Thomas Disch died earlier this month, by gun, by his own hand, on Independence Day. That’s always a sad story, but this one spins out endless depressing thoughts:
About a brilliant and idiosyncratic American author (Disch wrote the scarifying science fiction classic Camp Concentration AND The Brave Little Toaster, which became one of Disney’s best children’s animations;
About how well Disch knew the genius of his own civilization (his extraordinary book of criticism The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World begins, “America is a nation of liars, and for that reason science fiction has a special claim to be our national literature.”),
About how little it valued him in turn;
And, maybe most of all, about how many outlets there still were for out-of-step writing in the 1960’s.
His novels, poetry and other writings speak for themselves, not him. For insight into Disch and his almost vanished way of seeing the world (“I have a class theory of literature. 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.”), there’s a revealing interview, conducted some seven weeks before 9/11, at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2001 /20010730/ interview.shtml.
As a minor note, Disch seems to have known his self-declared class enemy better than they knew themselves. The New Yorker might have wanted to take his warning before the Obama cover hit the fan (italics mine): “The New Yorker has a very good sense of who its audience is—it’s John Updike’s, it’s upper-middle class, it’s people of a certain income. And if you’re not writing to comfort those people, they don’t want to hear.”