Gatsby, The Great Gangster and Dreamer
Por Eduardo Zeind Palafox , 15 marzo, 2021
Eduardo Zeind Palafox
Jorge Luis Borges asseverates in scarce, arid lines, that F. S. Fitzgerald, whose vital mission was “to be brave”, represents, more than other authors of the American Jazz Age, the World War I´s post-days (1). The Great Gatsby (2), ergo, is a historic document. H. L. Mencken declares that the Gatsby´s plot is just a “glorified anecdote” developed in “bawdy house parties”, in colorful fallacies that are inhabited by “marionettes”. Such an anecdote is valuable, he affirms, due to “the charm and beauty of the writing”, due to the sentences, which “roll along smoothly, sparklingly, variously” (3). We will test these three adjectives.
On the other hand, Harold Bloom states that Gatsby is a “lyrical novel” (4). Fitzgerald has created a physical fiction (“people made of clay”) disguised of humanity, “an alchemy that metamorphoses wealth into eros”, shiny into spells and people into hedonistic rigs. Those substances, it is true, are marionettes of Jay Gatsby, who is a “gangster and dreamer”. But we must remember that all lyrical dream represents, for the neighbor, the “desolate vision of a world without faith or order”, as Bloom says. We will illustrate the said four Bloom´s propositions. That the anecdote is wondrous owing to the stylization even is accepted by a too diverse author like J. Ward, who claps the constant “new burnings bits of language” (5) of Fitzgerald.
In our last article we said that the literary propagandist puts spots above reality, shows architectonic worldviews, transforms the meanings of words and annihilates the conception of “I”; with the same propositions and objectives we will analyze The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald reduces the American Dream to a maison, to a gam (6) saturated by unknown folk, by chancers. People are, in that place, a mere mass, an animated substance that does not deserve human qualification. Carraway, the narrator, says: “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope” (ch. 1). The expression, in elegant form, massifies the human tribe, and is smooth, as Mencken maintains, because it combines the words “judgments” and “hope”, which result, without rough denotative intentions, in the religious concept of “contemplation”. Carraway, “one of the few guests” (ch. 3), is the narrator and is just a pretext that gives impartiality to the plot. He is between the lyricism of Gatsby and the masses, that is to say that by means of his general vision he composes the novel.
In the book there is no a denotative, architectonic worldview, but a microcosm with universal appearance. Sensualism is the grand rule of the maison. All human perception represents only something singular, accidental, which is an absolute in the nonscientific curiosity. Here, each person is a mere accident derived from the idea of mankind. Or, in Carraway´s words, each person is a speech, “an arrangement of notes that will never be played again” (ch. 1), a fugacious instrument.
The politic and economic form of sensualism is consumerism. Carraway professes that banking and credit knowledge is a box of “shining secrets” (ch. 1). Such an expression is sparkling, as Mencken says, because it conjoins the terms “shining” and “secrets”, which are, according to the common sense, in contradiction. To say that there are “shining secrets” is to say that we are inside a Platonism vault. Consumerism and sensualism, blended in the maisons of Fitzgerald, are an alchemy that transforms, for example, clothes into tears of happiness. There, the human sensory system, like an animal, feeds among matter.
A semantic trick was used by Fitzgerald to implant pantheism, namely: to confuse a psychological adjective, “gaiety”, with a sensorial adjective, “spectroscopic”. There are, in the volume, eloquent lyrical descriptions of gestures and landscapes. The phrase “spectroscopic gaiety” (ch. 3) converts the empirical data into something caliginous and the mind into a blind will. That blind “voluntas” (7) boasts the “urbane distaste for the concrete” (ch. 3). The criminal origin of the parties of Gatsby is unimportant, for example, to Jordan. “Voluntas” and accidents, or in best words, egoistic dreams and crimes are, here, bridges toward happiness. Gatsby is “gangster and dreamer”.
Fitzgerald, finally, annihilates the conception of “I” by means of the “sordid blowing circles of the infernal joys” (8), as a Borges´s poem says. Sensual vice destroys the personality, according to the famous psychedelic experiments and analysis of Huxley, De Quincey and Baudelaire. In the vision of Gatsby, the idea of freedom justifies sensualism and the famous pagan Pauline affirmation (I Cor. 15: 32): “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die”. This verse is a slogan against the conception of destiny.
Carraway indicates the paganism of Gatsby with the next sentence: “ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny” (ch. 6). Such an expression is varied, as Mencken observes, because it combines pagan and animal conceptions within a musical term, “drums”. “Ferocious” comes from the Latin “ferus”, untamed, and, with the word “indifference”, it waves a rare oxymoron. “Drums”, here, is a pattern, necessity. “Necessity” comes from two Latin elements: “ne”, no, and “cedere”, to give. Destiny is, therefore, necessity against a blind animal. The human being, in The Great Gatsby, is not an individual spirit, but a noisy dust without path, without “faith or order”.
The three stilemas that the author has used, are: a) a fight between an oneiric gangster and our vertical society of masses to evoke the classic political disjunctive so-called “Individualism-Democracy”; b) the disdain for the apodeictical, philosophical, ethical certitude by means of the vain aesthetic stylization, whose effect is to establish the dilemma called “Substance-Accident”; c) the false friendship between a chancer and a rigid, historical social structure to indicate the binomial “Fortune-Destiny”.-
(1) See An Introduction to American Literature (Borges and Esther Zamborain de Torres), chapter 11, “The Novel”.
(2) Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2016.
(3) Mencken, H. Louis, The Great Gatsby, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925.
(4) See F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (Harold Bloom), “Introduction”.
(5) Mard, Jesmyn, Jay Gatsby: A Dreamer Doomed to Be Exclude, New York Times, April 12, 2018.
(6) “Gam” is a Yankee expression that signify (Moby Dick, “The Gam”): “A Social meeting of two (or more) Whaleships, generally on a cruising-ground; when, after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats´ crews: the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other”. “Gam” expresses the vulgar democratic spirit of the Gatsby’s parties.
(7) The Latin “Voluntas”, in English “will” and in German “Willens”, comes from the Indo-European root “wel”, desire.
(8) See the Borgesian poem Emmanuel Swedenborg. The original text says: “el remolino sórdido de los goces infernales”.