Thursday, July 10, 2008

THomas Disch: 1940- 2008

The poet, critic, and science fiction writer Thomas Disch died last week, a suicide. He was brilliant, unclassifiable, unemployable, and poor, despite having written some odd best sellers-- the quintessential freelancer.

He was facing eviction from his last home after the death of his long- time companion, and in bad health. He was still writing funny acerbic things two days before his death, and has a novel coming out.

I often found his fiction funny but bleak. His poetry rhymed and scanned-- unpopular these days; in a just world he would have been as well known as, say, Larkin.

He was one of the best critics around, and one of the few whose work I keep-- with Dana Gioia, the only contemporary poetry critic. My copy of The Castle of Indolence has about fifty dogears marking quotable lines. (He was a fan of Frederick Turner, another brilliant but neglected writer.)

Obits and recollections here (the Times), here (First Things (HT John Farrell ), and here (many links, including amazingly a good one from Kos-- that both first Things and Kos mourn him says a lot.)

And a bit from Vorpal Sword on the freelancer's plight:

"Disch came up at a time when you could, having established yourself, make a living as a writer when you’d built up enough of a “pad” of novel royalties, and were selling regularly.

"Make no mistake, writing for a living is tough when you’re a freelancer, because you’re constantly applying for new “jobs.” Every story, every essay is a new submission. Time moves, and deadlines constantly loom. You hope you have a book that’s paying sufficient royalties, and perhaps a few steady columns — because writing money comes according to no set timetable (save what is convenient for the publisher) and a regular paycheck from a magazine is good for paying one’s rent.

"Paying one’s rent becomes a constant obsession for the free-lancer, and Thomas Disch was a free-lancer for most of his adult life."


"In the end, the writer’s life is finally about making that next month’s rent. The business has become all but impossible for the “mid-list author” — them what sells enough books to turn a profit, but not enough to be of much interest to them publishing houses."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


A fitting, sensitive and emotional eulogy which Disch would appreciate, but time to move on.

The truck will survive, the Plains of St Augustine will yet inspire you again,and I know you well enough that you will overcome your present financial and health issues.

Above all, you have Libby, Jackson, your dogs, birds, and so many friends to love you , and be loved by you .

You are indeed a lucky one !

Pecker up!!