January 31, 2013

Althouse unfair to F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Midway through my journey of isolating and writing about sentences from "The Great Gatsby," I find myself confronted by one creeley23 — a commenter within the confines of this Althouse blog — who says: "Hmm... rereading the first ten pages of Gatsby I see that Ann is picking klunky, atypical sentences out of the text."

I have chosen things like: "Sometimes a shadow moved against a dressing-room blind above, gave way to another shadow, an indefinite procession of shadows, that rouged and powdered in an invisible glass." And: "A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea."

But, in my defense, I have also chosen: "A breeze stirred the gray haze of Daisy’s fur collar." And: "Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry."

Remember, the original idea was:
What I like [about "The Great Gatsby"] is that each sentence is good, on its own. Seriously. Test it out. "As my train emerged from the tunnel into sunlight, only the hot whistles of the National Biscuit Company broke the simmering hush at noon." Every sentence is a writer's inspiration....

I feel like starting a blog devoted to individual sentences in "The Great Gatsby," chosen randomly, and continuing until all the sentences have been used up.
I didn't start a new blog, obviously, only a daily discipline on this blog. I confess to not proceeding by random selection. But I haven't gone searching for "klunky" sentences. I've flipped around in near-random style, though. I don't use the first thing I see. Opening up Chapter 1 right now, I see  "I told him" and "We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch." These are examples of non-"klunky" sentences that I would reject, but not because I'm gunning for F. Scott. My initial motivation was love. I thought of all the high school students — I remember being one — who were assigned this book and made to read the whole thing. That being the task, the really interesting sentences are speed bumps. They're completely annoying. You can't take the time to figure them out. What should be loved is hated. Later in life, I reread the book and enjoyed it, because of the worthiness of individual sentences.

Here's a way the book could be taught in a high school class. (But maybe they'd fire you!) Class, this is a book with some very weird sentences. Who can find one? Students read individual sentences out loud and the teacher cuts and pastes the sentences, so they are projected on the board. Encourage the students to pull out things that are the most outlandish and impossible to understand. Encourage laughter. Email the list of sentences to the class and have them reply to the email cutting out all but one sentence, the sentence they'd most like to talk about. Quickly read the email and pick a sentence that got a lot of attention. Puzzle through what it might mean with the students so that they appreciate the fun of getting wrapped up inside one sentence. Give them 20 minutes to write about one of the other sentences.

Must they read the book? Tell them they can read the book if they want. But tell them they can go to Wikipedia and read the plot summary and the list of characters there. The idea is to spend time with particular sentences and to figure out why someone would write like that. Must they love F. Scott Fitzgerald? No! They can be like Palladian — the original commenter genius of the Althouse blog — who said:
Has anyone calculated how long this Gatsby project is going to go on? How many sentences are in the book? How many sentences have been covered so far?

I ask partially out of curiosity and partly because I hate "The Great Gatsby". Why couldn't we have done Chaucer or "Paradise Lost" or something?
I said:
I don't think the project asks you to like "The Great Gatsby." It should work for the haters. Bring that hate!
Palladian said:
That's true! I think the general tone of the comments on these threads led me to think of them as reverential, but your writing about them is actually neutral and occasionally negative.
The watchword watchphrase of this blog has long been "cruel neutrality." And, indeed, I see that even before I responded to Original Commenter Genius Palladian, he was responded to by Upstart Commenter Genius betamax3000, who said:
"the Inquisition that goes on forever. Interminably."
(That's a quote from the post, which is about a "Gatsby" sentence that includes "interminable inquisitions.")
Ann has gone full Althouse Snow Globe Theory now:

"She sets the Snow Globe with cruel neutrality for us to shake and see patterns from the flitter. There is not the expectation of sentimentality. She is asking us to look, together; however, often there is no resolution, each reader seeing only his own flitter of understanding."
And there betamax3000 is quoting himself, from this earlier thread, about one of the least "klunky" sentences that has ever found its way into the "Gatsby" project:
"They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening, too, would be over and casually put away."
When can we put this "Gatsby" project away, like a dinner and an evening consumed blandly and casually in the Midwest, where all the Gatsby characters belong?
"I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all — Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life."
That's a sentence I've been saving, in my holding pen of sentences — "klunky" and not-"klunky" — that might get the nod some day on this project, and I guess I've given that one the nod today.

But is today the last day? Is it time to move on to "Paradise Lost" or "The Divine Comedy"?

If the assignment were — in this non-existent high school class — to read straight through "The Great Gatsby," you would know when you were done. The hard task your real teacher tasked you with has a knowable end. It's not interminable, even though the word "ceaselessly" is the 4th-to-the-last word. You get to "ceaselessly" and there's "into the past" and you are done. Your reading of "Gatsby" has receded into the past, like last night's huge, hard-to-digest dinner. You wake up with a stomachache. You can't take too much. You only want to nibble at the edges of some stale ideas, like maybe a blog post, a blog post about one sentence. You can nibble, and — in the comments — you can dribble. Like betamax3000 on last night's "Something was making him nibble" post :
Re: "Oh! For a minute there, I saw 'nimble,' and I was flummoxed."

I like nibble better. Not just because it makes me think of squirrels nibbling on a nosh. I often find myself nibbling at the edge of stale ideas. Of course, it is easier to nibble at the edges when the stale idea is square-shaped, like a behind-the-sofa-cushion Cheez-It: there are corners. Corners are the perfect nibble starters. Plus, Cheez-Its -- and the non-square Cheeto, for that matter -- leave your fingers orangey, like all the best ideas, stale or not.

