A JT Leroy riff
Eddie Beverage asked an interesting and difficult question about whether a writer's identity can be distinguished from his or her writing. In most cases, I think it's possible, even when it's a persona-heavy writer like Rimbaud or Hemingway or Burroughs or Acker, as long as the writing is strong and sufficiently complete in and of itself that the biography of person who wrote it is an optional pleasure or additional source of information. In the cases I mentioned, I think that's true. With JT Leroy, I think it's a different situation. JT Leroy's work has always been completely attached to the presentation of the author as a teenaged boy whose difficult life occasioned the subjects of his work. The work was fiction, but its legitimacy came through the understanding that his stories' subject matter resembled the content of his real life, and JT Leroy forced this reading from the very moment 'he' appeared. 'He' originally seduced me and a number of other writers with his misery and horror filled autobiography and his seemingly remarkable ability to not only have survived that life but to have such a bright future ahead of 'him' due to 'his' inexplicable talent as a writer and the courage 'he' showed in using art as a weapon to face down all that abuse. All writers who believe writing is important want a reason to believe, because there aren't many reasons out there these days, and JT Leroy was a reason, a real flesh and blood, authentic reason to believe writing remained a very important medium. It seemed like writing might just be the way to save this poor kid's life. Writing had created common ground between cultured us and this ultimate outsider. 'He' asked us to save him with this wonderful thing we did called writing, and so we did. We bought the whole thing and helped 'him' sell it to magazines and book publishers, and thanks in part to our vouching for it, they bought JT Leroy and resold it to the public. The fact that his books had serious weaknesses -- rampant sentimentality, cliched characters and storylines, uneven writing, etc. -- was forgiven due to 'his' youth, the fact that 'he' supposedly had never attended school in 'his' life, 'his' emotional problems, 'his' precarious health, and so on. The JT Leroy books and the JT Leroy persona were inseparable. The books were always in some way inspirational souveniers of that boy's awful life. They were its happy ending. Every time a copy of 'Sarah' was purchased or recommended to a friend or positively reviewed, the ending became even happier. The JT Leroy phenomenon was a big, sweet collaboration between artist and consumer while it lasted. So now it becomes increasingly obvious that there is no JT Leroy as we knew 'him.' That life 'he' talked about so convincingly in so many phone conversations and interviews never happened. 'Sarah' and 'The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things' and 'Harold's End' don't have that legitimacy anymore. Some people seem to be hoping Laura/Speedie was abused so that some trace of the old JT Leroy story will cling to the books, but whatever the real story is behind whoever wrote JT Leroy's texts, the fact is they're almost on their own now. At the moment, and until the mystery of who wrote them is solved, they have no writer's identity attached to them. This is actually one of those very rare occasions when writing not only can but must be considered apart from its author's identity. My opinion about the books is evolving, but at the moment I think that if you drain them of their authenticity and also do your best to forget the fact that were involved in a massive and fascinating and ugly scam, there's not a lot left in them that's of much interest. But I'm not the best judge. Too much baggage. You guys are probably better judges of the post-JT Leroy 'JT Leroy' oeuvre. So what do you think?