Edmund White is one of the finest writers writing today, and the fact that he is writing a blog for the New York Review of Books—or, moreover, the fact that the New York Review has blogs, full stop—reinforces one side of an argument not yet won: we are all “bloggers” now, however you choose to define what those writing online produce. While blogs rarely reach the elevated literary status of the finest novels or short stories, increasingly there are tiny pockets in the blogosphere where truly fine writing—as well as news, gossip and garbage—is finding a new channel of production. The fact that writers like White can be accessed more frequently via blogs (between their books) is a happy by-product of an otherwise awkward phenomenon: the democratization of the right to write. The era of Shakespeare is Amis is my ex-boyfriend’s boring marginalia may be at an end. We shall see.
White’s most recent post is about his time spent in Italy, in Palermo, where he ends up at a dinner party filled typically with real Princes. One of them takes him to visit the home and library of Giuseppe Tomasi, 11th Prince of Lampedusa, and author of the Sicilian classic novel, Il Gattopardo (“The Leopard.”). The eponymous animal—a variation of which was hunted to extinction in nineteenth-century Italy, stands in the book as a symbol of the dying aristocracy: something elegant, decadent, troubled and fierce. The novel is beautiful. It was later made into a film with Alain Delon, only further reason for reading, and viewing.
White’s notes on his visit give one the sense that there is little in Sicily today which does not mark the presence of its past: traditions, from what is eaten to what is discussed, appear free from the relentless Now of places like America’s large cities. Clichés hold, in a good way: dinner takes time. The old dishes are served. The Mafia remains. There is something in Southern Italian’s ability to escape the contemporary that might be mocked as lazy but the skill of a culture to resist change is worth remarking. Even if we cannot find our way to Palermo we can find a copy of The Leopard. White notes in his post that di Lampedusa wrote hundreds of letters to his wife (a princess) and that these letters are being prepared for publication. This will be a literary event.