Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Art of Narcissism

A portrait by David Hockney

By Dan Hagen
Before Tuesday dawned I finally finished Peter Parker’s 729-page biography of Christopher Isherwood, the English novelist who turned narcissism into an art form. 
That sounds like an insult, but isn’t meant to be — merely an accurate description of what Isherwood did with this life, and quite a feat when you think about it.
Not many people could win fame and fortune by writing about nothing but themselves, and he was able to do it only because he was a wonderful writer who could, through the medium of the personal, remind his readers with specificity what it’s like to be alive.
Isherwood was both endearing and, like most of us, strangely unfair and unsympathetic at times. His kindly mother Kathleen was a focal point for his resentment. He seemed to have some grievance against her that remained invisible to the rest of the world.
Isherwood finally found an enduring love with a much-younger companion, the American artist Don Bachardy. He’s gazing at Bachardy here in a portrait by the artist David Hockney. Life may have been a cabaret for them, after all (although Isherwood hated that musical based on his Berlin stories, if not the money and fame it brought him).
Now it’s on to a biography of Isherwood’s genial mentor, the English novelist E.M. Forster.

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