August 22, 2013

"The Great Gatsby"

I finally got around to seeing Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel at the $3 movie house. The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio has been big hit with the public, but not with the critics, many of whom seem to have trotted out the theses of their A+ high school papers on The Great Gatsby to explain why Luhrmann's version doesn't live up to their theories.

Personally, I thought it was pretty good adaptation, more energetic and emotionally powerful than the tasteful, listless 1974 one with Robert Redford as Gatsby and a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, a movie distinguished mostly by Ralph Lauren's elegant High WASP costumes.

But then, I don't find The Great Gatsby (published 1925) as a novel to be all that great. It's very good, ranking with, say, Waugh's four or five best novels, but, unfortunately, American literature isn't all that spectacular. So, it's reputation gets inflated by American patriotism and by its being on all the high school reading lists.

Putting famous novels up on the screen often exposes them as not really all that, although nobody likes to admit it about their favorite book. The 1974 version just seemed to reinforce among literati the assumption that Fitzgerald's novel is just so superior that no talents like screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola in his early 1970s prime can't grasp the ineffable essence of the book the way you did while writing your book report in 10th grade.

Interestingly, The Great Gatsby didn't set the world on fire when published in 1925, even though Fitzgerald was already a hot commodity. It didn't take off until the military printed up lots of free paperback copies during WWII. So, even though I've more admired than loved TGG the two or three times I've read it, I appreciate that guys doing a lot harder job than me were knocked out by it in the 1940s.

Here's an idea for a framing device for the next movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby: start with a 19-year-old sailor sweating in his bunk on the U.S.S. Enterprise steaming full speed toward Midway Island. He can't sleep, so to take his mind off the upcoming battle, he starts reading this story about rich people going to expensive parties back before the War and the Depression. He tut-tuts a few times at how superficial and shortsighted everybody was in the 1920s, but mostly he wishes he was at those parties instead of on this goddam flattop. Fade into the movie.

At the end, after the "boats against the current" closing line, we fade to a montage of the sailor, with his well-thumbed copy of the paperback in his back pocket walking down the gangplank into post-war California, going to college on the GI Bill, becoming a high school English teacher, and then assigning his students The Great Gatsby until he retires in 1990. In 2013, his teenage great-grandchildren invite him to Baz Luhrmann's extravant movie version, which, not surprisingly, gives him a fatal stroke. But just before he dies, he smiles at how much kids these days like his favorite book.

So why the critics v. public disagreement on this year's version?

Luhrmann is an adventuresome populist by intention. He invented a new style, peaking in Moulin Rouge, to please mass audiences. As I wrote in 2008:
Luhrmann worked out a novel set of conventions for his Red Curtain style, the maximalist opposite of Lars Von Trier's more celebrated but less successful Dogme 95 minimalism. Like Bollywood musicals intended to be understood by peasant audiences, the Red Curtain rules stressed blatantly unrealistic theatrical artifice; plots that are time-tested, if not downright hackneyed (in “Moulin Rouge,” we quickly infer from La Traviata and La Bohème that the beautiful courtesan must ultimately die of consumption in the young poet’s arms); and shameless melodrama, all as “a device to disarm oh-so-clever, oh-so-cool people, so that you can have these very direct emotional experiences,” as Luhrmann explained in 2001.

Luhrmann punches up Gatsby's party scenes, which are absolutely central to the story's appeal, to make an impact in hard-partying 2013. I find his occasional use of hip-hop works quite well -- the parties start with appropriate 1920s Dixieland music then gradually work their way up to Jay-Z's hip-hop score.

And, Luhrmann does a good job of simplifying Fitzgerald's story down to its core -- Gatsby's doomed love for Daisy -- so that it will be readily comprehensible to a generation of C students needing to get up to speed on what the assigned book is about without actually reading it. The one thing Luhrmann is stumped by is how to coherently relate Fitzgeralds' strange plot devices needed to get the right people into the wrong cars on the disastrous road trip to the Plaza Hotel.

In showing us exactly what the story is about, Luhrmann dispenses with some of Fitzgerald's vagueness and abstraction that entranced future movie critics in high school.

By the way, it's a commonplace these days to read The Great Gatsby ethnically. (Luhrmann emphasizes this less than most contemporary interpreters.)

Everybody today expresses gleeful hatred toward the (rather poorly) delineated polo playing bad guy Tom Buchanan, a predecessor for Billy Zane's Anglo-villain in Titanic. Early on, Tom endorses the book The Rise of the Colored Empires by a cross between Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard. (That sailor 17 years later heading toward a showdown with the Japanese Empire at Midway probably wouldn't snigger as much as moderns do at the phrase "rise of the colored empires.")

On the other hand, Fitzgerald's obvious aversion toward Jews and blacks gets overlooked or explained away. There is a whole cottage industry constructing theories about how the beloved Gatsby is really Jewish, black, and/or gay.

Interestingly, Fitzgerald seemed to agree with Tom Buchanan, at least in the early 1920s. (Fitzgerald espoused various ideologies over the years, becoming, for example, a Marxist during the Depression, so one shouldn't take any of them too seriously.) In 1921, he wrote to Edmund Wilson from Europe:
Raise the bar of immigration and permit only Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts to enter. ... I believe at last in the white man's burden. We are as far above the modern Frenchman as he is above the Negro. ... You may have spoken in jest about New York as the capital of culture but in 25 years it will be just as London is now. Culture follows money ... 
Fitzgerald quoted on p. 215 of Paul Johnson's Modern Times 

I haven't studied up on Fitzgerald that much, so I'll just speculate on his ethnic attitudes from the novel. My hunch is that as a wealthy, extremely assimilated Midwestern Irish Catholic Ivy Leaguer, he resented the inner-innermost circle of American life: rich Eastern polo-playing WASPs like Tom Buchanan.

In turn, as a young man of the second circle, Fitzgerald looked down upon the third and fourth circles. Judging from the ghastly Meyer Wolfsheim gangster character in The Great Gatsby, the man who ruined the innocence of little American boys by fixing the 1919 World Series ("Say it ain't so, Joe!"), Fitzgerald was anti-Semitic. (Luhrmann cast a Bollywood star as Wolfsheim to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism, although it just makes the character look even less American.)

Toward blacks, Fitzgerald was, at best, bemused. Nick Carraway observes:
As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.
"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all ...

(Luhrmann has Tobey Maguire as Carraway respond warmly to this vignette, without any trace of the book's distaste for blacks rising above their station.)

Instead, Fitzgerald rooted for the second circle in American life: Midwestern WASPs like narrator Nick Carraway, Germans like Great Plains small town boy James Gatz, lace curtain Irish like Fitzgerald himself, and so forth. Basically, he liked the limited number of ethnicities he would allow to immigrate to the U.S.: "only Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts," to quote Fitzgerald.

109 comments:

Uncle Peregrine said...

"But then, I don't find The Great Gatsby (published 1925) as a novel to be all that great. It's very good, ranking with, say, Waugh's four or five best novels, but, unfortunately, American literature isn't really all that spectacular. So, it's reputation gets inflated by American patriotism and by its being on all the high school reading lists."

