Essay 20: Pierce Blue Eyes Which I Love
One of the best things I ever read was an extremely invasive article in Vanity Fair about Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng and Tony Blair. As much as I loved it, and I loved it a lot, it seemed like the most incredible breach of journalistic ethics. When I say “invasive” what I mean is they published extracts from Wendi Deng’s diary. They don’t use the word “diary” in the VF article. They say it’s a “note she wrote to herself.” This is misleading. Here are some recent notes I have written to myself: “Adults who like Harry Potter”, “Don’t have a haiku where it says like ‘a pen never runs of out battery”, “It was all very hard luck on Margaret”, “Phone Lee.” Those are notes. Reminders to oneself that are sometimes private, sometimes not, but never a narrative. Never a story with you in the centre of it.
Here, on the other hand, is part of Wendi Deng’s note:
“I achieved my purpose of Eric saw me looking so gorgeous and so fantastic and so young, so cool, so chic, so stylish, so funny and he cannot have me. I’m not ever feel sad . . . about losing Eric. . . . Plus he is really really ugly. Unattractive . . . and fat. Not stylish at all try to wear hip clothes. . . . I’m so so soo soooo happy I’m not with him.”
That is no note. That’s a diary entry. That’s Vanity Fair publishing bits of the unhinged Wendi Deng’s diary. No mention, in the article, of how the writer came into possession of the note. No mention, also, of any questions around its authenticity. There are probably good legal reasons for this.
There is something mesmerising about the prose of the unsinkable Wendi Deng. I imagine old Wendi coming home, triumphant. She has achieved her purpose of Eric saw her looking so gorgeous and so young, so cool, so chic, so stylish, so funny. AND he cannot have her. Not stylish AT ALL try to wear hip clothes. She is so so soo soooo happy she is not with him.
The article goes into exhaustive detail about the breakdown of her 14 year marriage to Rupert Murdoch. The writer has a lot to say about “shifting power dynamics” and insists that the most important questions that needs to be asked is “who blindsided whom?” But who cares about that? The most important question is Please can I read the rest of the diary ASAP. The writer tries to make it interesting, this boring story about two people getting divorced where you can’t believe they ever had sex even once. He tries to make you believe that this is a tale of intrigue, that you will somehow care more about their tedious divorce if there a few question marks over who was using whose private jet to go to whose sad old ranch.
His heart isn’t really in it, though. The writer knows just as well as everyone reading that the real point of the article is Wendi, Wendi, Wendi. Rupert Murdoch, apart from being obviously bad, possibly a devil, is not remarkable. Wendi, though. A different kind of bad. A powerful and compelling wizard.
A little while ago, Jonathan Franzen wrote an essay for the New Yorker about Edith Wharton. He said that Edith Wharton was impossible to like because she was a) ugly, b) not charming, c) rich. He got given an extremely hard time for it, because a) that’s a very strange thing to say, b) pot, kettle. Of all people, Jonathan Franzen shouldn’t go around talking too loudly about someone being impossible to like. Poor man, even the people who like him find him insufferable.
Besides from these obvious problems, it was a good essay. The best part was this: “Apparently, all a novelist has to do is give a character a powerful desire (to rise socially, to get away with murder) and I, as a reader, become helpless not to make that desire my own.” The examples he gives are Becky Sharp, Raskolnikov, Tom Ripley, Mickey Sabbath, and The Jackal. Humbert Humbert should be on that list as well. Also the Judge from Blood Meridian, Patrick Bateman, Hannibal Lecter, Dracula, Kurtz, Sher Kahn, Cruella De Vil, and Satan in Paradise Lost. It’s not a new explanation, but it’s a good one. It’s easy to identify with want.
Franzen, in this discussion, makes a clear distinction between fiction and reality: “One of the great perplexities of fiction…is that we experience sympathy so readily for characters we wouldn’t like in real life.” When he says “characters we wouldn’t like in real life”, he means, obviously, “characters we shouldn’t like in real life.” Fiction, then, is a way of maintaining your moral conscience. It acts as a release valve in that it allows you to expend sympathy and interest on characters you wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, like in real life. It’s not a new explanation, but it’s a good one.
It’s true that I don’t know Wendi Deng in real life, and so maybe I am somewhere kidding myself that she is really a fictional character. But, Wendi Deng exists. She is out there. It is clear to me that she is deeply wicked, verging on some kind of maniac, and exactly the kind of person you aren’t supposed to like. If she was a character in a novel, that would be fine. She would remind you of Becky Sharp. But Wendi Deng exists, and still I experience a deep and ready sympathy with her. I wouldn’t say that it’s an affinity, or even that I would want to be stuck in a lift with her. I just like to know what she’s up to.
In the first place, you could say that I take a keen interest in the progress of Wendi Deng for the Franzen reason. Wendi Deng wants a lot of things, a lot, and I as an observer become helpless not to make that desire my own. That’s one reason.
Another is that I am easily swayed. I have a long, long history of being drawn to highly unsuitable people, who even though I know they are bad, I still find them to be funny, or charming, or have wolflike incisors, or swear nicely, or dress in a way that I admire, or have good taste in music. It’s not that I want to marry them or anything, or even be stuck in a lift with them. I just like to know what they’re up to. Wendi Deng is evil, but she is also a hoot. Look at her go! The woman will stop at nothing.
Here’s the third reason:
“Oh, shit, oh, shit. Whatever why I’m so so missing Tony. Because he is so so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt . . . And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love. Love his eyes. Also I love his power on the stage . . . and what else and what else and what else . . . ”
Another note. I think about “pierce blue eyes which I love” once a day. It’s a triumph. Today is my 20th essay, and I know that if I wrote 50 more, I would never be able to come up with something as amazing as “I achieved my purpose of Eric saw me looking so gorgeous and so fantastic and so young, so cool, so chic, so stylish, so funny and he cannot have me.” I would give anything to read that diary.