What makes for a memorable literary profile?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In class today we'll be reviewing the possibilities inherent in the first-person literary profile.  How, for example, does James Baldwin both summon his father and reveal his own soul in "Notes of a Native Son"?  He had lived and died in an intolerable bitterness of spirit and it frightened me, as we drove him to the graveyard through those unquiet, ruined streets, to see how powerful and overflowing this bitterness could be and to realize that this bitterness was now mine.  

How much knowing lies behind Frederick Busch's words, about Terrence des Pres:  He had found what most writers searched for, consciously or otherwise, all their working lives: the subject that was metaphor for the interior strife that drove them to be writers. 

And what is Annie Dillard up to with "The Stunt Pilot"?  How is it that she reveals herself, even when her seeming purpose is to help us see this plane and its magic-making driver?  The black plane dropped spinning, and flattened out spinning the other way; it began to carve the air into forms that built wildly and musically on each other and never ended. Reluctantly, I started paying attention.   Rahm drew high above the world an inexhaustibly glorious line; it piled over our heads in loops and arabesques.  It was like a Saul Steinberg fantasy; the plane was the pen.  Like Steinberg's contracting and billowing pen line, the line Rahm spun moved to form new, punning shapes from the edges of the old.  Like a Klee line, it smattered the sky with landscapes and systems. 

We'll talk about all this and more, then get back to the business of critiquing student memoirs.


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