Steve, do you really personally have any higher praise for a modern work of literature than "ranking with say, Waugh's four or five best novels?" But the information on the WWII editions of _Gatsby_ is classic iSteve.

Uncle Peregrine said...

"But then, I don't find The Great Gatsby (published 1925) as a novel to be all that great. It's very good, ranking with, say, Waugh's four or five best novels, but, unfortunately, American literature isn't really all that spectacular. So, it's reputation gets inflated by American patriotism and by its being on all the high school reading lists."

Steve, do you really personally have any higher praise for a modern work of literature than "ranking with say, Waugh's four or five best novels?" But the information on the WWII editions of _Gatsby_ is classic iSteve.

Steve Sailer said...

And that's not even including the Sword of Honor novels in which Uncle Peregrine is a character!

FredR said...

"American literature isn't all that spectacular."

True, true.

Anonymous said...

"But then, I don't find The Great Gatsby (published 1925) as a novel to be all that great. It's very good, ranking with, say, Waugh's four or five best novels, but, unfortunately, American literature isn't all that spectacular. So, it's reputation gets inflated by American patriotism and by its being on all the high school reading lists."

This is nuts. American history has been relatively short, but Americans produced great literature, especially in the 20th century, to compete with the best around the world.

GREAT GATSBY is a great novel. So are the works of Faulker. Hemingway was a powerful writer. Deceptively simple; quite brilliant.
Truman Capote wrote beautifully. Steinbeck sure could tell a tale.
Henry Roth, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer were giants.
CATCHER IN THE RYE is a great book, and everyone around the world loves it. American literature was like American popular music. True, honest, forthright, powerful.

British writers certain wrote with more flair, wit, fancy words, and such, but Americans really redefined literature in the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea for a framing device for the next movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby: start with a 19-year-old sailor sweating in his bunk on the U.S.S. Enterprise steaming full speed toward Midway Island.

How about setting it on the other USS Enterprise? Imagine a 19-year-old spaceman sweating in his bunk while the ship warps full speed towards Wolf 359?

Thursday said...

Yes, Fitzgerald is overrated.

1. It is backed up by the legend of Fitzgerald, which includes a friendship/rivalry with Hemingway, an extremely beautiful but mentally disturbed wife, Zelda, and then a trip to Hollywood where the washed up writer drinks himself into an early grave. Having an entertaining life makes up for a lot in your work.

2. It is sort of the definitive novel set in the glamorous jazz age, and works as a kind of myth for that time period, even if overall it is not a truly great novel.

3. The book resonates with all the Ivy Leaguers who end up going into finance. There aren't a lot of these people overall, but they form a majority of people who are in the Ivies and the book has become a sort of Ivy League touchstone.

Anonymous said...

I think the only reason anyone even remembers this novel is because, as you note, it's assigned in every high school English class in America, and as a result, it makes an impression on teenage girls who then grow up and think it's, like, the best thing ever. High school boys aren't that impressed by it.

Fitzgerald's short stories are much better.

Anonymous said...

"And, Luhrmann does a good job of simplifying Fitzgerald's story down to its core -- Gatsby's doomed love for Daisy -- so that it will be readily comprehensible to a generation of C students needing to get up to speed on what the assigned book is about without actually reading it."

He sure missed the point. That is not the core of the story. Gatsby is not so much in love with Daisy as with his dream of Daisy that encompasses much larger issues, psychological and social.
Gatsby is a narcissist as martyr, one of the most passive/aggressive characters in fiction.

Glossy said...

Fitzgeralds had lots of different ideologies over the years...

Being a white supremacist in 1921 and a Marxist in the 1930s is not "lots of different ideologies". It's one ideology - what all the cool people of your time and place believe. A person like that would be for gay marriage and against climate change today.

Anonymous said...

OK, maybe I'm a bit too linear thinking / left brain or whatever, but isn't fiction, novels in particular, inherently...gay and female?

I have Solzhenitsyn's 1914 at my bedside. I can't read the damned thing: Sergei's coal black eyes squinted at the pastel blue sky as he... - just state your friggin' point in 200 words or less for Petrov's sake.

James Kabala said...

"My hunch is that as a wealthy, extremely assimilated Midwestern Irish Catholic Ivy Leaguer, he resented the inner-innermost circle of American life: rich Eastern polo-playing WASPs like Tom Buchanan."

No - Tom is actually a Midwesterner himself. Nick suddenly declares at the end of the book that the real lesson is that Nick and Gatsby and Tom and Daisy (and Jordan too? - can't remember) were all Midwesterners who were out of place in the East. This moral maybe explains Gatsby's actions but hardly those of the Buchanans, but there it is.

Fitzgerald himself was related to and named after the author of the national anthem, so he certainly had inner circle connections himself.

F.F. Coppola said...

Here's an idea for a framing device for the next movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby…

Don't give up your day job.

Anonymous said...

In Steve Sailer's opinion, what are the best American novels?

Art Deco said...

Basically, he like the limited number of ethnicities he would allow to immigrate to the U.S.: "only Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts

Second circle?

Just to point out that the free immigrant population of British North America consisted of Anglo-Saxons, Teutons (Knickerbocker and Pennsylvania Dutch), and Celts, with a small leavening of others (e.g. French Huguenots). The Scandinavians were a later addition, but the characteristics of Scandinavian immigration - agricultural colonization of areas of sparse settlement - mimicked colonial era settlement. Also the modest populations and affluence of Scandinavia ca. 1922 would have limited immigration streams.

In an area like the Hudson Valley, the ultimate cachet of antiquity would attach to a name like "van Rensselaer", not "Buchanan" or "Ward".

Art Deco said...

unfortunately, American literature isn't all that spectacular.

Your idea of 'spectacular' English language literature is what - Colleen McCullough, Robertson Davies, Margaret Drabble, or translations of German stuff?

slumber_j said...

First of all, I don't agree that The Great Gatsby isn't all that great. I think it is, and I've read it at least twice as many times as you have. So there!

I can't believe, over and over, how excellent it is, and how excellently compressed. It's the mirror-image of the other greatest US novel in that respect, which sprawls tremendously and is putatively about whaling.

My message here would be not to suspect anything of being not-so-great just because it's assigned a lot in high school. Sometimes the teachers are even more right than they know.

Anyway, I can tell you exactly what Fitzgerald thought about at least two ethnicities, I'm pretty sure: my grandfather was an exact contemporary in St. Paul and similarly American-Irish. And they knew each other.

As usual among everyone American in those days, the Irish in St. Paul had nothing but scorn for anyone from another ethnic group, and it was all meant in a friendly deprecatory way. So what would otherwise and elsewhere have been Polack jokes were about the Scandanavians--particularly a notional guy named Olie who was forever cutting off his digits on a table saw.

The anti-Semitism was genuine and all about who was in charge. Hence this song, the chorus of which was sung in a Swedish accent:

A thousand Jews are selling booze
without the State's permission
to fill the needs of a million Swedes
who voted for Prohibition.

I come from Minnesota, the land I love so well.
I voted for Volstead: Yod dammit to hell!

MC said...

Oh man, so the "Gatz is Jewish" thing isn't consensus?

