Under New Governance Your Majesty

Darkness from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-Up” (Esquire, 1936).

In a previous article this writer told about his realization that what he had before him was not the dish that he had ordered for his forties. In fact — since he and the dish were one, he described himself as a cracked plate, the kind that one wonders whether it is worth preserving…

Sometimes, though, the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never again be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company, but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the icebox under leftovers…

“To hold crackers late at night”!!! Ha ha ha!!

So, since I could no longer fulfill the obligations that life had set for me or that I had set for myself, why not slay the empty shell who had been posturing at it for four years? I must continue to be a writer because that was my only way of life, but I would cease any attempts to be a person — to be kind, just, or generous. There were plenty of counterfeit coins around that would pass instead of these and I knew where I could get them at a nickel on the dollar. In thirty-nine years an observant eye has learned to detect where the milk is watered and the sugar is sanded, the rhinestone passed for diamond and the stucco for stone. There was to be no more giving of myself — all giving was to be outlawed henceforth under a new name, and that name was Waste…

The conjurer’s hat was empty. To draw things out of it had long been a sort of sleight of hand, and now, to change the metaphor, I was off the dispensing end of the relief roll forever.

The heady villainous feeling continued…

Let the good people function as such — let the overworked doctors die in harness, with one week’s “vacation” a year that they can devote to straightening out their family affairs, and let the underworked doctors scramble for cases at one dollar a throw; let the soldiers be killed and enter immediately into the Valhalla of their profession. That is their contract with the gods…

So what? This is what I think now: that the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness. I think also that in an adult the desire to be finer in grain that you are, “a constant striving” (as those people say who gain their bread by saying it). only adds to this unhappiness in the end — that end that comes to our youth and hope. My own happiness in the past often approached such an ecstasy that I could not share it even with the person dearest to me but had to walk it away in quiet streets and lanes with only fragments of it to distill into little lines in books — and I think that my happiness, or talent for self-delusion or what you will, was an exception. It was not the natural thing but the unnatural — unnatural as the Boom; and my recent experience parallels the wave of despair that swept the nation when the Boom was over.

* * * * *

And, a pithy retort via “When Novelists Sober Up” by Tom Shone

When Fitzgerald went public about his creative decline in Esquire, in a piece entitled “The Crack Up”—a prototype for all the misery memoirs we have today—Hemingway was disgusted, inviting him to cast his “balls into the sea—if you have any balls left”.

*  *  *  *  *

P.S. “When Novelists Sober Up” has a good bit about “Hemingway’s liver protrud[ing] from his belly like a long fat leech,” and John Berryman, a poet I’ve never had the pleasure of reading, making disingenuous and thus amusing attempts at rehabilitation before jumping off a Minneapolis bridge, “his body splitting like a melon upon impact with the ground.” (Points subtracted for so many shitty indie-rock bands being enamored with this).

P.P.S. More:

Only the advent of rehab, in the 1960s, interrupted this fall—enforced incarceration flattering the writer’s sense of drama, the Kafkaesque me-versus-the-system fable playing out in his head. John Berryman sat in rehab looking like a “dishevelled Moses”, his shins black and blue, his liver palpitating, reciting Japanese and Greek poets and quoting Immanuel Kant. When he found out the doctors around him were serious he buckled under, declaring himself “a new man in 50 ways!” and affecting an ostentatious “religious conversion” which he proceeded to pour into a series of poems to his Higher Power (“Under new governance your majesty”). Ten days after leaving he found he needed a quick stiff one to get the creative juices flowing again and downed a quart of whisky. “Christ,” was all he could say the next morning.

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One Response to “Under New Governance Your Majesty”

  1. doomspirals Says:

    Nice. Just picked up a copy of “The Crack” meself and I must say that the gems to be found are decidedly not in the titular essay. The posthumous notebooks have some good lines in there, especially where Fitzgerald is writing only for the sound of words. Also, the huffy letter from Tom Wolfe is a real treat. Sort of like when Eddie Murphy tells Bill Cosby to go fuck himself. (“Yooooou can’t say filth flarn filth flarn on the stage,” etc.)

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