Sunday, March 09, 2008

How Andre Gide's Fruits of the Earth ended up in my sweaty, teenage hands is a long story. It involves my high school best friend, her job at a convenience store and one of her customers. At least, that's what I remember. Eventually I was leant the out-of-print book — which after I read it promptly disintegrated. I'm accustomed to books disintegrating (the first half of my dad's copy of Aurelius's Meditations similarly peeled), but I felt awful about Fruits of the Earth.

Later, I read a couple of Gide's novels, The Immoralist and Straight is the Gate, which never did anything much for me (was it a timid translation, perhaps?) The central argument of Fruits of the Earth was not to judge emotions as good or bad. Heartache, longing, hate—allow yourself to feel them. I guess today we would say... you should let yourself “process” your emotions rather than ignoring them. And yes, hedonism too. His philosophy was painfully developed as he came to terms with his love of adolescents and young men, but the content of his ideas are probably applicable to all of us. I know it got me through a lot of pain as a teen (looking back, Gide would probably have approved).

It's out of print; my friend's copy has disintegrated—I obviously can't quote the relevant passages right now, as much as I'd like to.

Again with Susan Sontag. In her early essays (in Against Interpretation), she holds Gide up with the best of the generation preceding hers: Sartre, Genet, Brecht, Kafka, Joyce, Proust. She does so with such offhandedness, it sounds like her assumed reader would have been comfortable with at least some of Gide's extensive bibliography. to wit, in her essay on Albert Camus, she says that Camus is a second-rate writer compared to Gide, Genet and the rest.

Why has Gide fallen so far out of favour, when Sartre and Camus have remained to vital?