Otto spends his time in the Bohemian enclave of Greenwich Village because he's prowling for sex, and "Bohemian" women are notoriously generous with their favors. But if in fact they are, Otto discovers, they're generous primarily to artists, so Otto becomes an artist. Like a lot of artist-poseurs, he proclaims himself to be a playwright. Writing a play (or a novel) is a slow process. It's the perfect art form for a fake. A playwright doesn't have to show new work all the time. It's enough to say that "it's coming along."
And to make notes from time to time. Otto's unwritten play is about a character named Gordon, who looks like Otto on his best days and effortlessly lays waste in all directions with his wit. Every time Otto hears someone say something clever, he jots down a little shorthand note: Gordon: Nt mke thngs excplict whch shd be implict. And then he tucks the note in his pocket, confident that he looks like he's writing.
But Otto is haunted by a terrifying piece of knowledge. All of a sudden someone asks you to pay in gold, and you can't. Yes, you can't, you haven't got it, and you can't. And this recognition gives Otto something in common with all writers, even one as brave as Gaddis. On every page, the novelist has to pay in gold.
Once a book toddles out into the world, the goods are either on the page or they're not. The writer won't have a chance to peer over the reader's shoulder, propping up the weak bits. He or she won't be on hand to answer questions when the text is confusing. After a year or more of nursing the baby along, delivering it from the void, doing major surgery on it at times and patting it on the head at others, the writer has to send it out on its own: the first day of school, except for a novel the first day of school lasts forever, to be repeated every time someone opens the book. There the baby is, in all its glory or all its wretchedness.
It's not going to be helped by a great actor or director. It's not going to be salvaged by a brilliant conductor. Page layout and a nice font aren't going to rescue it. It's out there and it's as naked as an amaryllis.
And there's nothing the writer can do about it. Can't dust, can't tidy, can't touch it up. What the writer was striving for is either on the page or it isn't. After all that work, the writer has either paid in gold or in tin. It's no wonder that we're such a neurotic lot. It's no wonder that the vast majority of novels are abandoned half-drafted by writers unable to make themselves believe that their work is anything other than iron pyrites.
What surprises me is that anyone ever actually finishes one.
Tim -- Sunday