Eileen Myles thinks some of the world’s best writing is pathetic (and that’s good)
By Richard Vines
16 December, 2016
Eileen Myles was born in New York in 1940. She wrote her first collection of essays, published in 1953, at the age of nineteen. She went on to publish twenty-two books of poetry, twelve novels, two play-books, and one memoir.
The great advantage of Myles’ work is that it is not just a display of her own wit and wisdom, as many critics have insisted. What interests us in her writing is that it challenges the conventions we have inherited from more established writers. Her writing is like an essay written in the open: an intellectual argument that invites discussion and discussion. The result is that any readers of her work should be prepared to examine their own prejudices, and even to rethink their assumptions.
In this first of a four-part series, I will present a few of Myles’ essays.
She once wrote in American Short Fiction (1965), “In the history of the short story, we have seen the greatest writers of the 20th century—Faulkner, Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway—fall from grace because they did not give themselves to a process of self-examination. I would add to this list the best short-story writers of the past fifty years—Toni Morrison, John Hawkes, Don DeLillo—who all have produced their best work by writing about themselves.”
In “The Art of Writing,” Myles writes that a writer in the first person singular “creates a person as an individual, a person who is a composite of all the experiences and personalities that make up the writer’s life.” Although most writers feel that “the person is a fictional construct,” she maintains that “the person is real.” The real person is the “human being I am at the moment who is going on with my life,” who “is struggling