F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'Tender Is the Night' and Geoff Dyer: A theory of failure/destiny.
I am currently reading Geoff Dyer's excellent book of essays, Otherwise Known As The Human Condition, that includes his review of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel Tender Is the Night. His dissecting of Fitzgerald's novel and its characters creates some striking similarities to the life and career of Mitt Romney. Let me explain.
The book's protagonist's are Dick and Nicole Diver. I won't delve deep into the novel's plot except to say Nicole brings the financial wealth to the marriage, the reverse of Mitt and Ann Romney's circumstances but that's a minor detail, and it is Dick's lot to head deeper toward his destiny; Dyer points out that it was failure that was Dick's inevitable destiny as we'll see.
First, Dyer clears up a misconception about Fitzgerald and his portrayal of Dick:
It is often thought that Fitzgerald was as besotted by elegance and the wealth on which it is predicated as the teenage Rosemary (Dick's eventual lover) is by Dick. This is such a distorting simplification of an author who read Marx and conceived of Dick as "a man like myself," "a communist-liberal-idealist, a moralist in revolt," that one wonders at its capacity to persist. In a letter of 1938 Fitzgerald wrote, "I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has coloured my entire life and works." He was the most materialist of romantics, the most romantic of materialists. As representatives of the "furthermost evolution of a class," the Divers incarnate a way of life that, in its apparent transcendence of all material concerns, is enviably idyllic. But Fitzgerald was one of the first writers to grasp the enervating horror of infinite leisure (in Jane Austen it is simply assumed.) Given limitless time and freedom, everything, as Dick eventually blurts out at Mary North, comes to seem "damned dull." Realizing the extent to which Nicole's immense wealth serves, "to belittle his own work," Dick sits "listening to the buzz of the electric clock, listening to time." Not the time of striking hours but blank, undifferentiated time. In this eternity of of leisure it is inevitable that Dick, though conscious that he has "lost himself," cannot "tell the hour when, or the day or the week, or the month or the year."
About the larger system of global degredation on which this leisure and its attendant virtues of poise and elegance depend, Fitzgerald is, by contrast, explicit and exact: for Nicole's sake, "girls canned tomatoes in August or worked rudely at the Five-And-Tens on Christmas Eve; half-breed Indians toiled on Brazilian coffee plantations and dreamers were muscled out of patent rights in new tractors - these were some of the people who gave a tithe to Nicole. Poise itself is thereby tainted by the exploitation that finances its cultivation.
Willard "Mitt" Romney has had the kind of upbringing and resultant life that, on its surface, is enviable. There are plenty of reports out there, now that he is the presumed Republican candidate for President, about how Romney has amassed his fortune and what he has been doing, or not doing, in between his attempts at gaining higher office. Yet what's really interesting to many is why he is incapable of relating to or being empathetic with, the ordinary person in America. (Who by the way Ann Romney calls "you people.") With regard to Mrs. Romney's impression of us "you people," coincidentally, in the same book, Dyer has a review of Independence Day by Richard Ford. In looking back at Ford's magnificent book, The Sportswriter, Dyer teases out the heart of the lot of the narrator, Frank Bascombe: "Born into "an ordinary modern existence in 1945," he is now "an ordinary citizen" living the "normal applauseless life of us all." Mrs. Romney, we "people" applaud you. And for Mitt there is Dyer's review of James Salter's The Hunters and Light Years - in an extract from Salter's book Solo Faces, he writes of the protagonist Rand: "A kind of distinction surrounded him, of being marked for a different life. That distinction meant everything." Of course the first thing that struck me was the delicious irony of Salter's hero being named Rand. Ayn Rand, wrote Atlas Shrugged, a book who those on the Right worship, no doubt because of Ayn Rand's own description of it as pointing to "the morality of rational self-interest." As an aside I feel that there's something dystopian about the rational self-interest of Bain Capital; Bain reminds me of the company in Blade Runner, the Tyrell Coporation.
As I read Dyer's review of Fitzgerald's book I began to see some parallels in the lives of Mitt and Dick. And, as often happens, serendipity stepped in in the form of an op-ed from Paul Krugman, the noted economist - Pathos of the Plutocrat - in which he too channels Fitzgerald in regard to Mitt and his uber-rich pals.
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald — and he didn’t just mean that they have more money. What he meant instead, at least in part, was that many of the very rich expect a level of deference that the rest of us never experience and are deeply distressed when they don’t get the special treatment they consider their birthright; their wealth “makes them soft where we are hard.”
And so if the tables were turned and it were DIck Diver, not his wife Nicole, that brought the financial fortune to the marriage, the parallel to the life and times of Mitt and Ann Romney would be eerily similar. Mitt is of course a Republican and DIck, as we hear from Fitzgerald, leans to the Left. But there's more from Dyer:
I see what happens to Dick almost as the opposite of a collapse: a standing firm, an assertion rather than a weakening of will. This is why Dick's failure is accompanied by the affirming sense that he is not falling short of, but living up to, his destiny, fulfilling it.
[Edit] E. M. Cioran writes that "the man who has tendencies toward an inner quest...will set failure above any success, he will even seek it out. This is because failure, always essential, reveals us to ourselves, permits us to see ourselves as God sees us, whereas success distances us from what is most inward in ourselves and indeed in everything."
I have this sense that like Dick, Mitt has had nothing to do than lead a life of leisure: he's been "listening to the buzz of the electric clock, listening to time." Unlike Dick, Mitt's "listening to time" is a waiting game for the move not down but up to the next level; his long-assumed, entitlement-fed reward - the office of the President of the United States. And Mitt's ability to lead a life of leisure and entitlement was fueled, just as it was for Nicole in the novel, by "the exploitation that finances its cultivation." Mitt is a mixture of Dick and Nicole: his exploitation began at Bain Capital and continues by the off-shoring of the fortune he amassed at Bain. Mitt Romney is not of us just as Nicole wasn't and Dick could never be. Dick's destiny was failure but his failure was the result of seeking a meaningful life. As Jung wrote "the only meaningful life...is...a life that strives for the individual realization - absolute and unconditional - of its own peculiar law...To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his own being...he has failed to realize his life's meaning." When Nicole abandons Dick, as Dyer writes, "No one stands in his way. He is free, free at last, to realize his true wretched destiny." Mitt thinks his destiny is paramount success but he is not campaigning for president by being true to his own being. He dissembles truth and logic while distorting his own achievements. Perhaps like Dick he strives to realize his life's meaning "to be free at last, to realize his true wretched destiny."
Romney's campaign is one built on distorted mirrors that reflect back not what you see but what Mitt's handlers and his right-wing supporters would have us believe.
I'm not certain that me or the American people could withstand Romney's enlightenment. I doubt Romney could withstand it either.