Or, is “arrogance a prerequisite to being a good artist?” The answer, of course, is “no.”
But it doesn’t stop people from asking that question.
Actually, um… no one explicity asked that question. I just did, because I was reading this nifty exchange on the forum via Strange Famous records.
In it, a poster noted how Henry Miller, when he gets going, is the greatest writer of all-time. Other times, however, Miller:
…just falls back on his ego, talks of how he has all the answers… thinks he is a more evolved person, and yet fucks over everyone he supposedly cares about in real life….
Of course, the poster is correct. Miller certainly had a chip on his shoulder. I attribute this to a few reasons:
1. He did think he had the answers. And maybe he did: he grew up in a highly corporate-ized, commoditized, and buttoned-up culture, and discovered – lo and behold – people were utterly miserable. (See The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.) He took the road less traveled, and all things considered, things worked out pretty well for him.
2. He had a brutal, doting mother. The fact that he became a moralizing narcissist is no surprise to us professionals in the world of therapy. Classic case of projection. (Further analysis explored in separate blog.)
3. To be a novelist – or any artist – you have to think, at least on some level, you’re the bees knees. How else can you sell yourself – hustle, as it were – if you don’t feel it in your gut?
Point #3 is the gist of another commenter’s response:
but isn’t that essentially what a writer is? part-narcissist, part-insecure-freak? i think as a writer you’ve got to be somewhat arrogant when you write because you got to tell yourself “Is what I’m writing important enough for others to read?”‘
Who knows? A lot of the great writers out there (Faulkner, Kesey, Melville spring to mind), at least from what I can tell, from their public personas, aren’t/weren’t offensively arrogant.
Perhaps it’s also because Miller’s working in the autobiographical/confessional form. Hard to toot your own horn within the confines of fiction.