TM: I love that story you tell in your new book, about Charlie Fenton and Peter Matthiessen getting drunk and going spelunking in the New Haven sewer system. Stories like that – and the drama of Fenton’s war service, going AWOL – those are great stories. But they reminded me of what I’ve got to believe is an obstacle when writing about writers. With a few notable exceptions, they’re basically people who sit in a room all day by themselves. Is it difficult to generate drama when writing about writers?
SD: It’s certainly true that they spend a lot of time away from other people. They have to lock themselves in a room and do their work. But they come out of that room (laughs) and they have fairly vivid, not always comfortable, lives. You can think of alcoholism as a practically universal disease among twentieth-century American writers, male and female. The fact that they must do their work alone makes them different, I suppose, from someone who goes to an office. There’s some kind of small satanic kink this is Melville – that seems to affect most writers. It seems to me they have something that makes them slightly unaccommodated to existence. I suppose there are happy writers.
This makes us wonder if there will ever be more biographical games that allow you to run through someone’s life as they lived it. The Cat and the Coup is one, sure. But being able to, say, send Charlie Fenton and Peter Matthiessen into the New Haven sewers yourself might represent a whole new dimension to biography: how else can you really get inside somebody’s head than to be playing out their actions for yourself?
[via The Millions]