Thursday, December 31, 2009


Every red blooded American boy needs to experience dispossession. It’s what makes America great and it’s what creates the dynamic quality of American life, to the extent that this country has no real hereditary aristocracy (as De Tocqueville pointed out in Democracy in America). The downstairs of one generation can become master of the house in the next. Joseph Losey’s The Servant (with screenplay by Harold Pinter) brilliantly captured the potentiality for such role reversals in the British context. In America, Raymond Carver was the poet of dispossession. Latter-day incarnations, like the short-story writer Wells Tower, whose work has received a great deal of critical attention, wear dispossession on their sleeves, but Carver exuded what Henry James called “felt life.” In one famous passage, a garage sale becomes an emblematic act of self-revelatory excoriation.
After the stock market crash of l929, many of the entitled saw their fortunes fade, and more recently many great families who had invested in blue-chip firms like Lehman Brothers saw their fortunes turn sour overnight. There are undoubtedly support groups for super wealthy individuals whose net worth dropped from hundreds to tens of millions in the market turmoil. What would it be like without Aspen and Palm Beach, without the Connaught and the Hotel du Cap, without Gstaad and Cortina in the winter? Everything in America occurs at such breakneck speed that there is really no time to accommodate a leisure class. By the time one generation has accumulated enough wealth to live like royalty, the wealth is already gone and they are writing memoirs, or, like the Beales of Grey Gardens fame, they're the subjects of documentaries about the decline of yet another age of swells.

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