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t even own a computer, at least one that’s linked to the web. (I have this image of her with a battered Apple IIc from circa 1990, but maybe that’s just too precious.)
In another interview, the writer reports that her Chelsea loft is sparse with covers on most of the windows and few chairs. “There’s nowhere to sit,” she says. “It discourages visitors.”
She’s far from the only one, of course. We all learn about Thoreau’s legendary loner status in English class. (At least I hope we still do. I have to admit I have no idea what they’re teaching kids today.) Jonathan Franzen, subject of a gushing Time profile last year, works in a rented office decorated in Modern Austerity accented with Strict Minimalism. Even his Dell laptop has had all games and diversions stripped right from the hard disk and the internet portal superglued shut. Kind of dramatic if you ask me, but Franzen has a flair for drama.
Other writers from the past were or are also famous recluses: Pynchon and Salinger and Harper Lee. Of course there are plenty who love the spotlight. But what I find so interesting about many of the loners is they are writing the most insightful, social-commentary fiction. It may seem a contradiction that people who cut themselves off from the world around them can still keep a finger on the pulse of their surroundings.
Then again, the mainstream media, to borrow a very popular phrase these days, seems so often to miss what’s going on. They give us lots of diversions that have little to do with the issues at hand, and at the end of each decade you tend to see that the Times and Newsweeks and network news shows missed the biggest, most gradual events that shaped us. They’re too busy chasing fads and talking to experts (I love a quote from, I believe, Linda Ellerbee: An expert is someone in your Rolodex) and big-headed people who tell everyone how important they are, to save us the trouble of having to figure it out for ourselves.
But what is it about blocking out the world—putting covers over the windows and throwing out the TV and blocking all media—that allows the writer to write with, apparently, more insight? Is it that all these things we’re supposed to be keeping in touch with to be Better Informed are actually doing exactly the opposite?
Come to think of it, that would explain a lot. After all, Shakespeare did pretty well with little more than a grade-school education.
Also interesting: Famous Reclusive Authors