mardi 8 mars 2011

William Charvat, THE PROFESSION OF AUTHORSHIP IN AMERICA, 1800-1870, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1968, 327 pages.

In discussing the problems and the status of the artist, Melville once again tried to involved his readers in the creative process. And in describing Pierre's conflict with the publishing and reading world, he made the author the hero and the reader the villain. One notes that genuinely commercial writers sometimes flatter the public by reversing the formula: in our own time the fictional villain is often an "aesthete" or an "intellectual."
Melville here seems to take perverse satisfaction in abusing, satirizing, and insulting the reading public and its representatives - editors and publishers. He excoriates the kind of novels that they make popular. He accuses them of "unforgiveable affronts and insults" to great authors like Dante in the past; of missing the "deeper meanings" of Shakespeare; of judging literature as they do morals; of praising an author's worst books, or liking his best ones for the wrong reasons. The publishers who serve them are thievish illiterates. In short, "though the world worship Mediocrity and Common Place, yet hath it fire and sword for all contemporary Grandeur." But bad as the present is (it is a "bantering, barren and prosaic heartless age," which will not tolerate the serious), the future will be worse, for it will see "the mass of humanity reduced to none level of dotage."
Concomitantly, the author-hero is presented as a full-blown example of the Genius temperament. For this aspect of Pierre Melville disinterred Lombardo from chapter CLXXX of Mardi, reappropriating many of the latter's concepts of art and authorship. Using some of Lombardo's phraseology, he made Pierre his nineteenth-century counterpart - a youth dedicated, lonely, divinely inspired, poverty-stricken, suffering, misunderstood, ruining his health by loong hours of exhausting creativity in an ice-cold room. That a character as morally and morbidly diseased as the reviewers thought Pierre was, should also have been a genius, set apart from and above the stupid public that crucified him, did little to improve the reader's already pejorative image of the creative writer.

(p. 252-253)

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