June 27, 2009

The Crack-Up
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edited by Edmund Wilson

Words to the Wise -- I seem to be re-reading "The Crack-Up" about every 18 months, which probably tells me more than I care to realize. This time I found myself drawn especially to the letters. A July 29, 1940 letter to Pie, Scott and Zelda's beloved daughter, Frances: "The chief fault in your style is its lack of distinction. You had distinction once -- there's some in your diary -- and the only way to increase it is to cultivate your own garden. And the only thing that will help you is poetry, which is the most concentrated form of style ..." And then there's Thomas Wolfe's July 26, 1937 letter replying to Fitzgerald: "I have read your letter several times and I've got to admit it doesn't seem to mean much ... And I don't think you can show me and I don't see what Flaubert and Zola have to do with it, or what I have to do with them. I wonder if you really think they have anything to do with it, or if this is just something you heard in college or read in a book somewhere. This either-or kind of criticism seems to me to be so meaningless. It looks so knowing and imposing but there is nothing in it." These exchanges remind me of the artist's commitment to telling the truth, even when it's hard and especially with people you love and respect; and brings to mind the words spoken now long ago to me by the writer Kevin Grandfield: "Are you trying to live your life without making enemies?" Telling the truth doesn't mean you have to make an enemy; but being an artist requires a sort of chiseled candor, with others and with yourself.


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