the literature of envy

While I quite liked all three books, I think it’s symptomatic of the pathology of the modern West that the protagonists of Franzen’s Freedom, Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and Lipsyte’s The Ask are all sad white men who orbit the uberrich like anxious and stupid moths. And they are all subjected to ritual humiliation, lovingly detailed. And did I mention that they are all transparent authorial stand-ins?

Ah, Bush’s America. Zombie Bush’s America, in fact, in which Cheney has a Cylon heart and the rest of us have a Democratic administration and everything’s getting worse, especially if you were shortsighted enough to be born in Iraq or Afghanistan. (What were you thinking?) People, by which I suppose I mean novelists, are very open about their envy these days. They document the dewy features and lithe musculature of the wealthy. They specify the exact brand of luxury crap they wish they could afford. (William Gibson’s especially ridiculous in this regard, but I’m letting him off because I have finally realized that he’s a comedian. Also he offers a vision of what an alternative life might be like, which none of the others do.) In Zombie Bush’s America there is endless shame in not being rich (for very large values of rich, note well; mere upper-middle-class-ness is the most shameful condition of all, HOW CAN I SHOW MY FACE) and no shame in admitting how abjectly ashamed you are. Quite the reverse. It’s as if Jane Austen approved of Lady Catherine de Burgh.

Of course the most revolting thing about this whole queasy ritual is that if the writer abases himself disgustingly enough, the amused uberrich will anoint him (yes, always a him) and he’ll get to be superrich himself. I’m going to be a prescriptive little bitch here and say that writers should not aspire to the condition of plutocrats; not because I hold writers to higher standards (ha!), but because NO ONE SHOULD.

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