Janet Malcolm, a writer who emphasized the messiness of life with slyness and precision

As the daughter of a psychotherapist herself, Malcolm was always mindful of inconsistencies and vicissitudes, text and subtext, of the ways we try to make sense to ourselves and others. She was fascinated by relationships – Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (“The Silent Woman”), Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (“Two Lives”), analyst and analyst (“psychoanalysis”), journalist and subject not to mention him. But he also denied the illusion that our knowledge of each other could be anything but imperfect. “We must wander to each other through a dense swarm of absent others,” he wrote in his book on psychoanalysis, whose subtitle is “the impossible profession.” “We can’t see each other’s ground.”

Malcolm recognized something sad in this, but he also found it interesting—a word she used occasionally, but not in the way that many writers use it as filler or a crutch. “Interesting” for him was more active, and it was not easy to get. “I’ve never found anything that an artist has said interesting about their work,” she wrote in a profile of artist David Salle. Nothing can ever be so rehearsed and polished. When he wrote that German photographer Thomas Struth “radiates civility and straightforwardness,” you knew that perhaps something else was coming around the corner.

That profile of Struth eventually arrives at a moment of supreme discomfort: Struth makes a knowing reference to Proust and then, in response to Malcolm’s insistent pressure, admits that he has never read any Proust. Struth, “a refined and practiced subject of interviews,” later tried to explain himself, and Malcolm, for his part, “made reassuring noises,” but the snag was very useful in his otherwise impeccable presentation: “I knew And he knew that my picture was already headed for the dark room of journalistic opportunism.”

There was something strange about it, and Malcolm, who wrote for his college humor magazine, did not limit his criticism to the high art. She wrote about the joy she gained from seeing Rachel Maddow, dressed as Eileen Fisher, by reading to Alexander McCall Smith. Writing about the “Gossip Girl” novels, Malcolm compared them to the television adaptation (“TV episodes dull and crass – a move from Barneys to Kmart”) and praised “the woghish achievement of these strange, complicated books”. .

Malcolm was praised for his writing accuracy and control, but what really set him apart was how he used those qualities not to overcome but to increase complexity and ambivalence. were taken; He made you think that you were reading a thing before sending you through a trap. There is an underbrush of wildness in her work, a feeling that something strange is growing uneasily. One of his losers was Anton Chekhov, whose “prosecution barks,” he wrote. his book about him, “Contains the important poetic core of a story.”

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