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The black Gatsby

Tuesday, 25 August, 2015

The gay editor Aaron Hicklin asked a group of people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and national correspondent for the Atlantic, began his list with The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. “Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read,” he says of it. Next is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I’m a sucker for efficiency. This book gets so much out of what is, ultimately, a rather slim story. I adore it,” writes Coates.

A rather slim story? Is he talking about length or bulk? At 180 pages, Gatsby is compact, but it’s still bigger than Between the World and Me, the latest Coates book, which weighs in at a slender 152 pages. Although Coates is no Fitzgerald (his writing is too unwieldy), he does offer an occasional flash of Fitzgerald-like sparkle: “The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments. It is the last bottle of wine you have just uncorked but have not time to drink.”

Gatsby And now, the real thing: “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.” Does this passage suggest that Fitzgerald was an early advocate of #BlackLivesMatter or just another shill for white privilege? According to The Uppity Negro, aka Joshua L. Lazard, the Gatsby masterpiece is an embodiment of American Blackness and Baz Luhrmann’s recent film of the novel, thanks to “hip hop music set in a story from the 1920s”, brings to the surface what had been hidden. The story of Jay Gatsby — “a man who didn’t fit in the society that he claimed and so desperately wanted to join” — is the story of black America. Snippet:

“Even when he had entrée, and actually created his own entrée, he was a lonely man surrounded by hundreds; he was alone at his own party. The blackness of it was that he was in and of himself a ‘second America’ created because of the forces of the society that dictated what success was and his struggle to obtain it. He was met with the existential question that Black America faces today: now that I have it, what do I do with it? Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but as the parties ended, Gatsby fired his waitstaff, New York was plunged into a post Gatsby era, and for many as Obama has ascended to the presidency, twice now, the phrase post racial constantly gets thrown around careless like a champagne bottle at a mansion party in West Egg.”

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, as Robert Browning said. Thursday, here, in keeping with our times, the gay Gatsby and the feminist Gatsby. Tomorrow, Gatsby and robotics. Honestly.


Comments (1)

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  1. Henry Barth says:

    Why is it necessary to refer to this man’s sexual preferences as his identity?

    “The gay editor Aaron Hicklin…”

    When cisgender (the newest meme term) people are quoted in the ‘gay’ press, are they identified as “The straight editor…”

    The (presumably) straight bloggist Eamonn Fitzgerald.

    Apologies if you meant ‘gay editor’ in the sense of “brightly coloured, vivid, brilliant, rich, vibrant, richly coloured, many-coloured.”