From the Publisher
Praise for Edmund White
"Sexy and amazingly knowledgeable. You'll feel like stampeding to a bookstore once Edmund White gets through with you."--John Waters
“[The Burning Library] reveals what a fine essayist [White] is. White's descriptions of gay male life of the past 30 years and the changes in attitude that have occurred among gay men toward themselves and their sexuality are clear, forceful, intelligent, and thought-provoking
White offers other essays and reviews of the work of contemporary writers, American and European, gay and nongay, such as James Merrill, Christina Stead, Darryl Pinckney, and Marguerite Yourcenar. This material, together with White's discussions of his own fiction, provides valuable insights into the reading and writing of literature.”Library Journal
“The doyen of his now middle-aged generation of gay novelists, White writes seductively well. He is facile, amusing, chatty, convivial, accessibly intellectual--in short, he possesses just the qualities that make his cultural journalism, of which this book affords a generous sampling spanning 25 years, delightful
"By marrying biography and criticism [Arts and Letters] achieves a grand social critique.”Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon, winner of the National Book Award
"Edmund White's 39 reviews, interviews and essays...are a shocking display of friendliness, optimism, openness and tact.”Los Angeles Times Book Review
Read an Excerpt
Rodin’s The Age of Bronze
When I was fifteen I fell in love with this statuenot as an art fancier or potential collector or historian, but the way a lover would. Literally. I was a lonely gay kid living in the dorms at an all boys’ school where I would have been beat up if anyone had guessed my inclinations. I was quietly artyI listened to classical records over at the music building and on my own turntable during the two fifteen-minute periods when we were free to do what we wanted to. I read novels and by the time I had graduated I’d even written two of them (still unpublished).
My boy’s school was Cranbrook, outside Detroit, now long since co-ed but at that time strictly segregated from its sister school, Kingswood, and from the art academy, which was just across the street. The academy trained college-age students in all the arts, from silkscreening to sculpture. In our own small school library I discovered a big book on Rodin with black and white illustrations. I checked it out and took it to my room (we each lived in private rooms).
There I pored over the picture of the statue for weeks on end while I was supposed to be studying and by flashlight after bedtime and lights out. I had no friends, certainly no lovers, but the life-size statue of this 22-year-old Belgian soldier, whose name I learned was Auguste Neyt, became the center of all my fantasies. The statue, at least to the eyes of Rodin’s contemporaries, seemed so disturbingly lifelike that he’d been accused of casting it from life, of pressing the plaster moulds directly to the model’s flesh, as if he were a George Segal avant la lettre. Although Rodin had made a trip to Italy and looked at various Michelangelos while working on The Age of Bronze (the neutral, mysterious title he gave to the work when it was eventually cast in bronze and exhibited in Paris), nevertheless the figure is less heavily muscled than the sculpture of the Renaissanceand modeled in such a way that it made the light falling on it shimmer.
There is something tragic about the statue and some of Rodin’s contemporaries thought it must show someone about to commit suicide. This and other interpretations were licensed because the sculpture, oddly for the period, had no visible pretext. The statue was completed after 18 months of work in 1877, when Rodin (a late bloomer) was already 37. The French had recently suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Prussians and perhaps this terrible reversal was in everyone’s minds at the time. For me the pose of the raised arm and the parted lips looked both melancholy and sensual, as did the impressionistic modeling of the body surface. The figure was obviously a fine specimen of maleness but the face expressed great vulnerability, and the combination made me think of the photos I’d seen of Nijinsky dancing the role of the Favorite Slave in Ssheherazade , pictures I’d devoured when I read his biography written by his wife, who was surprisingly frank about her husband’s affair with his impresario, Diaghilev.
Of course our formalist critics today teach us not to confuse art with life, but when I was an adolescent Rodin’s artthis one sculpturehad replaced life. I wanted somehow to marry him, to live with him the rest of my life. Since Auguste Neyt had already been dead for half a century, surely, my union with him was preposterous, impossiblesomething that took me out of time and history and propelled me into an ideal world of timeless desire. That conundrumhow to marry a man already dead for half a century when the statue was Rodin’s invention and not the soldier and marriage to any member of the same sex was unthinkablewas my introduction to the ideal and excrutiatingly improbable realm of art.