Monday, November 30, 2009

James Merrill - A Different Person

BOMB Magazine: James Merrill by Thomas Bolt

I've been reading James Merrill's memoir A Different Person.

It includes accounts of his relationship with his Jacksonville parents, his early life on West 11th St, New York city, his homosexual life in the early 1950s while on an extended trip to Europe (made possible by his trust fund, since his dad was founder of Merill Lynch), his first encounter with Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, and his encounters with and thoughts about people as diverse as Alice B Toklas and Greek soldiers. He died of AIDS in 1995.

The book is absolutely fascinating, completely snobbish, intellectually arrogant and orientalist as well. I am finding it absorbing.

But the photograph attached to this article is also very disturbing. In one sense he looks very young for a sixty five year old, but in other ways the ravages of AIDS are scary. His skin is not only wrinkled but bumped with, I think, molluscum contagiosum - one of the more minor but still disfiguring illnesses of the early version of AIDS.

What is most contradictory of all about the man is that he wrote some of the greatest American poetry, with the single biggest block of it being dictated to him from 1953 onwards via the Ouija board.

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