Sam Anderson has a good review of Elizabeth Hawes’s “Camus, a Romance” in the current issue of New York.  As a preface to his discussion of this new biography, a work of intense literary obsession, he shares some of his own from his youth, and the consequent realization that writers are people (strange, awkward, and excruciatingly ordinary) too.

It was a big shock, then, to grow up and discover…that the big famous highly anthologized names printed on all my book spines referred, in fact, to physical human beings with bodies and vomiting sisters and (in rare cases) shoes even more shameful than my own. The insight came to me only gradually, through a series of disorienting revelations. I once saw Jacques Derrida, for instance—the reigning high priest of French theory, a man so intimidatingly abstract I imagined he pooped exegeses—shuffle out of a lecture hall and load his papers not (as I’d expected) into a rickshaw pulled by grad students or onto the shoulders of cynical chain-smoking French angels but into the trunk of a bright-red Daewoo sedan—a car as terminally lame as any my family had ever owned, and which he then proceeded to drive slowly across a parking lot indistinguishable from the anti-intellectual parking lots of my youth.

This was a powerful, tender, humanizing, even revolutionary moment for me. The great empire of Western thought, I came to realize, had been founded not on metaphysics and griffins’ wings but on hairbrushes, socks, cutoff jean shorts, headbands, wastebaskets, and Daewoo sedans. I became fascinated by the gulf between literature’s abstract power and the trivia that always attends its creation.

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