02 December 2011

Friday, early December Thoughts

Nathan Zuckerman says that when he was a child Swede Levov ‘invoked’ in him the possibility of another life. In this fantasy Zuckerman’s actual material situation could be not merely transcended but actually discounted, and no place in Zuckerman’s development need be attributed to it. In his apparent perfection, Levov made the achievement of this perfection attainable. In the glory of the Other, Zuckerman could become the Other. This is Gatsby’s dream as well, I think—that he was not the child of his parents but the son of God, which I have always taken to mean that Gatsby considered himself more an idea than a real human being—a platonic ideal, perhaps—not human flesh and bone but divine and without history. Gatsby held that he possessed infinite possibility, and that he could invent himself without consideration to his actual material situation and therefore, could be impervious to consequences.
Zuckerman recognizes, however, that to imagine one’s self into another’s perceived glory—to live in their achievement— is impossible, “untenable on psychological grounds if you are not a writer, and on aesthetic grounds if you are one.” We cannot become the glory of another, for the obvious reason that we have accomplished none of his/her deeds and can part participate in none of the experience. We can never know what it is to attain such adulation for our adulation of the life of the other is all that we know. When we say we know, we are always wrong. Despite our longings we remain only ourselves, and the very presence of the dream that we are someone else contradicts any possibility of the realization of the dream. Nor can a writer, Zuckerman, the writer claims, imagine and present with any honesty the life she has not experienced.
But, Zuckerman speculates, for us to consider our hero “in his destruction, to let your hero’s life occur within you when everything is trying to diminish him, to imagine yourself into his bad luck, to implicate yourself not in his mindless ascendency, when he is the fixed point of your adulation, but in the bewilderment of his tragic fall—well, that’s worth thinking about.” Our hero’s fall can be understood by the experience of our lives, and I suppose the hero’s destruction casts some light on our own afflicted existences for what that insight may be worth to us. Such discernment into the tragedy of another cannot help us avoid our tragedy: the experience of tragedy seems inevitable. Indeed, it is our experience of tragic life that allows us insight into the destruction of the hero. But it is Zuckerman’s contention, I think, that the knowledge of our own tragic lives is kept from us by our willed ignorance that permits us to create for ourselves illusions for a different and enchanted life. It is a willed ignorance, a Freudian repression and avoidance, for who would imagine her own destruction. And this ignorance dooms us to our experience of tragedy for we are forever caught by life unawares. “The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy—that is every man’s tragedy.” We are always wrong, even when we know we are wrong, we are wrong. I suspect that I might discover in this rereading of American Pastoral that Zuckerman discovers how similar in his dreams he truly always was to Seymour, ‘the Swede’ Levov, and how the tragedy of this American hero is Zuckerman’s own tragedy and also the quintessential tragedy of America.


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