Anonymous said...

I think the only reason anyone even remembers this novel is because, as you note, it's assigned in every high school English class in America, and as a result, it makes an impression on teenage girls who then grow up and think it's, like, the best thing ever. High school boys aren't that impressed by it.

Fitzgerald's short stories are much better.

Anonymous said...

Okay, whatever. I struggled through the novel because it was allegedly "great" or "good" or whatever. It isn't even whatever. It's garbage. And a movie based upon it is guaranteed to be crap, and a movie based on it featuring rap "music" is twice-guaranteed to be crap. What's the point?

Steve Sailer said...

"particularly a notional guy named Olie"

What's the name of Olie's wife?

I'd never heard any Ollie and _____ jokes until a few years ago on Prairie Home Companion. They were quite funny.

Thursday said...

Truly Great American novels:

Melville - Moby Dick
Hawthorne - The Scarlet Letter
Twain - Huckleberry Finn
James - The Portrait of a Lady
Faulkner - As I Lay Dying, The Wild Palms
Roth - Operation Shylock, Sabbath's Theater
McCarthy - Blood Meridian

There are lots and lots of pretty good novels like The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, as well as several other lesser but still good works by Twain, James et al, but the above list is probably about all you can plausibly nominate for true greatness. Portrait of a Lady is the best.

Harry Baldwin said...

It's Ole and Lena. Ole has a buddy named Lars and Lena's friend is named Hilda.

According to these jokes, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you got the quote wrong.
It's:

"SAY it aint so, Joe!"

Anyway. One of the best renditions of TGG is the 1948 version starring Alan Ladd. Lots of critics liked that version quite well, though it didn't break box office records. Also, being released postWW2 seems to jibe with your theory about why it became a larger than life novel decades after the fact.

TGG, like Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises are dated but in a semi-romantic way. They both serve as useful historical guides to the fondly recalled but dimly remembered Roaring 20s and all the images it tends to conjure up from the many histories written about that era.

Both protagonists are doomed and can't overcome their fatal flaw: In Gatsby's its that he'll never be inherently quite good enough on the surface (which is what Daisy's social circle demands) and in Jake's case, he simply can no longer perform much less deliver the goods due to his war injury.

While many can argue both sides as to whether or not TGG is or is not a great novel, the fact remains that it, along with Hemmingway's Son Also Rises, remain among the quintessential novels that help define for many the long ago era of the Roaring 20s.

While from a strict historical point of view hip hop was non-existent during the 20's perhaps this was subconsciously included to help hip up the story.

PS: Really? It isn't a pure consensus that Gatsby was Jewish? That's one of the sub texts we were instructed in high school about the character.

TGGP said...

Count me in the "overrated" camp. "Huck Finn" is also overrated, although (unlike "Gatsby") it's a good read.

Minnesotan said...

It's "Ole," not "Ollie."

Ole and Lena.

OH-lee and LEE-na, don't ya know.

slumber_j said...

Steve Sailer asked, "What's the name of Olie's wife?"

I don't remember that many Olie jokes, in part because I haven't heard them in a long time: my grandfather was born in 1896 and died the day before the Berlin Wall fell...which would have made him so happy it's like a horrible joke in itself. So I don't know.

Maybe that's an argument for listening to A Prairie Home Companion, which I've never been able to stand. I don't like that man or his outlook on life.

Dave Pinsen said...

"Truly Great American novels:"

I'd add Bonfire of The Vanities by Wolfe and The Corrections by Franzen. And maybe Gravity's Rainbow, which is more of a mixed bag, but maybe 40% brilliant. That's one book, btw, that a movie version could improve, by cutting out the copious crap.

slumber_j said...

@Thursday

No, nothing of Roth's is really great. As long as we're blandly asserting, that is. And in the same spirit, Moby Dick is unquestionably the best.

If you want someone Roth-like (which I guess is to say Jewish-American), Bellow is the guy you're looking for.

Anonymous said...

Ole and Lena.

Anonymous said...

His books are puzzling but Delillo is a master of prose.

Anonymous said...

Catch 22 is pure brilliance

Anonymous said...

CUCKOO'S NEST is a great book.

SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION is a flat out masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Baldwin was a great essayist.

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN is a great novel.

http://english.duke.edu/uploads/media_items/baldwin-native-son.original.pdf

Anonymous said...

Nabokov

Anonymous said...

"No, nothing of Roth's is really great."

Your mama.

Anonymous said...

FOUNTAINHEAD!

Puzo later became a pulp writer but FORTUNATE PILGRIM is a perfect novel.

Anonymous said...

MARRIAGE PLOT by Eugenides won't leave my mind.

Katherine Anne Porter and O'Connor were excellent writers.

America produced lots of fabulous popular authors like Edna Ferber.

Joyce Carol Oates was excellent with the short story.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is chilling stuff.

Read Mike Royko's columns as one long continuous journal and it's one of the best narratives of ethnic America.

Anonymous said...

Sinclair Lewis may not have been major but he had an ear for dialogue and BABBITT is unforgettable. Satire with heart.

Anonymous said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giants_in_the_Earth_(novel)

Norwegian novel of the American experience. I heard it's great and owned a copy since 1983 but still haven't gotten around to it.

Anonymous said...

The Call by John Hersey. It may not be great literature but it's a great novel just the same. The most deeply moving book I ever read.

Anonymous said...

LITTLE BIG MAN. Great masterpiece by Thomas Berger. Uniquely American.
Funniest book I ever read.

Anonymous said...

MIDNIGHT COWBOY the book is as remarkable as the movie. Really.

Herlihy's ALL FALL DOWN is excellent too.

Thursday said...

Let me repeat myself: there are lots and lots of pretty good American novels, but my list above is probably about all you can plausibly nominate for true greatness.

Anonymous said...

LIFE OF HELEN ALONE.

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Helen-Alone-Karen-Lawrence/dp/0345330420

Am I the only one who read this?
Great? No, but it never left my mind. One of those books that just sticks.

Same with MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Euginides. Time will be the ultimate judge but I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Anonymous said...

"Let me repeat myself: there are lots and lots of pretty good American novels, but my list above is probably about all you can plausibly nominate for true greatness."

Snob!

Anonymous said...

Where is this $3 movie theater?

Steve Sailer said...

Just west of the corner of Laurel Canyon and Victory in North Hollywood:

http://www.regencymovies.com/main.php?theaterId=30

Anonymous said...

"Portrait of a Lady is the best."

It took me three years to finish. I think I read like half a page a day.
I suppose it is great and I'm glad I read it but it sure aint my cup a tea.

I'd rather watch movie versions of stuff like this. Wharton adaptations AGE OF INNOCENCE and HOUSE OF MIRTH were excellent.
There was an okay TV production of PORTRAIT OF A LADY from BBC with Richard Chamberlain. But Campion's version was insufferable.

Anonymous said...

http://www.regencymovies.com/main.php?theaterId=30

I'll be! I didn't know second run theaters still existed. None around here since 10 yrs ago when the last ones went out of business.

Steve Sailer said...

It was packed last weekend: they had all the early summer blockbusters for $3 per ticket.

Dave Pinsen said...

