The Summing Up, XXIV

Maugham’s no longer on deriding his ability and is instead covering the idea of bad literature. Well, not so much bad, but pointless. It’s a sentiment I encountered in MFA school and I didn’t like, but we were in school and the idea of being dismissive of a writer who you personally, as a writer, cannot steal from seems too mercenary. Unless I luck into an Alexander Knox grant, I’m probably never going to have to opportunity to sit around and do a Pynchon knock-off set in the Silent Film era. I’ve gotten over it. But Maugham—self-taught in writing—has a bit of a point. He probably did waste a lot of time reading books he should’ve had read. I certainly did. I’m not sure my best friend remembers me singing the praises of a licensed Predator novel but I sure do. It’s a humiliating memory. Maugham’s got an anecdote about someone he knew, which is a hilarious passage because this guy must have worked his way into other Maugham characters over the years. Maugham concludes this fellow never “had an inkling that he was an outrageous sham.” I can’t see Maugham using “outrageous sham” in fiction because it’s too amazing a description, so it’s fun to see it here. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe he called half the people in Liza of Lambeth outrageous shams. I’ll find out in a few weeks. But then Maugham talks about nostalgia with novels, regardless of their quality, and I see the very obvious parallels between that behavior in novel reading and my own in film watching. It does go against his original argument regarding pointless literature, however. Though I suppose by The Summing Up, Maugham didn’t think his writing was going to change much. He closes the chapter complaining about the “silly prejudice of the intellectual that his [knowledge] is the only one that counts.” Couple too many thats in the sentence and the silly prejudice of the male gender, but whatever. The point’s valid. I’m glad Maugham’s out of his self-depreciating rut; it’s a hilarious, snobby but forcibly well-intentioned chapter.

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