Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Larry McMurtry on Austin

Nothing much has changed. Just replace "protohippies" with the Beauty Bar crowd or anyone's moderately ambitious local rock band. Throw the Austin Chronicle staff in the mix, too. His description still fits this town a little too snugly, and sometimes his words are even more accurate today. I like it here. I wouldn't have stayed seven years and counting if I didn't. But this is a distressingly honest summation of Austin.

"... During the last two months of my stay in Austin it was my good fortune to be thrown much in the company of (author William) Brammer. We were both, at the time, in respite of wives and money, and shared a house on Windsor Road. Mr. Brammer was at that time the local culture hero, The Gay Place having been published only two years before. He was thus a natural target for anyone in Austin who was aspiring, frustrated, or bored. The inrush of Wives threatened to wrench the hinges off the door, and Mr. Brammer faced it with the courteous and rather melancholy patience with which he would probably face a buffalo stampede. In the wake of the Wives came a sweaty and verbally diarrhetic mass of bored or bitter professors, broke or bitter politicians, protohippies with beach balls full of laughing gas, and broke-bored-bitter young journalists who looked like they had been using themselves for blotters.
"In time I sealed off my part of the house and left Bill to cope with the crowd as best he could, but during the brief weeks when I spent my nights opening the door I got, it seemed to me, an adequate glimpse of Austin. It had, among other adolescent characteristics, a fascination with its own pubic hair, and a corresponding uneasy fear that its sexual development might stop just short of adequacy. Groupiness was endemic. No one might be missing from the group, lest he turn out to be somewhere better, with a wilder, more swinging group. In such a town the person who is sure of himself is apt to be literally crushed by the surging mobs of the insecure, all rushing to confirm themselves by association. "
"Cliquishness can be especially insidious in a town the size of Austin, where those in favor seldom if ever receive any strong-minded local criticism. ..."
"The emotional activity most characteristic of Austin is, I think, the attempt to acquire power through knowledge. Accordingly, Austin is the one town in the state where there is a real tolerance of the intellectual; and yet one's final impression of Austin is of widespread intellectual confusion. Perhaps the phenomenon most expressive of this paradox is the University's rare book program. For the last decade, rare books have been sucked into Austin like particles of dust into a vacuum cleaner; the University's enormous and almost amorphous acquisitiveness remains the wonder, joy, and despair of the rare book world. No one can doubt that an extraordinary library is being formed in Austin, one whose potential usefulness is very great; yet the manner in which it is being formed leaves one a trifle abashed. The Humanities Research Center, for all its riches, comes too close to being a kind of intellectual's Astrodome. The University's almost frenzied acquisitiveness seems to stem not so much from a vision of the needs of future generations as from its own immediate intellectual insecurity. A successful acquisition brings a temporary sense of intellectual power, and it is the acquisition of books and manuscripts, rather than their use, which seems to be the dominant concern; that and the creation of a symbol of prestige (the Center) which the scholarly world cannot ignore. ..."

from In a Narrow Grave (1968)

1 comment:

chewtastic said...

it is rather apt, though personally i'd characterize beauty bar, et al, in the context of gawker's blue states lose and extrapolate to the cult of celebrity, the dubious merit of being famous merely by way of being famous and mildly photogenic, and its mutable definitions today.

but then again, that's my personal obsession