My Sword of Honor comment must have gotten lost in the aether. Read it earlier this year, and when John McCain slipped into Syria to meet with rebels there I was reminded of Waugh's Ben Ritchie-Hook character.

Also just read Black Mischief this week (got it, and The Coup, based on Steve's mentions of both books here). It's amazing how parts of Waugh's 1932 novel are still laugh-out-loud funny today.

Anonymous said...

http://youtu.be/P_3TqDqSPLQ

This ain't bad.

TheLRC said...

Thursday, your list is pretty good, but for Faulkner, I'd add The Sound and the Fury. Most mind-blowing reading experience I've ever had, and I was an English major. I was fortunate not to have it assigned to me in college; I read it as an adult, without much in the way of preconceptions or clues as to how the book works. When I figured it all out, it was like an epiphany; everything came together in one crashing instant. Not too many novels can provide that kind of impact. . . .

BTW, to Harry Baldwin, many tanks for the Ole and Lena joke page. I'm from Iowa, so I had only intermittent exposure to Norwegian/Swede jokes (they were interspersed with Polish and dumb Dutchman jokes in my neck of the woods) but I remembered some of them fondly.

Charlesz Martel said...

A filmmaker I knew, commented on the Great Gatsby (1973 version). I asked him why they were hyping the crap out of it, and he laughed and said (paraphrasing) "Because it's gonna bomb. The prior versions didn't do well either, and this one won't as well." I asked why he felt that, and he said "Because you can't make a good movie about an inactive protagonist. Movies are a visual medium, they don't show introspection well. What the screenwriter sees as deep inner reflection, comes across on screen as boring inaction."
Years later, I watched "The Dead" by John Huston. He got around the problem with lots of voice-overs, which basically explained the inner struggles of the leads.
I think his analysis was correct. I saw the 48 Gatsby ( the 26 version is lost, and I never saw the TV version) and the same problem occurs every time. A movie about glittering parties is not much of a vehicle, but it can be pretty.
Just my .02

Difference Maker said...

Never thought he was Jewish nor was taught so. Nor would I be one to accept whatever is blandly taught in school.

What's the basis for the suggestion? His being a rich outsider, his yearning for the Anglo girl?

A little searching reminds me of his name change and other details and helpfully debunks the Jewish claim.

Remarkably narcissistic and shortsighted to think so, and ignorant of German name change and assimilation. The world is not down to Jews vs other people

And it is not even a concern of mine the particular background of Gatsby. A charming story, but a commenter said he is passive aggressive, and I am inclined to agree. Too much yearning and angst, if understated

TheLRC said...

BTW, I've always loved Gatsby as a novel; it's crisp and compressed. Fitzgerald knew when to quit.

I also don't buy the 'Gatsby was Jewish' reading. The tensions have always seemed to me more regional/class-based than ethnic.

To midwesterners like me, this is a perennial theme, and it was much stronger 100 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Steve, what would be really interesting is to conduct a poll on how many isteve readers are gay men, particularly the ones commenting on this post.

Cail Corishev said...

I can't remember a single thing about this book except that it seemed entirely pointless, with angsty people wandering around doing things for no discernible reason, and I hated it.

A lot of "classic" literature turns out to be disappointing, but this one was unusually bad even by those standards.

It's possible that it's my fault, that I just don't get what's so great about it. But that reminds me of a line that probably came from some movie or other: "I get it; I just don't want it."

Anonymous said...

You have more patience than I do, Steve. I started watching TGG on an airline flight only to turn it off as soon as the rap came on (maybe 2-5 minutes into it?). A 1920s period piece should not have rap, uh, period.

Steve Sailer: watching mainstream TV so we don't have to.

Anonymous said...

Our friendly movie obsessed resident leftist, DAS KAPITALS, has been posting up a storm.

slumber_j said...

TheLRC said:

"I also don't buy the 'Gatsby was Jewish' reading. The tensions have always seemed to me more regional/class-based than ethnic."

That's clearly true: when Fitzgerald Jews you, you stay Jewed. Viz Meyer Wolfsheim.

And speaking of minorities: "Steve, what would be really interesting is to conduct a poll on how many isteve readers are gay men, particularly the ones commenting on this post."

As the kids say nowadays, no homo. What is it with this notion that if you like anything literary you're clearly gay? How is it then that all these writers I know get laid so much?

With naked ladies, I mean. Who then bring forth young, etc.

FredR said...

Thursday's list is mildly bizarre. Roth over Bellow? McCarthy?

Luke Lea said...

"American literature isn't all that spectacular."

Sure, if you except Thomas Eliot, Emily Dickinson, John Updike, and a few others (Ellen Gilchrist, Henry James, Saul Bellow, Hemingway . . .).

As for Fitzgerald, say what you will his sentences can be absolutely gorgeous:

The Great Gatsby site:http://althouse.blogspot.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/245494-the-great-gatsby

When you consider that American literature only came into its own in the late 19th century, what other English speaking country produced more and better poets and novelists during that period? How many more and how much better?

Anonymous said...

By the standards of movie stars, however, Tobey Maguire isn't one of them.
nor was "Jay z" music appropriate- or all the product ties ins "what time is it Nick? -"let me check my omega watch and tell you"
or a run and gun video game tie in (where nick runs through a speak easy shooting gangsters.

This was a perfect marketing storm though, a la Epstiens' underrated book "The big picture'

Luke Lea said...

In the category of non-fiction literature America is also well-represented among the very greatest in the English language over the past 150 years. Edmund Wilson is far and away the greatest critic in that category for example. (Great critics are even rarer than great poets and novelists. Among satiriists Tom Wolfe can hold his own.

Where we are weakest is on the stage (though we more than hold our own on the silver screen) and in children's literature (unless you want to count The Wizard of Oz).

But of course there is no disputing of taste. When it comes to judging great literature I am a snob. Like Oscar Wilde my tastes are simple: I only like the very best: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Auden, Austin, Flaubert, Joyce, Yeats, Chekhov . . .). As for those in the younger generation who think The Lord of the Rings is the greatest thing ever written or who swoon over Game of Thrones I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Luke Lea said...

In the field of 19th century non-fiction I forgot to mention William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sure, England had Matthew Arnold, Lord Keynes (yes, a great writer), and no doubt some others whose names I've overlooked. Anybody care to fill out the list?

One of the ironies of American achievement is how much it was driven by a sense of cultural inferiority. You could say the same thing about the Jews. In both cases those days are long gone.

Anonymous said...

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-worlds-end-2013

An allegory about immigration.

Rohan Swee said...

Steve, what would be really interesting is to conduct a poll on how many isteve readers are gay men, particularly the ones commenting on this post.

All commenters more literate than I am are gay.

RS said...

Thursday I love your non de gustibus non attitude, there's something about you man. Just kidding, I like you.

Not all that high on those works though. What I like is basically Augie March, and stories of Melville (not including Bartleby, at all).

Maybe some short stuff of Salinger's -- it's been years. Seymour had great potential, but the little neurotic flourish every third sentence is not bearable.

Gatsby: whatever. Some really nice passages, somewhat as the first two pages of Blood Meridian -- only -- are about as beautiful as anything in all of art.

