MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Someone who would never give up the spotlight willingly is writer Sebastian Horsley. He's a self-described dandy and the author of the book "Dandy in the Underworld." And for our series "Three Books," Sebastian Horsley recommends books by authors with lots of panache.
Mr. SEBASTIAN HORSLEY (Author, "Dandy in the Underworld"): I hate books. Oh, where do I find all the time for not reading so many of them? But I do. The chief knowledge that a man gets from reading books is the knowledge that very few of them are worth reading. Writing is a long, painful, and appallingly styleless process. It takes you away from people. Writers that I admire are those who have transcended their medium and made sure that they themselves displayed more style than their mere creations.
Quentin Crisp, Andy Warhol, Lord Byron; their personalities touched the imagination even more intimately than their work. Books are only things, but writers are individuals. Of course, they all have a dash of vulgarity. Who without an element of vulgarity can become a work of art? Quentin Crisp is one of the greatest dandies ever to have lived. "The Naked Civil Servant" has an aching creative heart. It is a book about narcissism and negation, vitality and vulnerability, grandiosity and humility. It is the book of a warrior, a dandy who throws down a perfumed gauntlet and fights a hostile world, and all in the most exquisite prose and clothes.
In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. To justify its existence, writing has to be extraordinary. If it's ordinary, it's less than worthless. It's clutter. Profundity, popularity, and profitability are rare bedfellows in art. In Andy Warhol's "From A to B and Back Again" we have it all. This great book unbalances you. It disarms you and suggests ways of being, and even aspects of behavior. Warhol is transcendent trash. One foot in heaven, the other in Woolworth's.
As for Byron, as a thinker he was almost on the level of a child. And who cares about those poems? Sissy stuff that rhymes? That is not why we adore him. It's the glamour of his arrogance, the romantic disarray, the melancholic grandeur; a compulsive gambler and ardent womanizer who excelled at reducing life to grand absurdity. "Deformity is daring," he says in "The Deformed Transformed." Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.
Writing usually describes the unlived life. It is a lonely and private substitute for experience. Crisp, Warhol, and Byron knew that it is necessary to have known strong passions in order to depict them. They valued the impulses of the heart above social convention. They have a dizzying glamour. In these writers, beauty is the glove into which charisma slipped its hand.
NORRIS: Sebastian Horsley is the author of "Dandy in the Underworld." He recommended these three books. "The Naked Civil Servant" by Quentin Crisp, "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol" by Andy Warhol, and "The Deformed Transformed" by Lord Byron.