September 06, 2013

Erich Maria Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque

Once I finished reading about Erich, I turned south and took up his opposite as far as taking refuge in nationalism and longing for a more heroic era are concerned. Gabriele D’Annunzio resembled Remarque only in his womanizing, although Remarque far outstripped the Italian braggart in looks and overall numbers. Hughes-Hallett’s biography of the Italian poet is the third one I’ve read, and it has made me revise my opinion of that particular showoff. Philip Julian’s bio of long ago had put the Italian in my pantheon of heroes, later diminished a bit by John Woodhouse’s evenhanded study, now gone down the drain altogether. D’Annunzio fornicated, took lots of drugs, ran up enormous debts, and relentlessly promoted himself. He was, however, a wonderful poet while hobnobbing with the rich and famous. And he did fight capitalism’s excesses while promoting law and order, the country’s dignity, and economic development. He was the father of fascism before Mussolini, although as my friend Andrei Navrozov wrote in Chronicles, “he was a social climber compared with the likes of whom Cecil Beaton resembled a Franciscan friar.”

He sounds trivial, all right—interior decorating was his lifetime obsession—but Nietzsche was his God, turning him most of the time into an egomaniacal fool. Unlike the German writer, the Italian was a frightful gnome with green teeth and no hair. And he preached war at all times. That’s why I loved him when I was young and now love the German’s pacifism. But in today’s egalitarian epoch, with the drab, colorless, PR-fashioned culture of nobodies, both writers emerge as supermen, their foibles forgiven, their pretensions excused.

Imitation is the poor man’s creation, and I’m about to be poor—I am almost ready to order a new boat—so last week I imitated Remarque and D’Annunzio by going to a chic dinner party at a friend’s house and drinking two bottles of Léoville-Las Cases 1982 followed up by a bottle of vodka. The mother of my children discovered me somewhere in the house bleeding from the head. Knocked out cold. The next morning I never felt better. And I have outlived those two already.



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