Zork kicked our asses last night. We had gotten through about 90 percent of the game, had explored the entire realm, and knew exactly what remained to be donebut we couldn't make the diamond because the screwdriver had gone missing. We spent a good ninety minutes walking around and looking for the screwdriver before we gave up. It was just like real life.
Francine Prose has a new book outgiven the popularity of her seminar last year at Iowa, I'd expect her nonfiction to far outclass, say, Blue Angel. The subject here is the muse.
It is Ms. Prose's conviction that every historical period "endows the muse with the qualities, virtues and flaws that the epoch and its artists need and deserve," and it's clear that the muses in this volume have been chosen quite deliberately to illustrate this thesis. "In 18th-century London," she writes, "where Samuel Johnson's fame relied on a conjunction of an eloquent prose style and dazzling social skills, Mrs. Hester Thralea sharp-tongued, lively, intelligent woman married to a rich brewer who gave lavish dinner parties at which his wife and Dr. Johnson could talkfunctioned as the muse of literature and of conversation. The Victorian MusesAlice Liddell, Lizzie Siddalcome to us trailing clouds of innocence, naïveté and repression, as well as various unsavory Victorian fantasies about children and young women."
As for more modern muses like Gala Dalí, who stage-managed the career of her husband, Salvador, with an eye toward accruing money and fame, and Yoko Ono, who assumed control over the business affairs of her husband, John Lennon, they seem peculiarly suited to an age attuned to "the commercial benefits of commodifying the celebrity artist."
For that matter, the concept of a muse has become increasingly outdatedat odds with both modern feminism and Freudian thought, as the dance critic Arlene Croce has pointed outand subject to comical send-ups, like the one in Mr. Brooks's movie. "Perhaps psychology has convinced us that the human psyche is too complex to derive something so tough and enduring as art from something so fragile and transitory as love," Ms. Prose writes. Indeed, she suggests that our culture has perhaps reached the point where "nearly anythinggeography, ambition, expensive tastes, an abusive childhood, povertyseems a more probable motivation for making art than the promptings of longing or love."
Hands up on ambition, expensive tastes, and poverty, everyone. How could writing possibly get you love?