04 August 2004

"The Spark, However, Was Perceptible"

      Don't know what made me do it, but wound up dragging down my old copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited this morning, and turning with some peculiarity of coincidence to the story "Winter Dreams."   It's a good story, typical Fitzgerald and so given to articulating some of the more difficult dimensions of melancholia-- or, rather, what happens when melancholia bottoms out and becomes blankness or just a general emotional paucity.   Looking again at it now, especially at the last several paragraphs (see below), I'm not sure how I feel about its evocations anymore; I remember once thinking it rather tragic, but now I'm more attuned I think to its matter-of-fact acceptance of ambivalence and nothingness.   Maybe it's not so tragic, after all; maybe it's just what the pap-therapists would call "distancing" or some such nonsense; maybe there's even something heartening about it, though I'm thinking that might be an overstatement.   I don't know, though; I still -- and this is entirely me, and not Fitzgerald per se-- want to read the ending with pitiable implications, as a kind of ironic elegy.   Colour me a Wallace Stevens modernist, I guess.   Or maybe I was introduced to Graham Greene's Querry in A Burnt-Out Case (the logical conclusion of a character like Fitzgerald's Dexter) at too young an age to be able to buy into such notions of distancing and callousness.   Frankly, I don't know.   Age, I suspect, is turning me toward Fitzgerald's Dexter, toward understanding that sort of dislocation.   That Stevensian desire lingers though, stubbornly, violently.   Is this a good thing?   Ask me in twenty years or so.

      If you have the time, the complete text of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" can be found here. It's a lengthy online read, but only about twenty pages in print.   To read the final section of the story, I'm including it below.   I should say this, too, that these paragraphs seem to me like a response to Joyce's figuration of maturation, romantic and emotional, in A Portrait.   Food for thought.   And before anyone starts having conniptions of worry, don't; it's merely the stuff on which this mongrel brain gnaws when it should be thinking about real things.   And, oh, yeah, this is just what good writing does.

A sort of dullness settled down upon Dexter. For the first time in his life he felt like getting very drunk. He knew that he was laughing loudly at something Devlin had said, but he did not know what it was or why it was funny. When, in a few minutes, Devlin went he lay down on his lounge and looked out the window at the New York sky-line into which the sun was sinking in dull lovely shades of pink and gold.

He had thought that having nothing else to lose he was invulnerable at last--but he knew that he had just lost something more, as surely as if he had married Judy Jones and seen her fade away before his eyes.

The dream was gone. Something had been taken from him. In a sort of panic he pushed the palms of his hands into his eyes and tried to bring up a picture of the waters lapping on Sherry Island and the moonlit veranda, and gingham on the golf-links and the dry sun and the gold color of her neck's soft down. And her mouth damp to his kisses and her eyes plaintive with melancholy and her freshness like new fine linen in the morning. Why, these things were no longer in the world! They had existed and they existed no longer.

For the first time in years the tears were streaming down his face. But they were for himself now. He did not care about mouth and eyes and moving hands. He wanted to care, and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back any more. The gates were closed, the sun was gone down, and there was no beauty but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.

"Long ago," he said, "long ago, there was something in me, but now that thing is gone. Now that thing is gone, that thing is gone. I cannot cry. I cannot care. That thing will come back no more."

--- from F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Winter Dreams" (1922)

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