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July 08, 2008

Thomas Disch

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A quick posting to acknowledge, with sadness, the recent death -- at 68, from suicide -- of the audacious, accomplished, and super-productive sci-fi writer and poet Thomas Disch.

Disch, who was born in Iowa and came to New York City as a young man, was a real phenomenon, and a much under-appreciated artist. He was a prominent part of the New Wave movement in sci-fi in the '60s, which sought to take sci-fi out of the hands of 12 year old boys and introduce adult themes and sophisticated techniques into it. He wrote a popular children's book; an opera libretto; numerous volumes of numerous different kinds of poetry; excellent theater reviews; horror novels; and several volumes of poetry and genre criticism. Years ago I enjoyed a wickedly satirical Disch masque. He even wrote, back in the days of computer text adventures, one of the best of them (so it's said -- no experience in the field myself), "Amnesia."

A giant, in my opinion. (Freakily enough, I was asked just a couple of days ago which figure from the field of sci-fi I'd most enjoy meeting in person. Thomas Disch was my answer.) Not that you'd have learned a lot about him by following the usual literary gatekeepers -- The New Yorker, for example. "I have a class theory of literature," he once said. "I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from." The NY Times Book Review Section didn't make enough of him either, but it's nice to read this good Douglas Martin obit of Disch in the daily Times.

Edward Champion writes movingly about Disch here, and shares a podcast of what seems to be the last interview Disch ever did. Ed Gorman's verdict on Disch:

I can't say I kept up wth his novels. For all their skill, even genius, there was a bitterness in them that put me off. I'm sure this marks me as hopelessly square but so be it. He was easier to appreciate, for me, in shorter form and he wrote many excellent short stories from early on to well into his later career.

Ed may not have loved the novels -- but you did notice that he used the word "genius," didn't you?

Here's Disch's LiveJournal blog, where he published most of the writing that he did during the last several years. Last entry: July 2nd.



posted by Michael at July 8, 2008



How in the world do you keep up with all this stuff? I know that writing is your field, but still...

I have trouble keeping up with the sub-category of music that I play... the blues. Maybe it's just that I'm a tired old man.

I'm trying to pay attention, as I get older, only to the very few things that really matter to me. Don't you get tired constantly surveying the entire scene?

I've noticed that my blogroll is narrowing down, too. I glance at three or four blogs a day now, down from dozens a few years ago. I've pared down my own postings to two or three a week... when I've actually done something or I have something to say.

Aren't you getting tired?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on July 8, 2008 8:13 AM

ST -- I've been tired for years! Haven't "kept up" with the arts for years either. Man, that was a tiring thing to do, wasn't it? Exciting for a youthful while, then pointless. These days I just reflect a bit about what I ran across in the past and yak about 'em as I encounter 'em in the present. Read a few books, watch a few movies (few of them new), go to some concerts and plays every now and then, mostly when friends are in them ... Hard even to imagine being more ambitious than that. What would be the point?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 8, 2008 11:07 AM

Oh, how sad! I have been a Disch fan since Camp Concentration. You didn't mention one of the most remarkable things about him -- he wrote poetry that rhymes and scans! And he fought hard for the New Formalism, as he called it.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on July 8, 2008 11:14 AM

Ah, Michael, very good taste.

Here's a recent poem from Disch I really like.


Posted by: MQ on July 8, 2008 4:35 PM

I was really sad to hear about this. I hadn't read much of Disch - none of his sci/fi as that's usually not my thing. But, back in the early 90's or sometime the Hudson Review published excerpts of his Castle of Indolence - and I thought it was just brilliant. I always looked forward to his reviews in the Hudson Review and missed him when he stopped (apparently) publishing there. RIP

Posted by: Judith Sears on July 8, 2008 8:49 PM

Castle of Indolence was the smartest book of modern poetry criticism I know (I only keep his and Dana Gioia's.) He was a fan of Frederick Turner too...

Posted by: Steve Bodio on July 10, 2008 4:50 PM

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