On the George Washington Bridge Project: James Purdy
In which The Gay Recluse becomes increasingly obsessed with the George Washington Bridge.
(American gay fiction writer and flickering beacon during the Dark Ages of post-war American fiction) James Purdy died today, and as so often happens, The Times obit neglected to explicitly state that he was gay/queer/homosexual/vext. Not that you could really hide it in Purdy’s case, given that the subject matter of his books so often dealt with such themes, and to be fair, the obit did not fail to discuss his work in these terms.
But according to our friend John — who is in a position to know such things — Purdy spent a lot of time ‘chasing after young men many decades younger than him,’ which I suppose is simply beyond what The Times is about to include in any obituary. Still, it’s fun to imagine: “As a gay man who lived in New York City for close to sixty years, Purdy was never partnered, but ravished approximately 40,682 men — many barely out of their teens! — and in his later years was never seen without a posse of young admirers.”
Although the obituary makes the case reasonably well that Purdy was an Important But Neglected American Writer — which is true (and if you haven’t read him, we recommend starting with Eustace Chisholm and the Works) — there is a somewhat disturbing soullessness to the piece as a whole, a hovering ‘lonely bachelor’ aura that makes it feel just a little sad/stereotypical, as if Purdy was ‘a lonely and bitter homosexual’ without a trace of love or passion in his life. (Who knows, maybe that’s true.)
Or maybe I’m just thinking about how I would want my own obituary to be written, i.e., even if I had written 20 novels that were/were not critically acclaimed, and even if I didn’t have a boyfriend/partner/spouse/husband (something ‘culturally sanctioned’ for The Times to mention) I would still want a few words dedicated to some aspect of ‘being human’ or perhaps just being ‘alive’ (by which I mean a capacity to feel/love, even if it’s not necessarily feelings for another person).
E.g., “An admirer of the Brooklyn Bridge, Purdy was known to make a point of walking across it at least 300 times per year.” Or: “In addition to writing books, Purdy collected flower-themed stamps, for which he held a lifelong obsession.” Or: “Purdy had a beagle named Stanley who for many years never left his side, and was often seen dining with him in restaurants.” Or: “Purdy loved nothing more than a good salad!”
When I read about death — and particularly about that of an artist or writer — I want to see some signs of ‘real life,’ some indication that perhaps this person was a ‘lil obsessive’ and not just a robot in the bourgeois capitalist society/factory in which we’ve all been slated to pass these recent decades; if it’s not there, the risk is that you put down the paper (a metaphor) and think ‘what’s the point?’ which is a completely different level of neglect, and one that none of us really deserve.
Filed under: Dissonance, Gay, Memory, Obsession, Ruins, Stereotypes, The Times | 5 Comments
Tags: James Purdy, Obituaries, The George Washington Bridge