Saturday, June 5, 2010

Donald Windham (1920-2010)

"If revenge is a dish that tastes best cold, then Donald Windham has certainly fixed himself a satisfying frozen dinner." - Robert Brustein
The quote, from a review in the Times of Donald Windham's published collection of letters from Tennessee Williams, appeared in his obituary in the same paper. My friend Kenneth Caldwell compares obituaries to films, and there's something to that. Windham's is illustrated with a photo from 1949 by Karl Bissinger that shows him in the company of Williams, Gore Vidal, and others. It captures the cosmopolitan spirit of New York City in that era, a liberating magnet for those stifled elsewhere. In an article in his wonderful blog, Design Faith, Caldwell discusses Dominick Dunne and, briefly, the last years of Truman Capote, when he began retailing the nominally private lives of his friends. Naming names put Capote beyond the pale, but his doing so anticipates the current moment, when celebrity has become sufficiently debased that it's no longer possible to identify who's being dragged through the mud unless you make celebrity your obsession. "Nothing is hidden" is a signature phrase of Dogen, founder of Soto Zen. That seems to be true. He also believed that our human condition is a constant mix of enlightenment and delusion. It's funny, in this regard, that someone like Williams would worry about how he came across. All too human, as Nietzsche used to say.

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