Tag: Gatsby

Clive James on Fitzgerald: the style was the man

Wednesday, 29 August, 2018

It’s always instructive to dip into Cultural Amnesia, Clive James’ magisterial book of biographical essays. For those who have not yet purchased this essential volume, here’s a brief review: James has managed to construct a book that contains gems of brilliance on each of its 856 pages. Here, his commentary on Gatsby (page 219): “Fitzgerald’s prose style can be called ravishing because it brings anguish with its enchantment. He always wrote that way, even when, by his own standards, he could as yet hardly write at all. He could still write that way when death was at his shoulder. He wrote that way because he was that way: the style was the man.”

Fitzgerald style

Tomorrow, here, Haruki Murakami translates The Great Gatsby into Japanese.


Trump, NATO, Gatsby and Montenegro

Saturday, 21 July, 2018

US President Donald Trump raised eyebrows in an interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News earlier this week. “Why send our kids to fight in exotic foreign lands?” was the tenor of Carlson’s question. Specifically: “Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that’s attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?”

Trump’s response: “I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people… They’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations you’re in World War III.”

Naturally, all those suffering from TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) viewed this answer as an attack on the very essence of NATO and a complete misunderstanding of the alliance and its role in the world. Others, a minority, it has to be said, saw in the president’s answer a deep understanding of international conflict and a nuanced appreciation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. In Chapter IV, Gatsby speaks about the horrors of war and… Montenegro:

“In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major, and every Allied government gave me a decoration — even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!”

Montenegrin medal Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them — with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines

He reached in his pocket, and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.

“That’s the one from Montenegro.”

To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look

“Orderi di Danilo,” ran the circular legend, “Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.”

“Turn it.”

“Major Jay Gatsby,” I read, “For Valour Extraordinary.”


Gems of brilliance

Saturday, 26 August, 2017 0 Comments

Although it’s a decade old now, Cultural Amnesia by Clive James remains a magisterial work. Each of its 856 pages is studded with germs. Here’s one about Gatsby:

“Fitzgerald’s prose style can be called ravishing because it brings anguish with its enchantment. He always wrote that way, even when, by his own standards, he could as yet hardly write at all. He could still write that way when death was at his shoulder. He wrote that way because he was that way: the style was the man.” (page 219)

And with that, we end this year’s re-reading of The Great Gatsby, a novel that shines more brilliantly with each passing year. Here’s to August 2018 and the next re-reading.

It would be a pity to leave Cultural Amnesia without adding a few more of those Jamesian gems. Here, then, are three for the road to East Egg:

Russian Marxism: “Bukharin counted as a thinker among the old Bolsheviks because he could make a general statement about the connection of music to economics: nobody would be able to play the piano, he pointed out, if there were no pianos.” (page 355)

Chinese Marxism: “Mao had so organized his colossal abattoir of a state that information rarely travelled further than a scream could be heard. But that was inside China. Outside China, the story went everywhere, and there was never any excuse for not hearing it. The idea that there was is part of the lie — the part fated, it seems, to last longest.” (page 459)

Finally, the great man himself: “It has to be remembered that the typical Polish writer was Bruno Schulz. But for that to be remembered, Bruno Schulz has to be remembered, and the main reason he was so easily forgotten is that a Gestapo officer blew his brains out.” — Clive James


Trump is Jay Gatsby

Friday, 28 August, 2015 1 Comment

The average working American has seen her standard of living stagnate during the Obama years and despite having a job and despite reports of impressive growth doesn’t feel confident about the economy. The presidential candidate who appeals most to this disaffected worker/voter is the spectacularly wealthy Donald Trump. He is leveraging the blue-collar anxiety, which used to be Bruce Springsteen’s songbook, into a campaign that terrifies the chattering class.

On 14 August, Conor Friedersdorf, a writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs, wrote a letter to Donald Trump supporters with One Big Question: “If you elect the billionaire, what makes you think that he will use whatever talents that he possesses to address your grievances rather than to benefit himself?” On 17 August, Friedersdorf published 30 of the responses. Given that this is Gatsby week at Rainy Day, here’s one that caught our eye:

Gatsby“Donald Trump personifies a modern-day, extremely brash Jay Gatsby, clawing feverishly for that elusive ‘green light’ at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s beckoning dock. Is it not better to place your chips on hopes and dreams rather than certain nightmares? Those of us who buy into Trump’s vision, nearly to the point of blind trust, are loudly professing our disgust with the current immoral situations that taint and threaten our blueprint of the American dream:

  • A world in which police are reluctant to protect citizens (and themselves) for fear of reprimands and indictments
  • An atmosphere in which politicians are ridiculed for uttering the simple truth
  • A media more concerned with those nauseating, idiotic Kardashians than with the welfare of its heroic war veterans

Carraway further states: “…Gatsby turned out all right in the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams, that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and the short-winded elations of men.” The ‘foul dust’ floating in the wake of Trump’s dreams consists of a biased, unfair, unimaginative media and his fellow dull, donor-driven candidates. But Mr. Trump, as Nick said to Jay Gatsby: ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together!'”

Thanks for your attention this week. More Gatsby next August.


