Amory Blaine’s Disillusionment and Enlightenment

Toward the conclusion of This Side of Paradise, as Amory Blaine as undergoes that educational disillusionment which is our common lot as we ‘mature’, F. Scott Fitzgerald steps up a ruminative commentary detailing the insights his hero is now ‘enjoying.’ These unmask crucial pretensions of the world around him:

There were no more wise men; there were no more heroes….Amory had grown up to a thousand books, a thousand lies; he had listened eagerly to people who pretended to know, who knew nothing. The mystical reveries of saints that had once filled him with awe in the still hours of the night, now vaguely repelled him. The Byrons and Brookes who had defied life from mountain tops were in the end flaneurs and poseurs, at best mistaking the shadow of courage for the substance of wisdom. The pageantry of his disillusion took shape in a world-old procession of Prophets, Athenians, Martyrs, Saints, Scientists, Don Juans, Jesuits, Puritans, Fausts, Poets, Pacifists; like costumed alumni at a college reunion they streamed before him as their dreams, personalities, and creeds had in turn thrown colored lights on his soul; each had tried to express the glory of life and the tremendous significance of man; each had boasted of synchronizing before what had gone before into his own rickety generalities; each had depended after all on the set stage and the convention of the theatre, which is that man in his hunger for faith will feed his mind with the nearest and more convenient food.

In these acute remarks, there are echoes of Nietzsche‘s pronouncement that ‘every philosophy so far has been…the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’ and thus, not the result of a personal insight into the Great Secret of Being. Amory thus is brought face to face with an awesome–and perhaps terrifying–existential responsibility: he cannot rely on the wisdom of the ancients, for they knew no more than he did, that their ‘philosophies’ were their personal solutions to that which vexed them, their own fumbling gropings in the dark.

And it goes on:

Amory….began for the first time in his life to have a strong distrust of all generalities and epigrams . They were too easy, too dangerous to the public mind. Yet all thought usually reached the public after thirty years in some such form: Benson and Chesterton had popularized Huysmans and Newman; Shaw had sugar-coated Nietzsche and Ibsen and Schopenhauer. The man in the street heard the conclusions of dead genius through some one [sic] else’s clever paradoxes and didactic epigrams.

Amory here has a realization that should hopefully come to all of us. We are often surrounded by thin layerings of superficiality, delicate veneers over gaping ignorance; the complexities and struggles that await us are sought to be sandpapered over by a reliance on glib secondary knowledge; there is no substitute for a personal encounter with them.

Amory has leaned on too many crutches in his life; now he must discard them and attempt to learn to walk anew.

Note: The Nietzsche quote is from Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 1, Section 6.

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