Who’s Writing This?
The premise of Daniel Halpern’s collection of short essays is that the relationship between the author and his or her own work is problematic: the person who writes is not the same as the person who lives day-to-day. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges published a brief, witty essay on the elusive author, himself, which is the inspiration for this volume. More than fifty authors take up Halpern’s challenge to comment on or in some way deal with Borges’ almost taunting, playful dissociation of himself from the writer called “Borges.”
The problem is that it is hard to better Borges. Most of the essays simply provide variations on his already thin jest. The best of them, written by Susan Sontag, succeeds because it neither mocks nor mimics Borges, but rather soberly and movingly recounts how she has struggled to accept herself as a writer, knowing that most of her work has not lived up to her expectations. This is another familiar theme for writers, but Sontag freshens it by admitting her pleasure in THE VOLCANO LOVER, the novel in which she found her voice.
The other writers who also avoid cliche are James Michener and Scott Turow. They manage to be witty and amusing without any pretention. Better than the prose of most of these writers is their drawings. It is fascinating to see what John Updike makes of his profile, what Edward Albee sees when he looks in the mirror, and Margaret Atwood’s version of herself as a cut-out doll.