Saturday, January 2, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald's OODA Loops

In his essay, "The Crack-Up," F. Scott Fitzgerald, describing his own malaise, states:

In this silence there was a vast irresponsibility toward every obligation, a deflation of all my values. A passionate belief in order, a disregard of motives or consequences in favor or guesswork and prophecy, a feeling that craft and industry would have a place in any world -- one by one, these and other convictions were swept away. I saw that the novel, which at my maturity was the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion from one human being to another, was becoming subordinated to a mechanical and communal art that, whether in the hands of Hollywood merchants or Russian idealists, was capable of reflecting only the tritest thought, the most obvious emotion. It was an art in which words were subordinate to images, where personality was worn down to the inevitable low gear of collaboration. As long past as 1930, I had a hunch that the talkies would make even the best selling novelist as archaic as silent pictures. People still read, if only Professor Canby’s book of the month -- curious children nosed at the slime of Mr. Tiffany Thayer in the drugstore libraries -- but there was a rankling indignity, that to me had become almost an obsession, in seeing the power of the written

In this essay, Fitzgerald describes how his life in general and his career as a novelist, had lost meaning for him. The "crack-up" is his own; and he characterizes himself as a broken dish.

John Boyd's theory of OODA loops usually is understood as a military doctrine, whereby one opponent, who has a better grasp of things, is able to outmaneuver and defeat it opponent.

Discussing Boyd's theory, Don Vandergriff states:

“Schwerpunkt represents a unifying medium that provides a directed way to tie initiative of many subordinate actions with superior intent as a basis to diminish friction and compress time in order to generate a favorable mismatch in time/ability to shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances.”


Who is inside who's head?

Whose operations are more consistent an idea, floating around like a gas?

Who is tipping and running, striking with the smallest force at the farthest place? Who is fighting a "war" of detachment and never on the defensive or affording a target, except by accident or error?

Vandergriff is discussing military theory, more specifically the so-called War on Terror, and even more specifically recent developments regarding Yemen. But let us take these concepts and apply them instead to early 20th century literary history, more specifically, the decline of the American novel at the expense of the movies, and even more specifically, to the crack-up Fitzgerald describes in his essay.

In his essay, Fitzgerald describes how his writing career had provided him with a degree of independence, which had enabled him to act. But he was being worn down. He was loosing his literary vitality, becoming less and less able to produce. Hollywood was putting him on the defensive. According to Wikipedia:

Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits, and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. Published posthumously as The Last Tycoon, it was based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg. Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the East Coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a gossip columnist, in Hollywood. From 1939 until his death, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack through the character of Pat Hobby in a sequence of 17 short stories, later collected as "The Pat Hobby Stories."

It appears that, applying Vandergriff's questions, that Hollywood had gotten inside Fitzgerald's OODA loops. This lead to his crackup and death.

More generally, Fitzgerald's was a generation of great American novelists, of Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald himself, and a host of others. What has happened to them? Why no great novels today? It appears that Hollywood has likewise stamped them out.

Suppose it is our project to write - and to write damn well. Whence the American writer? To be effective, he must not write a good sentence but rather it must be he - and not Hollywood, not Disney, not Time Warner, not Microsoft - that must have the inner OODA loop.

Now what does this mean?

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