D. G. Myers believed that Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) was “the greatest novel written in English of all time.” Nabokov himself, in the essay that is now permanently attached to the novel, “On a Book Entitled Lolita,” described his own ideal of literature.
For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. (Vintage International edition, 314-5)
Myers was not the insipid aesthete that I am, but rather more of an ethical critic, a seeker after wisdom, yet this is close to how I think of Myers: endlessly curious and generous. He perhaps kept some of his ecstasy to himself, except when getting excited about a book on Twitter. He advocated reading literary criticism “with hate in the heart,” but he read fiction with tenderness, not because he feared he might bruise a delicate novel or writer but rather because of his openness to whatever art a book might have.
Actually, Myers was also being kind to the critics, hating them for their own good. “A true disagreement obliges a literary critic to rethink his conclusions, to reexamine his premises, to doublecheck his logic, to scour for further evidence, to remain open to correction or even the possibility of being proved wrong.” Myers wanted
book bloggers who are committed to argument—who are sworn to defend the books they cherish from those who would make a hash of them, who understand that the literary heritage can be lost… when it ceases to be valued.
Nabokov is right – there are not many books worth defending, although in another important sense there are too many to defend. Either way, Myers wanted to keep good books alive. He assembled a lot of lists – see the left sidebar of A Commonplace Blog. An anonymous commenter once asked Myers if there was a database he used to find books for the lists. “Yeah, my memory,” he said. He was a model humanist. In the humanities, you can never quite trust someone else’s description. You have to read the book for yourself. And that is what Myers did, even in the face of death. One of the books worth defending was serially published in an electronic format as A Commonplace Blog, or The Moral Obligation To Write Well, as Matt Hunte calls the collected edition.
I have mentioned that Golem Week was maybe the best idea I have ever had. I am not joking, since it caught the attention of Myers and thus led me to his work. He understood what I was doing here immediately. For some reason that is not always the case.
Myers's passing over the weekend has deprived me of not just a colleague whose name and ideas can be found all over my own blog, but an ally. Wuthering Expectations will be poorer without his presence.