author of The Ecstasy of Michaela and assorted stories and essays
Epigraph/epitaph: "He has been a sick man all his life. He was always a seeker after something in the world that is there in no satisfying measure, or not at all."
Consciously or not, Flynn’s quasi-feminist, Lifetime Channel posturing (her poorly structured, back-and-forth narrative) manipulates public prurience about the gender wars, but her real subject is class — always Hollywood’s hidden subject. Although Flynn flaunts her success as girlish (her term not mine), she’s not motivated by feminism but by a freaky self-reproach presented as entertainment — a paradox only a parvenu from the privileged media class can pull off.
A lot of people despise Armond White, not without reason, and I don’t really agree with what I take to be his essentially Tolstoyan conception of what art is supposed to be and do. But the above is correct, as is the rest of the review; sex-and-gender is Gone Girl's fig-leaf for class, as it was for the Victorians we are busily emulating. For a variety of reasons dispiriting to contemplate, a reactionary is better positioned to observe this these days than anyone left of center, probably due to the intellectual left's increasing status as a hereditary managerial elite lost in its own increasingly labyrinthine social codes. (Let us be clear, though: White's review is conservative, but the novel and the film are fascist. I unpleasantly suspect that recovering the conservative critique of fascism will be an important task over the next decade—Roudinesco’s defense of the surprising “enlightened conservatism” of Lacan and the other ‘68ers might provide a lead here.) The rage of parvenues like Gillian Flynn and Nick Dunne at their exclusions is more readily recognized by their culture-class counterparts outside the Ivy walls of the progressive clerisy. In other words, it takes one to know one. I didn’t—and wouldn’t—put it quite as pungently as White does, and I enjoyed the novel (and, to a lesser extent, the film) more than he did, but my analysis of this parvenu’s angry narrative is complementary to his. I’m just shocked that, writing in The National Review of all places, he failed to make the Bill-and-Hillary connection!
Time in Orlando is all affect—it is a frock that can be changed at will. It is nothing other than the sum of its parts—its technologies, its politics, its disasters—and as such, any given age can be adopted or discarded.
The solution to reconciling time on the clock with time of the mind is a cosmic detachment, a god’s-eye view in which the passage of eons is as unserious as the changing of fashion. This preternatural embodiment of the past not only offers the means to understand the world, it also seems to necessitate a withdrawal from it. While the other major protagonists of Woolf’s fiction were all, one way or another, crushed by history, Orlando, given a cosmoslike understanding of the passage of time, maintains a serenity toward events. If in Orlando Woolf had finally created a character who could transcend chronos entirely, the novel by its end cannot help but pose the question: is it worth it?
As any vampire will tell you, immortality isn’t without its price. Watching the ages fly by, Orlando is detached, without allegiance to any century or its petty concerns. Loneliness is a constant preoccupation of Woolf’s ostensible immortal, who seems capable of connecting with the world and others only in brief flashes, moments of intensity that dissipate in an instant. The loneliness of Clarissa Dalloway or Mrs. Ramsay is a loneliness of melancholy and regret, of looking back across the space of years and taking stock of a life that has passed by too soon. Having loved and lost, their recollections are at least bittersweet. Regret is quite the opposite for Orlando, having spent centuries trying and failing to carry out E. M. Forster’s dictum to “only connect.” Her loves are wild with passion, but seem to leave no trace, and by the novel’s end she is left occasionally wounded, but always without the pleasure of a scar.
Some have told me that these poems might do harm; I have not rejoiced at that. Other good souls, that they might do some good; and that has given me no regret. I was equally surprised at what the former feared and what the latter hoped, which only served to prove once again that this age has lost all sense of the classical notions of literature.