Thursday said...

[F]or Faulkner, I'd add The Sound and the Fury

Sure, why not? My own personal thoughts are that TSatF has one insanely great section, while the first section is incomprehensible gobbledygook, and the latter sections with Jason ranting on and on are kinda boring.

Anonymous said...

"But then, I don't find The Great Gatsby (published 1925) as a novel to be all that great. So, it's reputation gets inflated by American patriotism and by its being on all the high school reading lists."

I suspect that a lot of this is down to expectations. The Americans I know hatehatehatehatehate it, except for some decidedly odd exceptions, because of having to have read it in High School, and never being allowed to criticise it, and having to analyse it to death as part of the All Hallowed Canon. No book could possibly live up to those kinds of expectations. Very few can survive that kind of joyless slog.

(As an aside, how much of the dumbing down of verbal education, demographics aside, was people who already had high verbal IQs trying to avoid provoking an alergic reaction to great literature? After all, they were going to read those books anyway, at least in the first generation or so. Why suck the joy out of it? Who on Earth could possibly think that most people wouldn't bother unless their teachers forced them to? Preposterous!)

I, however, read it because Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer" made it sound interesting, and I had some spare time. I've always had an innate snobbery about Americans' inferior writing, and wasn't expecting to even like it enough to finish it. And I was blown away. It's amazing. And a lot of that is down to the fact that there was no way it could live down to my expectations.

By the way, how much of Steve's love of English literature is ethnic showboating?

vinteuil said...

OK, well, if Steve thinks that The Great Gatsby ranks with the four or five best by Waugh, I guess I'd better put it on my reading list.

But, if I understand correctly, Steve doesn't number the *Sword of Honor* novels among Waugh's "four or five best" - which leaves me scratching my head in puzzlement. I mean, there's *Scoop* & *Black Mischief* - that goes without saying - but what else could he possibly have in mind?

Anonymous said...

"I also don't buy the 'Gatsby was Jewish' reading. The tensions have always seemed to me more regional/class-based than ethnic."

I think the question of "Is Gatsby Jewish or not" is less interesting than whether Fitzgerald may have been inspired the Jewish-American presence in the creation of Gatsby, i.e. even if Gatsby isn't Jewish, was his characterization colored by Fitzgerald's reading of Jewish-Americanism?
Oftentimes, a character may not be what he was inspired by. Consider that some pro-interracial films in the 1950s focused on white man and Indian love story when what was really on the minds of most Americans was the problem of white/black sexual relationships. So, Indians as love objects may actually have been inspired by blacks.

Fitzby must have noticed something odd in the first half of the 20th century. At the top of the social ladder were the Wasp elites, and so, naturally next in line for social climbing should have been well-to-do wasps ranging from upper middle class to middle class. And yet... it wasn't easy for most middle class wasps to break into the top... and yet... some Jews were moving up the ladder very fast, indeed even more dramatically than middle class wasps in certain regions and fields. So, there were rich wasps on top, middle wasps in the middle, and poor immigrants on the bottom... except that Jewish immigrant types--at least some of them--seem to bypass the middle-class strata and shoot directly to the top, especially in the music industry, Hollywood(where floor sweepers might become movie moguls), music industry, Broadway, banking, media, and etc.

It was as if middle class wasps were playing by the rules and waiting their turn--with a mix of patience and impatience--whereas some Jews were literally going from rags to riches.

So, I think Fitz's feelings about Jews were both 'antisemitic' and 'philosemitic'. He resented their rapid rise and bypassing middle class-ism on the path to success and power. And yet, he was excited by them because they seemed so adept and energetic in breaking into the upper strata. And yet, even with all their fortunes and pretensions, they were excluded from the inner sanctum of respectability.

So, Gatsby, even if not Jewish, is somewhat Jewishy in his rapid rise to fortune, and there is every indication that he colluded with Jewish gangsters. He did what he had to do, just like Rothstein the Jew in CASINO worked with the Italian Mob to do what he had to do. So, there's a love/hate thing or respect/revulsion thing. (Obama too worked with Jews to rapidly rise to power, though he is a totally cynical operator himself toying with the 'innocence' of Americans that can so easily be corrupted.)

But where Gatsby is different from guys like Schlom is that, despite all his compromises, there is something pure and innocent about him, which makes him both more sympathetic and more pathetic. Jewish gangsters did it for money, power, the tribe, and the broads. He did it for his dream of love. He has his own opium pipe, like Noodles in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Like Warren Beatty in MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, he is, deep down inside, a romantic who will die for love even if he has to give up everything, except that his dream of love is essentially a delusion.

But maybe it's too simple to caricature the Jew as the moneygrubber since Fitzgerald admired Irving Thalberg(the inspiration for his last unfinished novel) who wasn't just a moneygrubbing movie mogul but a tragic romantic in his own right.
Or maybe, just as Fitz grafted Jewish characteristics onto the wasp Gatsby, he projected his own dreaminess onto Thalberg.


Anonymous said...

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt an element of voyeurism in GG that made it immensely appealing. We all passed by highrises and fancy hotels for the rich and wondered 'what's it like inside?', 'how do the rich live?' and etc.

If the story of GG just began in the rich folks' world, it wouldn't have been as enticing as our access to the rich world would be a given.

But with the character of Nick, we first begin and identify with an outsider who, like us, don't have the key to this world. He can only watch from the outside. So, when he enters, we enter with him, and we feel a rush of excitement. Same kind of narrative logic is at work in works like BARRY LYNDON, THE SHINING, and EYES WIDE SHUT. The thrill of the outsider making it inside.

The tragicomedy of Gatsby is that even as he can afford to invite and entertain the insiders, his insiderness is only a facade, and so, he has to be careful to hide the real him since the real him as a businessman is a wheeler-dealer who did some bad shit to reap lots of bucks real fast. So, he maintains a mysterious aura about himself, rather like Mr. Arkadin of Welles film. (In some ways, he's even more of an outsider than Carraway is. He bought his way in. He's nouveau riche, has no pedigree, and his background is murky. Because he's surrounded by this aura and myth he created for others, he appreciates Nick as the one person he can be relatively 'true' with. A similar kind of relationship develops between Idi Amin and the white guy in LAST KING OF SCOTLAND.)
But even as Gatsby, like Arkadin(or Harry Lime in THIRD MAN), surely pulled some bad shit to become rich, he's not a real predator but herbivore who played at predator to live his dream of love with Daisy.
Perhaps, what with out celebrity culture of nobodies becoming somebodies through compromise, corruption, and/or crassness and yet maintaining their self-image of integrity and purity, GG still speaks to us.
Think of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, two very corrupt characters who were, on some level, innocent children at heart still believing in fairytales and living their version of them that they were able to afford with all the money they made through utter crassness.

And there's an Gatsbian aspect to the Ayn Rand cult. On the face of it, Rand was a cold-eyed and brutal objectivist rationalist, but her novels have captivated so many suckers into believing that they too could become the Howard Roaks or John Galts of the world. Rand's 'objectivity' was really a shill for selling the dream, and on that level, was no less illusory than the promises of Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard.

Marlowe said...

