Stringer, who is a frequent reader and commenter on this blog, sent in this fascinating question, and I decided to address it in a separate post. As a scholar of Hispanic literature, I have to analyze and teach works of art whose authors often hold beliefs that I find to be deeply repugnant.
Take, for example, Francisco de Quevedo, a 17th century Baroque poet from Spain. The guy was a rabid anti-Semite and a profound woman-hater, and we all know how much I adore these particular qualities in people. From what I have been able to gather about him, Quevedo was an extremely nasty human being. At the same time, he wrote the kind of poetry that is so indescribably beautiful that no matter how many times I read it, I never cease to be amazed with it. His poem "Love Constant Beyond Death" (it's really not the same in the English translation, but here you have it anyway) touches me so deeply that I even avoid reading it. I'm not a touchy-feely-weepy kind of person, but I know that I will not be able to get my emotions under control if I start discussing it in class. You can write a doctoral dissertation on every single line of this poem and still never exhaust its meaning. It is so annoying that this nasty woman-hater and vile anti-Semite had to be the person who created my most favorite poetry in the entire world.
Then, we have Juan Goytisolo. He is not only my favorite novelist but also one of my main research interests. His novel Count Julian makes my heart stop every time I read it because it's so good. And yet, Goytisolo has written extremely nasty stuff about women in this very novel that I love so much.
So how do I deal with this? How do I reconcile myself to the realization that some of my most favorite writers whose work I dedicate my life to studying and teaching are often jerks whose ideas I detest? How do I deal with the fact that whenever I meet writers whose work I love, I always discover that I don't enjoy spending even five minutes in their company? I thought long and hard about this and about the nature of artistic production. I know that people will criticize me for romanticizing the creative process, but I believe that artists (just artists, not literary critics, bloggers, journalists, or anybody else) get their creative gift from a place that has nothing to do with their personalities, their foibles, their vices, and their often extremely silly political beliefs. A creative genius (yes, you can laugh now, I don't mind) is something that gets bestowed on a person by nature or whatever it is you believe in for no particular reason whatsoever.
I don't think that I'm "talented" or that any of the leading scholars in my field are "talented." (Just try calling me "talented" or "gifted" and you'll get me to become you enemy forever.) They are just extremely hard-working, dedicated, stubborn, and passionate individuals. Artists, however, are a different thing. You often see a person who is a nasty, lazy, condescending jerk who, for some unfathomable reason, has been given the gift of creating art. There is no reason for this. It just happens. (At some point, I will also blog about how scary it is to discover that a person you've known forever also has this terrifying creative gift that seems to come from nowhere.) Whenever I encounter works of art created by people I cannot possibly respect, I just look at their artwork as something that comes from a mysterious place and that, by pure chance, gets channeled through them.