John Glassco on Social Media and James Frey
Canadian Bookshelf recently sat down with Brian Busby, author of A Gentlemen of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer. John Glassco (1909-1981) is best known for his Memoirs of Montparnasse, the controversial chronicle of his youthful adventures and encounters with celebrities in the Paris of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway. Less known are his poetry, his instrumental role in the foundation of modern translation, and his numerous – and widely popular – works of pornography.
JW: What do you think Glassco would make of the James Frey controversy and the rise in popularity of creative non-fiction? Did Glassco consider himself a made-up self? I’m also trying to imagine what Glassco would do with social media, if he would subvert or embrace it.
BB: It’s interesting to consider what relationship, if any, Glassco might have had with social media. He was, at heart, very much an Edwardian—though he was just four months old when that era ended. His own tastes were to a large extent rooted in the years enjoyed by Edward VII. We see this in his final fantasy, Guilt and Mourning, an unpublished novel set in a Montreal that has somehow avoided the technological advances of the 20th century. Had Glassco lived to be a centenarian—or even a mere nonagenarian—I very much doubt that he would have taken to social media except in one key area: his sex life. Here, the world would have become a less lonely place. I dare say it would be much easier to meet people who shared his interests over the Web than through personal ads.
As to Frey, I wonder how much attention Glassco would have paid the controversy; he had so very little interest in the prose of his own time. That said, he did enjoy a good hoax—and perpetrated some of the very best. We might get a sense of his reaction to the Frey controversy through his own memoirs. In a letter to Kay Boyle, he writes, “I look on the real value of ‘memoirs’ as being not so much a record of ‘what happened’ as a re-creation of the spirit of a period in time.” So he telescopes and rearranges time, invents dialogue and encounters, dresses “naked facts” and in the end produces a work that Malcolm Cowley considered “the most accurate picture of Montparnasse”.