Well, I would say the answer to that is mostly so that we can hang out with them at parties without wanting to smash them in the face. Sadly, this is mostly not the case. An interesting blog entry at the Guardian on an interesting subject.
A couple of weeks ago, Howard Jacobson wrote a typically lucid piece about the independent Jewish voice. As usual, I felt myself getting all twisted up about what I really thought about the actions of Israel. Then he mentioned Amos Oz and David Grossman. A gentle feeling of relief fell over me. I thought: the novelists will know the right thing.
But I soon realised that I had made the automatic assumption that modern novelists are good. It was an instinctive extrapolation: if someone writes brilliant prose, they must be an unimpeachable human being.
Think of the great moral dilemmas of the age – terrorism, global warming, multiculturalism. The ethical climate is not set until the novelists have spoken. On September 12th, 2001, it was the novelists who got whole pages to themselves.
It’s funny, because I’m stuck somewhat in this predicament lately. There’s a particular writer I consider to be a boot-scraping of a human being, but who is quite a brilliant writer. Said asswipe really needs his teeth punched in a few times (because I suspect that would be the only criticism he would understand), but who’d want the flow of such good prose to come out through a gap-toothed whistle at readings? After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that, however satisfying it might be to rearrange this guy’s face, it’s probably a misplaced urge to reach through his face to rearrange his personality that drives me. And it’s okay that he’s a dick. It’s like Lady Ninja, from whom I learn all my personality-improving lessons, said with a deep sigh the other night while grading exams: “I have to remember: it’s not personal that these kids aren’t doing the readings…” It shouldn’t affect me in any way that a good writer is a garbage bag of half-decomposed organs holding a pen. Not at all.