Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Elizabeth Wurtzel's latest piece about herself is actually shockingly well written

I know, I know. I understand the anger. Go ahead and call New York magazine and tell them you have written five thousand words about yourself and see if they publish it. Wurtzel not only got published, they spent big money to have a photographer take a picture that uses all the resources available to the art to make Wurtzel look more like she used to than she does now.

The key point in the article is when she suddenly starts talking about how her parents weren't rich. That's the thing about Wurtzel; she is part of an elite but she doesn't like to think of herself as part of an elite. She likes to think she earned her place in life.

Then she goes on to talk about how that elite life is about to disappear and how it's a sad thing that the rest of the world isn't subsidizing it anymore. That's important because New York magazine did publish her article and they did so for a reason.

But let's go at this from another angle because you know Elizabeth Wurtzel. I am going to be crude here. She had, and you can still see traces of it in her latest photo, what my friend Alison once called "a blowjob face". She once said of an ex-girlfriend of mine, "Guys will put up with endless bullshit from her because you love to picture that face looking up at you when she's giving you a blowjob."

That's the thing about Wurtzel that no one wants to say out loud. Wurtzel is a talented writer but she gets rated higher than she deserves because of her looks. (Wurtzel mentions that Harvard has published a circular in which she is the only female famous alumnus mentioned under the heading of "literature". Think about that. Harvard put her, and no other woman, in the same category as " T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, William S. Burroughs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Norman Mailer, John Updike, George Plimpton, David Halberstam, and Henry David Thoreau".)

As I say, you know her. You've met the woman who cruises through life getting jobs and good marks easily because she has sexual power. She isn't hot enough to be a model or a actress but, unlike them, she is right there in the room with you. And that matters to everyone, even other women. No matter what she does, the men and women around her continue to have hope in her. We want her to succeed.

As a consequence, women like Wurtzel are always forgiven for what they do and never have to forgive anyone else. Notice the contrast between the self-righteousness in these lines,
I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that, and I am heartbroken to live through a time where Wall Street money means these women are not treated with due disdain.
Then contrast that with the incredible self-forgiveness a paragraph later,
For a while after my first book came out, I went home with a different man every night and did heroin every day—which showed my good sense, because the rest of the time I was completely out of control.
The arc of a life like hers is not hard to predict. In a Jane Austen novel it would work out just as you would guess. Nowadays, the critical view is that we have shaken off the shackles of the classic English novel. Nowadays, we write stories that are grimmer but, we like to insist, freer because they acknowledge the randomness of life.

And yet, life has a disturbing tendency to play out like an Austen novel.
It had all gone wrong. At long last, I had found myself vulnerable to the worst of New York City, because at 44 my life was not so different from the way it was at 24. Stubbornly and proudly, emphatically and pathetically, I had refused to grow up, and so I was becoming one of those people who refuses to grow up—one of the city’s Lost Boys. I was still subletting in Greenwich Village, instead of owning in Brooklyn Heights. I had loved everything about Yale Law School—especially the part where I graduated at 40—but I spent my life savings on an abiding interest, which is a lot to invest in curiosity. By never marrying, I ended up never divorcing, but I also failed to accumulate that brocade of civility and padlock of security—kids you do or don’t want, Tiffany silver you never use—that makes life complete. Convention serves a purpose: It gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis.
It isn't hard to imagine Mary Crawford saying something like that if we were to track her down twenty years after the events described in Mansfield Park.

Wurtzel wrote this piece because of her desperate need for attention as opposed to any desperate need for money; which is to say that neither Crawford's life nor Wurtzel's is likely to be tragic. Their lives just won't be as good as they once seemed. All that rich promise their lives seemed to have, for others as well as themselves, when they were young and still had sexual power is now gone and it all gets kind of sad from here on in.

One temptation is to read the practical issues as moral ones. One reason to hate Wurtzel is because you believe she is finally getting the comeuppance that she has long deserved. (Or, for feminists, because the defiant role model they once loved is now an embarrassment.) This is misguided because life works out the way it does and morality will not ensure practical success. The thing about both Elizabeth Wurtzel and Mary Crawford is that they are both aware of and savvy about the practical consequences of their actions in a way that Lydia Bennet or Sid Vicious, for example, are not.

Wurtzel and Crawford defy convention not because they hate it but because they see themselves as above it. It's not so much that they don't see that the practical consequences of life will apply to them but that they feel that they should not.
Even now, I am always in love—or else I am getting over the last person or getting started with the next one. But I worry about growing old this way.
Well, now she worries.

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