A negro appeared, switched on a string of small lights under the awning, and began setting the wicker table for supper. And while they ate cold sliced chicken, salad, artichokes and strawberry jam from the plentiful larder below, Carlyle began to talk, hesitatingly at first, but eagerly as he saw she was interested. Ardita scarcely touched her food as she watched his dark young face—handsome, ironic faintly ineffectual.

He began life as a poor kid in a Tennessee town, he said, so poor that his people were the only white family in their street. He never remembered any white children—but there were inevitably a dozen pickaninnies streaming in his trail, passionate admirers whom he kept in tow by the vividness of his imagination and the amount of trouble he was always getting them in and out of. And it seemed that this association diverted a rather unusual musical gift into a strange channel.

There had been a colored woman named Belle Pope Calhoun who played the piano at parties given for white children—nice white children that would have passed Curtis Carlyle with a sniff. But the ragged little "poh white" used to sit beside her piano by the hour and try to get in an alto with one of those kazoos that boys hum through. Before he was thirteen he was picking up a living teasing ragtime out of a battered violin in little cafés round Nashville. Eight years later the ragtime craze hit the country, and he took six darkies on the Orpheum circuit. Five of them were boys he had grown up with; the other was the little mulatto, Babe Divine, who was a wharf nAgger round New York, and long before that a plantation hand in Bermuda, until he stuck an eight-inch stiletto in his master's back. Almost before Carlyle realized his good fortune he was on Broadway, with offers of engagements on all sides, and more money than he had ever dreamed of.

It was about then that a change began in his whole attitude, a rather curious, embittering change. It was when he realized that he was spending the golden years of his life gibbering round a stage with a lot of black men. His act was good of its kind—three trombones, three saxaphones, and Carlyle's flute—and it was his own peculiar sense of rhythm that made all the difference; but he began to grow strangely sensitive about it, began to hate the thought of appearing, dreaded it from day to day.

They were making money—each contract he signed called for more—but when he went to managers and told them that he wanted to separate from his sextet and go on as a regular pianist, they laughed at him and told him he was crazy—it would be an artistic suicide. He used to laugh afterward at the phrase "artistic suicide." They all used it.

Half a dozen times they played at private dances at three thousand dollars a night, and it seemed as if these crystallized all his distaste for his mode of livelihood. They took place in clubs and houses that he couldn't have gone into in the daytime. After all, he was merely playing to rôle of the eternal monkey, a sort of sublimated chorus man. He was sick of the very smell of the theatre, of powder and rouge and the chatter of the greenroom, and the patronizing approval of the boxes. He couldn't put his heart into it any more. The idea of a slow approach to the luxury of leisure drove him wild. He was, of course, progressing toward it, but, like a child, eating his ice-cream so slowly that he couldn't taste it at all.
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Offshore Pirate"

Anonymous said...

GG is appealing to many for its treatment of the paradoxical nature of the relationship between innocence and corruption.
This goes back to the story of the Genesis where Adam and Eve are without sin and purely innocent. Yet, it is because they are so pure and innocent that they mindlessly fall to the smoke-and-mirrors trick of the Serpent. God wants us to be pure and innocent, but purity and innocence makes us vulnerable to corruption. We know that it's easier to corrupt children as children can be made to believe anything. Just look at the infantilized adults on the Oprah Christmas show. Obama is a thoroughly corrupt figure but he, with the help of powerful Jews, exploited the innocence of white Americans who still dream of the mountain sized Negro who loves a little white mouse. Corrupt media sold us the 'innocent' story of a black child--a child!!!!--being killed by a 'white hispanic' redneck.

The story of Sin begins in the Bible with the Forbidden Fruit. One of the Founding Fathers was used to spin another story of sin, albeit sin redeemed. The biographer of Washington replaced the Tree of Forbidden Knowledge with the Cherry Tree, one which Washington as innocent child chopped down. But unlike Adam and Eve who hid and lied when God asked what the hell happened, Washington the boy didn't lie to his father but told the truth. It was as if the founding of America finally broke the spell of the original sin, especially as the first president was a man who couldn't tell a lie. Well, except that the story itself was a lie.

But the theme of sin redeemed and innocence restored has been a mainstay of American life. Since the ideals of the newly found republic were so shining and lofty, Americans could be amnesiac of what really happened in the Revolutionary War and feel redeemed by victory and a new beginning. There is an element of that in Gatsby, a willfully amnesiac character who thinks that his pure love for Daisy will somehow wash away the sin of whatever he'd done. But only through corruption could he have hoped to gain the means and position to win Daisy's love, and so, the whole thing is self-defeating. He hopes corruption will wash itself away since the end goal of his corruption is a kind of idealized form of fantasy love.

Corleones and Rothstein too seek to gain legitimacy and 'wash away their sins' through sin, which is like trying to wash blood off one's hands with blood.

Anonymous said...

Though Isabel Archer in PORTRAIT OF A LADY isn't exactly innocent, she too raises some questions about the blindspots of the American nature. British men find her forthright and straightforward, honest and true, a woman who sees the world for what it is. And it is because of this that her cousin tells his pa to leave her a good sum of money. A woman so true would seem to be the prime candidate to use that money to fulfill her dreams and live the life she really should.

Except that it's her very forthright sense of confidence that makes her fall for the con of the century and impervious to the advice of others. Because she's so true, she thinks she can see the truth as it is, but some things are so shady, only eyes attuned to the dark can see them.

Archer is very different from Gatsby, but they have something in common in their utter self-delusion.
Well, at least Archer, like Pip in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, breaks out of the illusion. Gatsby dies before doing so, but even had he lived, would he have ever done so? It's doubtful.

Anonymous said...

"Everybody today expresses gleeful hatred toward the (rather poorly) delineated polo playing bad guy Tom Buchanan, a predecessor for Billy Zane's Anglo-villain in Titanic. Early on, Tom endorses the book The Rise of the Colored Empires by a cross between Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard."

What is Tom Buchanan supposed to stand for? On the one hand, he seems to be hated for being this snobby, privileged, and arrogant rich jerk. And yet, 'Buchanan' reeks of Scotch-Irishness, suggesting he isn't wasp-wasp but a kind of rich redneck hillbilly.
Also, it seems as though Buchanan's main offense isn't so much is 'racism' and 'sexism' but his bad manners. So, progressives hate him not so much for being a snob but a slob. After all, truly classy people have finer ways of conveying their privilege, bigotry, bias, and snobbery. This is why we don't really hate the old man in LOVE STORY. We know he's a snob but he has manners, very good ones at that, and so we forgive him at the end. But Buchanan is vulgar in the way he talks about race, fools around with women, and etc. It's like NY elite liberals and elite conservatives have their own snobberies and bigotries--yes they do!!--, but they know how to hide it and put on the nice act. Rich people are supposed to be finer, not uncouth. Buchanan is uncouth, rather like a lower class public university frat boy. So, there is an irony about the liberal hatred for Buchanan. Ostensibly, it's about hatred for the rich snobby guy, but it's really disdain for someone with the manners of Rush Limbaugh who came from humble background.

