9/23/13

"A Strong and Bitter Booksickness"

Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is full of fabulous long sentences about foul dust floating in the wake of dreams and boats against the current and orgiastic futures and sensuous afternoons and hilarious twinkling on lawns on a Sunday morning. These are the sentences that give Gatsby a capital-G Great American Novel status. And these sentences are all Nick's sentences, Fitzgerald's sentences.

It's funny then that Fitzgerald feeds possibly the novel's greatest line to a character who is not great at all. Daisy Buchanan is a terrible person. She's only tolerable because she's the motive behind Gatsby becoming Great, and because she says this about her daughter - 
"I hope she'll be a fool - that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool..."
Daisy's words hold significance because they are the only intelligent words she says in the entire novel. She herself is a "beautiful little fool"; these words slip out accidentally, an intimation that a living, breathing human being resides under that facade of naivete and charm. 

And the words are important because a lot of the time, it is so much easier to be the "beautiful little fool" than a living, breathing part of society. Fools aren't entrusted with difficult decisions. They aren't expected to fulfill an alleged potential. Basically, they are left alone.

Cornelia Funke's ridiculously amazing "children's" novel, Inkheart, is fun to read because each chapter is headed with an appetizing quote that mirrors its plot. One quote is from a certain "Solomon Eagle". He addresses literacy -
“A strong and bitter booksickness floods one's soul. How ignominious to be strapped to this ponderous mass of paper, print and dead man's sentiment. Would it not be better, finer, braver to leave this rubbish where it lies and walk out into the world a free, untrammeled, illiterate superman?”
Our fool is now a courageous Superman stripped of book-induced trammeling. To be troubled by "dead man's sentiment" is senseless, even shameful. The man who knows least is the one whose head is held the highest, the one who finds true freedom.

Enter Wendell Berry. From "An Entrance to the Woods" -
"A man cannot despair if he can imagine a better life, and if he can enact something of its possibility."
Most people despair because they fail in the enactment of a better life. That's Berry's problem with the civilized world - a better life is hard to enact when goals become trivial and unattainable.

But fools despair because they cannot imagine a better life at all.

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