Spring New Moon (Flower)
Lost sleep night before last, got up early yesterday and had a long day at the museum. I still feel loggy, not quite focused this morning. This kind of dulled down makes everything just a bit more difficult like walking and thinking through a bog.
I’m nearing the end of Dreiser’s The Titan, the second book in his trilogy of desire. I finished the Financier awhile ago. The book jacket on my copy, a used $.75 paperback from long ago, describes this trilogy as the forerunner of the modern business novel. That may be so but it’s like saying the Mona Lisa is the forerunner of female portaitature. Perhaps true, or if not exactly true, then you can see the point, but the point pales in comparison to the work itself, so much more than just a portrait.
These three novels: The Financier, The Titan and the Stoic give a thick description of life in fin de siecle Philadelphia and Chicago, valuable insights into life itself, not only business, which is merely the fictive vehicle for the life of Frank A. Cowperwood, aka Yerkes. His life has appetites for money, yes, but more for power, and more than power for beauty and for a particular kind of woman.
Both the Titan and the Financier have eerily familiar scenes developed around financial panics, panics that bear striking resemblance to the one underway right now. In fact, these books could, at one level, be read as cautionary tales about the dramatic affect personal ambition and animus can have in economic affairs. In the same vein they give a privileged insight into the mental calculations of a monied set, how it comes to be the case that, “This is only business, nothing personal.”
They show the Faustian bargain successful men (and women) make as they scramble for this rung, then that one, the last offering only a hint of what may be possible if only the ride can last a bit longer. It is this itch, this wanting to ride the carousel one more time, to reach just a bit further for the brass ring that constitutes the true enslavement of achievement bound persons. In Cowperwood the type stands out in bold relief because the motive rides naked in the life, but most men and, I think, increasingly women, too, in this country have at least a touch and many more than a touch of this desire. Promotions. Book sales. More income. More face time with the boss. More on air time. More hits on the blog. More love from the public.
Dreiser fascinates me as an author so much because I have known ambition and success. I have, too, known failure and despair. Cowperwood does not struggle with the meaning of his ambition, rather he saddles it, hops on board and gets out the whip. There is an animal fascination in seeing this concentration, a sort of willed blindness that pushes aside ethical and broader political questions in pursuit of the goal.
This concentration on one thing to the exclusion of all others has been my bete noire from this perspective. This valedictory life, a life consumed not by one thing, but by many has its rewards, of course and if the brass ring can be left in its slot, it has a rare kind of satisfaction, a satisfaction available only to those willing to spend much energy on a lot of things, rather than all the energy on one thing. The achievements are less, in part because of the dilution of time and talent, but the enrichment is greater because both broad, and, still, deep.