Maybe Fitz meant Buchanan to be a kind of an over-eager Scot-Irish member of the upper class who felt somewhat inferior to the true Anglo-Wasp elites. So, to parade his credentials as a member of the upper club, he goes out of his way to crudely yammer about the colored races and such. While many others of his race may have read the same book and agree with him, they are more discreet about discussing such matters and don't want that stuff aired too gruffly. But Buchanan doesn't really get it. He can be charming when he wants to be, but deep down inside, he has the sensibility of a lowborn boor. He kinda reminds us of Royce Kane.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't disagree more with your assessment of Fitzgerald. Both James Joyce and T.S. Eliot regarded it highly. IIRC, Joyce even considered it a masterpiece. However, IMO, Tender is the Night is even better. There's a letter in which Hemingway writes back to Fitzgerald giving his assessment of TITN and completely trashes it. Fitzgerald, who idolized Hemingway and was reaching his low point, was crushed. Meanwhile, in the American novel wars of the first half of the century, Fitz will always be ledge above Hem. Though Hem's short stories are the best written by any American ever.

Anonymous said...

I think the other great appeal of GG has been its generationalism(and this goes for A SUN ALSO RISES too).
Though there had been earlier books about 'our generation', Fitz and Hemingway were among the first who worked in the mode of 'spokesman of the generation' who made a DEFINING/DEFINITIVE statement of zeitgeist in terms of the dreams, hopes, illusions and disillusionment.

Part of the reason was the rise of mass culture and the rapid change of fashions that set apart one generation from the other. The Jazz Age was perhaps the first period when a form of youth culture took hold of the culture scene--though it took few more decades for teenagers to form their own youth identity. The core cultural demographic of the Jazz Age were people in their 20s and 30s, but they felt different from earlier generations. They felt more urban, more hip, looser, more stylish, more free, more liberated. WWI had destroyed the old world in Europe, and technology of radio and automobiles had transformed America. Women dressed like men and felt free behind the wheels. In earlier times, women got married early and raised families, and we can see something like this in the movie LIFE WITH FATHER. (Oddly enough, Gatsby, for all his daring to be rich in the new modern world, is old-fashioned in his love for Daisy who too is rather old-fashioned, at least when compared with other female characters in the novel.)

But 'lost generation' of the 1920s felt uprooted from old certainties and felt both confused and liberated. And GREAT GATSBY is a novel of a generation(defined by its youth and dreamy excitement), and it set the template for others to come. Indeed, our culture seeks, hypes, and even tries to fabricate the work that supposedly sums up the generation, speaks for the generation, and identifies the dreams and delusions of the generation, even though movies have been generating more excitement than books in the past several decades. The movie that summed up the 60s generation was BLOW UP and GRADUATE. True of Europe too. Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA and Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA spoke to the generational problems of postwar Europeans who were searching for meaning in the new order of things.

LESS THAN ZERO and BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY, books and movies, were hyped as the Gatsby of the 80s.
And indeed if the current version of GATSBY is a success for any reason, it may be cuz it at least understands the generational content of GATSBY, i.e. the movie was updated to make it relevant to the current generation. It feels like thrills-here-and-now than a nostalgic look at the past, which is what the 70s version dwelt on. When the book first came out, it was about NOW, not about BACK THEN. Perhaps, one of the misfortunes of GG is it has gathered dust with its 'classic' status, when its true strength comes through only when we read it with a sense of immediacy of an account of the 'here and now' during the fast and furious Jazz Age.

Anonymous said...

And yet, what is strange about GG is that even as the story is so much about the 'here and now', there is a sense of the pull of the past, as the rich young folks not only indulge in the pleasures of the present but feed on the respectable pedigree of the past. Thus, the world of the book has both the feel of a Jazz club and a museum.

And this tension between the 'here and now' and lineage-and-continuity can also be found in the works of Whit Stillman, making him perhaps the Fitzgerald of our era. METROPOLITAN feels like the 20s, the 60s(when it's set), and the 80s(when it was made). LAST DAYS OF DISCO feels like the 1920s and the 1970s. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS begins like it's set in the 50s or early 60s but then we learn it's happening in the late 90s or early 2000s.

I think perhaps the popularity of TWILIGHT also has to do with this sense of time melding. Edward and Rosalie are from the 1910s and Alice Cullen is from the Jazz Age. And yet the story is taking place in the 2000s. It's so here-and-now(and it's been a generation defining moment, which I envy for my generation got stuck with the inane highschool movies of John Hughes), yet also 'classicly' linked to the mythic past. And there is the chemistry between innocence and corruption as the Cullens are monsters with a saintly side.

Alice Cullen herself is Jazz Age incarnate in the wedding scene in BREAKING DAWN PT 1.

Dave Pinsen said...

I wouldn't put The Sound And The Fury on any list of great American novels, because even most educated readers wouldn't be willing to slog through it. A great novel should, among other attributes, be a compelling read. Some classics are (e.g., Madame Bovary). Others (Infinite Jest) everyone praises, few buy, and fewer still read. Franzen wrote an essay railing against such punishing novels before writing The Corrections.

Another book I'd add for consideration is Galatea 2.2, by Richard Powers.

Incidentally, I just started reading The Coup, after seeing Steve mention it here. First Updike I've read since the first rabbit book, which didn't grab me. But Updike's prose in The Coup is like poetry, only good. What a stylist. At the sentence level, does anybody write better than Updike? I'm having a hard time thinking of an example at the moment.

Dave Pinsen said...

" Though Hem's short stories are the best written by any American ever."

Pick up The Pugilist At Rest by Thom Jones and see what you think.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w8jK9IJBnc

Sarris and Rose.

Cail Corishev said...

[Twilight is] so here-and-now(and it's been a generation defining moment, which I envy for my generation got stuck with the inane highschool movies of John Hughes)

Wait, back up -- did you just rank those glittery vampire movies ahead of Ferris Bueller, Weird Science and Sixteen Candles?

I'm going to have to just sit back for a while to take in the audacity of that statement.

Anonymous said...

mountain sized Negro who loves a little white mouse

A mountain-sized SURROGATE JESUS Negro who loves a little white mouse, and who's initials happen to be J.C.

Anonymous said...

Of course, one great appeal of GG is that it's pure fantasy, at least the part about GG's great wealth.

I mean do you know of anyone in history who reaped huge fortunes in the world of crime and shady dealings... just to win the lovey-dovey admiration of a woman?
It's as if Fitzgerald grafted his moody, dreamy, romantic self onto the fantasy figure of a man with the means to become stinking rich.

Gatsby is so moody, withdrawn, and private that one wonders how he got so rich so fast? I mean it takes Tony Montana balls, Michael Corleone steeliness, Gordon Gekko ruthlessness, or Zuckerberg weasliness to make it to the top.
One could argue that Gatsby was tough as 'businessman' but softy-wofty as dreamer, but it's too much of a stretch. He seems too 'out of it' and immersed in his dream world to have done anything really big in reality.
So, he works as a fantasy figure... and we all love fantasies.
Of course, Tony Montana is a fantasy figure too, as I highly doubt if any immigrant drug dealer rose so high and so fast, but at least we can see the connection between his drive and his victories.
Gatsby never seems to have any drive, and we can't imagine how he could have had any in the past.

