Breakfast at Beckett’s

In their engagement of the studies referenced on the declining level of happiness of Americans, Becker-Posner begin to wrestle with the difficulty of quantifying for economics study human behavior as a market influence.

Late last night, after class, happy with a bowl of homemade chocolate ice cream, I flipped on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, on the Sundance Channel, and it occurred to me that perhaps the unhappiness of Americans has something to do with its writers, for a culture can only be as happy as its artists. We have, of course, come to confuse celebrity with art, and anyone can achieve celebrity status. Our ballplayers might be considered artists. But our insistence that they be heroes both on the field and in the museum results in a collusion of unhappiness.

Where our novelists are concerned, where the great American novel remains an elusive grail, the unhappy string of strikeouts has all but emptied the stands. Consider the Lost Generation hopefuls, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald; substituted with the failed promises of Vidal, Mailer, and Capote; and the newest crop, including Vollmann and now Keith Gessen, whose All the Sad Young Literary Men imagines nothing less than the success of unhappy celebration, yet at least does so without the usual self-delusion of greatness.

I flipped the movie off and headed to bed but first grabbed an old copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s off the shelf. In the book, unlike the movie, Holly has already gone lightly, leaving a heavy absence in her wake – the rest is flashback, beginning with “Her dispraising eyes surveyed the room again. ‘What do you do here all day?’ I motioned toward a table tall with books and paper. ‘Write things.’…‘Tell me, are you a real writer?’ ‘It depends on what you mean by real.’ ‘Well, darling, does anyone buy what you write?’ ‘Not yet.’”

And so on, until this morning when I pulled Samuel Beckett’s Molloy off a shelf. Too many think Beckett a despairing, desperate, depressing writer, but I’ve never thought that. He’s nothing of course like Capote, who, nevertheless, as Beckett commented on his own fate upon receiving the Nobel, was also “Damned to Fame.” But we must remember not to confuse narrators with authors; in those cases where the narrator is the author, yet the book is still called fiction, I think of the self-conscious infielder who can’t get his mind off his last throwing error.

Turn to any page in Molloy and count the number of times the word “I” appears. It’s extraordinary, each page, held at a distance, so that the I’s stand out, like some iconic, Concrete poem.