Gay Gatsby, patriarchal Gatsby

Thursday, 27 August, 2015 1 Comment

All’s fair in love and (gender) war. Back in 2013, Greg Olear argued in Salon that Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, is gay and in love with the novel’s eponymous hero. In the absence of any concrete evidence, Olear bases his case on the fact that Nick is aged 25/26 and still single. This is “exactly the profile of a (closeted) gay young man in a prominent Middle Western family in 1922,” he claims, triumphantly. When Nick meets Gatsby for the first time we get, according to Olear, a scene from a potential Fifty Shades of Gay:

“He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you might come across four or five times in your life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

Gatsby Olear could be right, or a brilliant smile might just be that, a brilliant smile made all the more radiant by Fitzgerald’s poetic prose. Meanwhile, Soheila Pirhadi Tavandashti offers A Feminist Reading of the Great Gatsby. The problem with Fitzgerald’s book seems to be that it is narrated by a man and is lacking in clever, liberated women voicing their own experiences. Snippet:

“The novel abounds in minor female characters whose dress and activities identify them as incarnations of the New Woman, and they are portrayed as clones of a single, negative character type: shallow, exhibitionist, revolting, and deceitful. For example, at Gatsby’s parties we see insincere, ‘enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names,’ as well as numerous narcissistic attention-seekers in various stages of drunken hysteria. We meet, for example, a young woman who ‘dumps’ down a cocktail ‘for courage’ and ‘dances out alone on the canvass to perform’; ‘a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter’; …a drunken young girl who has her ‘head stuck in the pool’ to stop her from screaming; and two drunken young wives who refuse to leave the party until their husbands, tired of the women’s verbal abuse, ‘lifted [them] kicking into the night.'”

Tomorrow, here, Gatsby and Donald Trump.


Gatsby and the robots

Wednesday, 26 August, 2015 0 Comments

“Belief in ‘the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us,’ as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, is a characteristic American trait.” So writes the seasoned pundit as he prepares his readers for a think pieces on… robots. Watch now how he deploys Gatsby:

“Is a yet more orgiastic future beckoning? Today’s Gatsbys have no doubt that the answer is yes: humanity stands on the verge of breakthroughs in information technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence that will dwarf what has been achieved in the past two centuries. Human beings will be able to live still more like gods because they are about to create machines like gods: not just strong and swift but also supremely intelligent and even self-creating.”

Gatsby But just in case the tech-optimism gets out of hand, our pundit reaches for Mary Shelley, creator of “the cautionary tale of Frankenstein”. Intelligent machines have a scary side and this could herald “great dangers,” such as “soaring unemployment and inequality.” Is this, then, our destiny? “The answer is no.” Hawking, Musk and Gates may be sounding the alarm bells but, “What we know for the moment is that there is nothing extraordinary in the changes we are now experiencing. We have been here before and on a much larger scale.”

Bottom line: “The future does not have to be a disappointment. But as Gatsby learned, it can all too easily be just that.” All this, and more, can be found in “Same as It Ever Was: Why the Techno-optimists Are Wrong” by Martin Wolf in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs. The article shows how useful Gatsby can be as an inspiration for, well, anything, including robots. The novel never gets tired.

Tomorrow, here, Jay Gatsby is sent to the front lines of the gender wars. Gays and feminists battle it out as they seek deeper meaning between the sheets, er, pages.


The black Gatsby

Tuesday, 25 August, 2015 1 Comment

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.


Gatsby: Sam Guo as James Gatz

Monday, 24 August, 2015 1 Comment

With his vast wealth, James Gatz purchased a lavish mansion on Long Island and proceeded to throw elaborate parties. Those who swam in the rivers of booze during those wild nights at West Egg didn’t know he was born James Gatz, however. To them, he was Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire. Likewise with Kui Zhang Guo, a Chinese businessman who bought a manor for $11.45 million in the upscale Hunters Hill area of Sydney last year. Gatsby He prefers to go by his anglicized name, Sam Guo, writes the Sydney Morning Herald, which begins its story about his fabulous parties thus: “His neighbours have already dubbed him the ‘Chinese Gatsby’, which judging by the largesse in the form of rivers of French champagne and no expense spared parties inside his lavish Hunters Hill mansion, would seem like a fitting nom de plume for Kui Zhang Guo.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved it. The Guo-Gatz symbolism is uncanny and with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting another awful day at the exchanges “as tanking Chinese sharemarkets wipe out the past two years of gains on the local bourse”, the scene is set, perfectly, for our annual reading of The Great Gatsby. Let’s kick off with a passage that reflects the thrill of the party on the edge of the abyss:

“The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word.”

Tomorrow, here, a hot young writer on the enduring greatness of Gatsby.


Gatsby was cool

Friday, 17 April, 2015 0 Comments

By the 1920s, the word “cool” had changed from being associated solely with temperature to a term of appreciation. In 1924, Anna Lee Chisholm recorded Cool Kind Daddy Blues, and Zora Neale Hurston, in her short story The Gilded Six-Bits, wrote of a male character: “And whut make it so cool, he got money ‘cumulated. And womens give it all to ‘im.” When he came to write The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald knew that the alluring masculinity of Gatsby was summed up by “cool”:

“Who wants to go to town?” demanded Daisy insistently.
Gatsby’s eyes floated toward her.
“Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool.”
Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table.
“You always look so cool,” she repeated.
She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. His mouth opened a little and he looked at Gatsby and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as someone he knew a long time ago.”

With this excerpt, our tribute to the 90th anniversary of The Great Gatsby, first published on 10 April 1925, draws to a close. We look forward to 2025 and the centenary of the masterpiece.


The prose poetry of Gatsby

Tuesday, 14 April, 2015 0 Comments

Is there one superfluous word in this passage? Yes, you could cut a few, perhaps, but the result would not be better than the original. Here be the silver pepper of poetry and prose with frogs blown full of life by the bellows of the earth:

“Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone — fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.”

Tomorrow, here, that famous cover by an almost forgotten Catalan artist.


The year of Gatsby

Wednesday, 4 January, 2012

“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all…” The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. With Baz Luhrmann behind the camera and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, this year’s take on the greatest 20th-century novel will have to be seen.

New York City