Friday, December 29, 2017
I loved its verbal invention and Joycean updates. I read and owned his 9 novels throughout the 1970s plus his collection of plays, but the only volume that seems to have survived in my current collection is his still hilarious The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival & Manners.
He also lived to reap awards, including the Irish version of a lifetime achievement award in 2015. He accepted by reading an excerpt from his The Unexpurgated Code on the proper way to accept an award, which included how to hint that perhaps it could have be awarded earlier. It's both a funny and a surreal wish-fulfillment moment, as seen on this video, which also includes biographical information and a few excellent tributes.
Robert Pirsig also died in 2017 at the age of 81. He developed his personal philosophy in two books, the first of which became very popular in the mid-1970s: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In that book (if I recall correctly) he wrote that there are basically two kinds of people: the person who notices a dripping faucet and thinks it should be fixed but let's it drip, and the person who immediately fixes it. There was no question which one I was, but I enjoyed the book anyway.
The style grabbed me and I learned from his point of view, even if motorcycle maintenance would never interest me. (I'm also reminded that the paperback came in different colors--the first time that gimmick was used, to my recollection.) (Update: Maybe the second. I think Future Shock was probably the first, a few years earlier.)
I've shared thoughts on several other writers who died in 2017: poet John Ashbery, playwright Sam Shepard, columnist Jimmy Breslin, poet Derek Walcott as well as New York Review of Books founding editor Robert Silvers. Other writers who died in 2017 include Nancy Willard, Lillian Ross, Joanne Kyger, Richard Wilbur, John Berger, playwrights Albert Innaurato and David Storey, Dore Ashton, William Gass, Yu Guangzhong, Bette Howland, Nancy Friday, Eric Newman, Nat Hentoff, Anne Wiazemsky, Nora Johnson, Susan Vreeland, Kenneth Silverman, Thomas Fleming, Michael Bond, Sue Grafton, Hugh Thomas, Jean Fritz, Denis Johnson, Jean Stein, Robert James Walker, Paula Fox, Tzetan Todorov and Bharti Mukherjee.
May they all rest in peace. Their work lives on.