I. WANTED TO WRITE AN UPDATE TO THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
While I felt the writing was mediocre and Amory Blaine a
bit of a blowhard and an asshole, failed to grasp Scott’s self-criticism — truth was reading it, I identified with Blaine’s feelings of superiority, though even then I was suspicious (or secretly insulted) by Blaine’s claims to class superiority.
Being the secret child of American sharecroppers and peasant-Jews, I was a strong believer in the possiblity that I had become an ubermensch by rejecting the stifling trappings of the Old Dead Civilization which, subsequent to the writing of Paradise had been tainted/disgraced/emperor’s new clothes/shown the lie of being civilized by the early 20th Century’s Parade of Horribles.
That said, Paradise is relevant in that the New Left and the Student Youth Moment is part of that same 2nd Generation Bourgeousie Ennui Rebellion that thinks it is going to change in the world and be part of the solution
when every silly stupid consumption, every wasteful tuition payment is an absolute part of the problem.
As I walked through the Gilded Age Mansions of Newport, RI, and listened to low-paid tour guides speak about grand parties with distant stars in their eyes (funny to idolize the dead, since We the Living stand in an Infinitely Better Position), I wanted to bomb these
monuments to excess and waste and striving. Stop Striving. The Problem with Americans is that they are not rich — the children of second sons, of those who could not make it in the Old Country, for whatever reason, who came to a land bounteous but uncivilized, and have always felt somewhat ashamed of their bourgeouis localness.
That said, America is a land of genius, but the genius has fallen upon our Founding Fathers who were able to set up a Liberal Society based on Fairness and Freedom — the only problem is that the Man who did best in such a society had little time to become Civilized or
Cultivated, but much Money to attempt to buy such things. The problem with everything in America is that it is such New Money.
America was designed as a place that would succeed in the face of human ignorance — and that has been true. What the Founders missed was how banal a land ruled by the Ignorant would be. Still — it’s the Posthistorical Paradise, where everything boils down to Choice. Hard to argue with that.
I think Scott himself was less patrician then Blaine — though how much less so I’m not sure. And clearly the tensions between New and Old Money, Cultivation and civilization are more finely honed in Gatsby. Still, on my first reading its clear that I missed even then the subtle criticism and laughing at Scott was engaged in towards his fictional counterpart — the eighteen year old who thinks he is the crowning jewel of creation.
Being ignorant, the successful think they in some way deserve their success — while there is absolutely no reason to think that we deserve anything — not even our lives. That does not mean that we want to lose anything, our wealth, our rights, or our lives, and it does not mean that otherse can take these things from us willy-nilly — not our lives, certainly, and not our rights, and even our property, arbitrary though it is, should remain somewhat undisturbed (perhaps, though, for prudential reasons instead of reasons of desert; also, that is not to say that there is not some merit to the labor-theory of property, that by mingling our labor with the rawstuff of Earth and creating some more useful, we are not entitled to some control or reward for such ingenuity — but how much control, and did we fully compensate others for the opportunity costs we’ve charged them through our use of raw resources that they might have wished to use?)
My point is that divorced from status and blood (equally arbitrary, but at least more easily seen as arbitrary or extra-mundane as opposed to deserved — one did not deserve to be born a prince, one was chosen by God, with all the benefits and duties that such a choosing implied) America built itself around the acquisition and distribution of wealth, but being heir to the Divine Right of Kings, and committed to the belief that Every Man Could and Should be A King Within Their Own Home and Sphere, Americans began to attribute a Divine Right to their Success, a Divine Right that is utterly fallacious.
So here I am. Early on in Paradise. Blaine is an asshole, and terribly misguided, but he seems to at least be trying to pay attention. His project is his himself — he has the right models, but it is unclear if he has the right talents. He is clever, but is he wise? Does he lack some strong inner moral core that will temper the wild ramblings of a rudderless cunning? It is all well and good to have a sturdy sailboat, but where shall we go without the wind?
Religion may have its place to the extent that it is a matter of an Identification and Emulation of a Total and Purposeful Good. By Worshipping God, we inadvertantly worship and aim for the Good, and from that end other benefits flow, to our souls, to our lives, and to our relationships with the other spirits we walk this world with.
However, to the extent that Religion makes the Good fixed, and unchangeable, it will become detrimentable as individuals and societies change, adapt, and refine their understandings of the Good Life, and the Good Society. Plato’s Republic is not meant to be taken as the model of the Perfect Society, but rather as the idea that individuals should live and comport themselves as if they were citizens of this Perfect Society — if we hope to be great, then we should be like the Great Ones in the Republic. If we wish for a simpler life, then we should comport ourselves like the Simples.
Blaine is a cunning idiot — a sophmore. Or an economist (“I’ll tell you as soon as you put down my dog,” says the Farmer). At 21, on first reading, as yet unloved and unloving (except through what has been termed physical and emotional Onanism/self-abuse), I was that same sophmore, and was Blaine, and hated only those things that seemed obviously false at the time — reading Paradise as if it meant to endorse the Romantic Egotist. On rereading, at 27, signifigantly older in years and thought, knowing that Fitzgerald was (was he, let’s check the Noosphere; thinking … thinking … does not compute … thinking … try again later … shake it again … oh fuck … he wrote it at 22, write after breaking up with his girlfriend … oh well … I could have done it too … and maybe he doesn’t have the distance I thought he did … or maybe he was more mature at 22 than I … quite possible, being unloved I still lived primarily in my thoughts and had had an under-amount of reality testing. Hmmmm) older too —
Well. Let’s see how it shakes out. These are my initial thoughts. I’m probably about 70 pages in, and looking forward to the part where Blaine tells his girlfriend they have to break-up because he can never be an advertising man (or insurance man or law man or something).
BTW, Wiks says that Scott got it published, went back to get Zelda based on its success, and lived happily ever after, except they didn’t, Ernie H. talking about it in a Moveable Feast, how Zelda enjoyed casting aspersions on the size of the Romantic Egotist’s member, and him not being rich enough, probably, and and and all that jazz age flapper nonsense great depression lost generation ended in a nuthouse Scott always looking for that Second Act he didn’t believe in (at least not for himself) but maybe it was really about the Life Lived Wrong and the One (the Life) That Got Away and sure, he must have loved her, who wouldn’t, but maybe that wasn’t enough. I live my life in literature, which is ok, basically having powwows with the Dead, and the Dead, speaking without Knowing Me, seem to offer Unbiased Advice.
I write with Capital Letters, like my Grandfather. The Road to Peace, and Nuclear Disarmement. What was his program again? I think Technocratic Global Governmental Rule. Classic Engineering Solution, That. Not for me. Give me anarchy or give me death. I regret that I but one bullet to use for my country. Despite all my rage I am still but a rat rat rat in a cage cage cage cage I can’t get no satisfaction it’s only rock and roll to me.