Monday, October 13

Capote and Genius

"Dearest Cecil," wrote Truman Capote from Brooklyn on April 19, 1965, addressing his friend, the English photographer and bon vivant Cecil Beaton. "This is just an exhausted scrawl (you owe me a letter anyway), but I wanted you and Kin to know the case is over and my book is coming out next January. Perry and Dick were executed last Tuesday. I was there because they wanted me to be. It was a terrible experience. Something I will never really get over."

The letter is among those collected in "Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote", which Richard Rayner reviews for the LA Times. The book is considered to be the most important Capote book since In Cold Blood, for it shows us through his various correspondences the demands exacted by his desire to be known as a writer and as a part of the social elite. He did get what he wanted, but with a major tradeoff. In his later years, Capote had too much drugs and drink and was never ever to capture the same litheness of prose he exhibited in In Cold Blood.

But that novel was sheer genius, and "Capote believed that he had "access" to genius himself but knew too that for him "genius" was not an all-encompassing, God-given blanket, but a state of talent and mind that could be earned, or worked toward -- and lost. Such a story arc is, in a way, the subtext of this entire collection."

Rayner adds: "It's customary to posit that Capote was a victim of the celebrity he craved, but there was something heroic about him too, for he polished his craft and sacrificed his peace of mind and moral equilibrium for the production of one supreme book, a grim and enthralling exploration of death and evil."

It seems like a sad ending. But for me, to have produced even just one "supreme book" is already a tall order. Yun nga lang, to lose one's peace of mind and be consumed by genius and the demands of craft is something that one must be prepared to do.