Monday, March 7, 2016


Early in Wright Morris's memoir A Cloak of Light: Writing My Life, he writes
From our friend Schindelin I heard the startling news that California was not the best place for a writer. There was too much easy living, too much light and heat. There was too much driving to the sea and the mountains, and too much running around on the highways. The life of the mind suffered. The young had no curiosity. They were like young gods in their sunny, open natures, but she felt in them a troubling blandness. They would never write Death in Venice. They would probably never read the Duino Elegies. The reading of Thomas Mann's Joseph in Egypt had led her to reflect about such matters. The life of the mind, of the arts, should experience the nurturing cycle of the seasons! She urged us to consider a new life in the East, where among other things, I would find my readers. The California people she had met browsed in a book, but they did not read it. Why, indeed, should they? It was hot in the study and the library. Outside, the light sparkled, and the sea washed the beaches. Thomas Mann knew all about it , and saw this life of the body as intoxicating. The sun lulled the mind and the spirit into a languor. If I would forgive her for speaking so frankly, she saw it in the way I was fighting the sunlight. Look how I drew the cracked blinds and sat brooding in the dark! Look how I suffered from eyestrain, a sore back and headaches! This was no place for a truly creative person. It was too much of the outdoors and the outer life, of the desert and the sun.
"But what about the Greeks?" said I, and read her some great lines from Pindar, but a lot of good it did me. What she said  was after needling her brows, "You are not a Greek."
My first encounter with such an opinion was probably before I set foot in California, when I read in The Caine Mutiny of the eastern reservist telling the westerner that Californians were among the last primitive people on earth for anthropologists to study, a tribe of tennis-playing aborigines. Some of S.J. Perelman's finest pieces play off Californian indifference to anything outside the state. One probably hears more of this about California than the rest of the west because there are more things to draw easterners to California than to other regions in the west, for one thing. I wonder whether, for another, there isn't a confident indifference about California that the easterners find maddening, and that urges them on to better abuse.

1 comment:

  1. Sydneysiders might be seen by anthropologists as a tribe of distant cousins of Perelman's tennis- playing aborigines