Maybe Gatsby got rich by allowing Jews to use him as a front. He has the right kind of looks and could be charming. He was their shabbat goy, and he played his part(like the good-looking goy boys in QUIZ SHOW and BROADCAST NEWS to draw in the audience), lending a wasp facade to Jewish dealings.

Jews made a fortune but he got his share too, just like Clinton made Wall Street rich with deregulation and in turn made his own fortune, and Obama is poised to make more simply by giving speeches. He 'bailed out' Wall Street, Jews promoted and protected him--and used his 'nice negro' image--, and Jews made billions and Obama will make millions.

So, maybe Gatsby is relevant on that level too. He sold his goy image to the Jews to use. He got well-paid and got a share of the pie, but he was never part of the real action. He has a real heart but a mask for a face.

TheLRC said...

Thursday and Dave, I agree The Sound and the Fury is initially hard going. But then what about Ulysses, regularly ranked as the best novel of all? It's like that from end to end (and yes, I did read the whole blessed thing as an undergrad).

The beauty of The Sound and the Fury is that if you stick with it, there is resolution. I found that all my confusion about what the hell was going on ended, just like that, in one flash of insight. As I said upthread, I've never had a reading experience quite like it. It was like watching The Sixth Sense, but on the plane of high art.

Did Faulkner intend for the book to 'work' this way? Don't know; doubt it, maybe. Would everyone reading it have this same reaction? Probably not, but it sure worked for me.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose THE NATURAL was meant as a kind of redemptive addendum to GREAT GATSY? Gatsby is 'seduced' by the false dream of a woman and gets shot to death as a young man.
The guy in THE NATURAL is also misled by a woman and shot too as a young man but he somehow survives, 'rises from the dead', and makes a comeback in the dreamfield of the American pastime.

Mary Charlotte said...

"ANNE OF GREEN GABLES"

Canadian. Obviously you are unfamiliar with the story. It was heavily influenced by "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" though, an American girl growing up a few hundred miles to the South. There was a very interesting article about how in Rebecca, politics and identifying strongly as an American with a special desitny was profound even to rural girls. In Anne, however, politics and national identity play hardly any role. Anne, one feels, could have been either.

Dave Pinsen said...

"But then what about Ulysses, regularly ranked as the best novel of all?"

Not by me. It doesn't deserve to be. Franzen's point was that a great novel should be good too, and he put his money where his mouth was and wrote one that was both.

Anonymous said...

Dick?

http://www.octobot.net/library/Dick,%20Philip%20K/Dick,%20Philip%20K%20-%20The%20Shifting%20Realities%20of%20PK%20Dick.pdf

http://www.alphane.com/moon/index.html?gitt.htm

SFG said...

"I have Solzhenitsyn's 1914 at my bedside. I can't read the damned thing: Sergei's coal black eyes squinted at the pastel blue sky as he... - just state your friggin' point in 200 words or less for Petrov's sake."

He's Russian. They write long books. There are worse things.

Anonymous said...

My father tried to talk me out of Faulkner, the Sound and the Fury especially. But while I admit it was difficult reading at first--Faulkner putting Benji's section at the beginning is cruel--it pays off in the end. Faulkner gives these people breath and life and does it so subtlty that once you start to feel their tragedy, you realize it's already deep in you. I still get sad when I think about that book. I remember getting in an argument with a British visiting professor in college who insisted that Faulkner was nothing but a racist. What I should have said, and what I would say now, 25 years hence, "And?"

P.S. Dave Pinson, I will look up that short story and read it!

Notchean

Anonymous said...

Two works by John Guare play on Gatsbyism.

ATLANTIC CITY and SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION(OR REPARATION).

Both films are about con men who are redeemed by the fact that they believe in their own con, so it's not just a con but a dream, a faith.

The old man in ATLANTIC CITY is a bullshitter but so desperately in need to believe in his own bullshit, and in this way, he shares Gatsby's 'innocence'.

The homo black guy in SIX DEGREES is a bullshit artist but, as the rich white woman(Stockard Channing) says at the end, he conned people because he really believed in the dream of privilege. He wanted so much to be part of the better world. He didn't just do it for money but because he fell truly in love with the world of the cultured life.

A kind of hooker with a heart of gold in the Gatsby universe. Also in RISKY BUSINESS.
Gatsby the whore who sold his soul for money... but for the love of a woman... which redeems him.

I guess 'dreams from my pa' sort of plays on that theme. It's like we know obammer is a total bullshitter but he supposedly believes so much in his own myth that we should all be his nick carraway and get carried away.
Shoot me.

We need Slats Grobnik and friends as a corrective. Slatsby please.
Royko was a great bullshit detector.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Of course, one great appeal of GG is that it's pure fantasy, at least the part about GG's great wealth."

I had always assumed that Gatsby had enough money to appear wealthy, but not enought to actually be wealthy. Perhaps he got lucky with one big score and the rest was on credit.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

You have more patience than I do, Steve. I started watching TGG on an airline flight only to turn it off as soon as the rap came on (maybe 2-5 minutes into it?). A 1920s period piece should not have rap, uh, period."

Rap belongs nowhere. It is garbage.

Oddly enough - or perhaps not so - I think that a lot of music from the 70s would perfectly fit "The Great Gatsby": "Nights on Broadway" by the Bee Gees and "Rock Your Baby", for example. For some reason, those songs always had a very 20s vibe for me.

Anonymous said...

The girl looks like Fatty Arbuckle.

Anonymous said...

Gats

Nuts

Anonymous said...

"Rap belongs nowhere. It is garbage."

It's pomo gatsby.

Anonymous said...

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/us-wants-more-international-leadership-from-germany-after-election-a-918276.html

'wants more leadership' is euphemism for 'do as we tell them' or 'follow our lead'.

Anonymous said...

"Rap belongs nowhere. It is garbage."

Rap may be the 'Jazz' of our era.
But Rap Age doesn't sound right.

Percy Gryce said...

Steve's framing-story suggestion sounds a bit like an Americanized version of Brideshead. And, therefore, like a good suggestion.

Anonymous said...

http://www.flashlightworthybooks.com/Norman-Mailers-10-Favorite-American-Novels/430

Anonymous said...

Fruitboy(I think) on Gay Gatsby.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mId34ZoOilA

Parallel with Batkid?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRlbV8tNILg

Money money

Anonymous said...

Heaven Can Wait is a bit Gatsbyian.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a movie that almost beats Jeanne Dielmann as the worst crap of all time. Gatsby made in the hysterical style of Avatar and MTV ... and video games. Grand Theft Gatsby.
Makes Ken Russell and Terry Gilliam look like reserved minimalists.

Usually when excessive directors go for broke, they hit some of the targets... like Fellini with his later circus freak shows. But Blaz Luridmann manages to miss everything. I suppose a kind of dubious perfection of getting straight F's.

Looks to me Luridman sees himself as the new Murnau. But one was a poet, the other is a pisspot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFJtblnLX1s

Von Trier has competition in the worst filmmaker category.

Imagine young people reading Gatsby for the first time with images/sounds from this crap tossing inside their ipod-minds.