So one morning when the sun was warm
I rambled out of New York town
Pulled my cap down over my eyes
And headed out for the western skies
So long New York
Howdy, East Orange*.

(*"Even when the East excited me most with sprawling, swollen orange fingers: you're gonna have to take notes faster, friends)

Which brings us back to a point: Naked Dylan Robot would love to hear Fitzgerald try to sing some of Fitzgerald's sentences. Naked Dylan Robot would laugh and laugh.

"Everybody's sturdy physical egotism must get stoned."

"When the winds of changes shift
May your malnourished peremptory heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever slightly worn, young man, with shell-rimmed glasses and scanty blond hair."

For a writer whose rep is based in large part on making words sing his words just don't... sing. Maybe Naked Albanian Phonetical Dylan Robot could give a try, but I don't think it would get there. Nor Naked Phoenician Dylan Robot, for that matter*.

(*this is -- of course -- self-contradictory: per Wikipedia "in Phoenician writing, unlike that of most later abjads such as those of Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew and Arabic, even long vowels remained generally unexpressed, and that regardless of their origin". No Naked Dylan Robot of any proud heritage could forsake the long vowels: exps: oooohhhhhmaaa-ma is this reaaaaaaally the eeeeend, etc etc).

Perhaps Naked Dylan Fitzgerald Cow could make a go of the following:

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word "MOO
And you say, "For what reason ?"
And he says, "Hoo?"
And you say, "What does this mean ?"
And he screams back, "You're a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home".

-- but Naked Dylan Fitzgerald Cow is a Talent. And not afraid to nibble, stale or no. Someone should make a Snow Globe for Naked Dylan Fitzgerald Cow: Ann could put it next to her Robot on her desk and take a picture. I would call in sick to work the next day.
Is your tummy feeling better now? Maybe saltines and ginger ale would help. That's what my midwest-born-and-raised mother would offer me when I was feeling queasy. But you've got to eat something. You must go on — ceaselessly, interminably — when the project is one sentence a day. One day at a time. One sentence at a time. One nibble at a time. One blog post at a time.

51 comments:

EMD said...

I've challenged myself to come up with albeit ridiculous Fitzgerald-esque sentences to describe doing something mundane during my day, like walking to my car or going to Subway.

I should write them down so I can remember them.

edutcher said...

Truth in advertising: Scotty was never my favorite writer, so I'm really not one to criticize, but, given the line, "What I like [about "The Great Gatsby"] is that each sentence is good, on its own. Seriously. Test it out.", I have to say a lot of people feel he failed the test.

EMD said...

After muddling through three chapters of The Mystery of Edwin Drood — which is probably a better read than a listen — I'm now on to "The Anatomist's Apprentice" by Tessa Harris (audiobook on iPod in the car)

After Gatsby, the sentences, although well-constructed and concise, seem so ... ordinary.

Sure, Fitzy was a pretentious writer. Many are. But he had a voice and gave me elaborate and florid visions of the story he was telling.

CEO-MMP said...

"Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on."

Is about the only sentence in that lightweight bundle of fluffernutter that's worth a damn.

And it happens to play a fairly large part in what was at the time (I'm pretty sure) Robert B. Parker's first non-Spenser book.

Other than that--no, each sentence is not good. Fitz is akin to advice John Gardner gave a young(ish) Raymond Carver: 'read all the Faulkner you can get your hands on, then read Hemingway to get the Faulkner out of your system.'

And Faulkner...now that cat could write the shit out of a sentence. Not so much Scott.

Ann Althouse said...

"I have to say a lot of people feel he failed the test."

Failed means less than 60% though. Don't you think fairness to Fitzgerald requires that.

I made the strong assertion that ALL the sentences were good, so if it's a test of me, I failed. I concede that.

I'm seeing "good" as the wrong word now. Some of the sentences are perhaps bad, but if bad, only gloriously, crazily bad. So bad it's good <— would be my argument if I had to defend him and if the issue were to remain sentence-by-sentence goodness.

I've drifted -- snow-drift in a snow globe -- into thinking in terms of interestingness... which is a better standard for blogging anyway.

CEO-MMP said...

Rick Bass wrote a story...I believe it was called "Cats and Bubbles, Students and Abysses", collected in 'The Watch' in which one of the characters was a wannabe gonnabe writer. He filled notebook after notebook with brilliant sentences. The other characters were waiting for the day he'd get inspiration and manage to tie all those beautiful sentences together.

Madame Althouse woulda loved him I betcha.

deborah said...

"... given the line, "What I like [about "The Great Gatsby"] is that each sentence is good, on its own. Seriously. Test it out.", I have to say a lot of people feel he failed the test."


I don't think he failed the test, but that Althouse was wrong. But most sentences she listed did pass the test...maybe 2/3 or 3/4, or better? If she'd make a quick list of all sentences posted, we could make our own percentages.

EMD said...

The other characters were waiting for the day he'd get inspiration and manage to tie all those beautiful sentences together.

He became a Twitter sensation!

edutcher said...

You said it better than I did.

Ann Althouse said...

I have to say a lot of people feel he failed the test.

Failed means less than 60% though. Don't you think fairness to Fitzgerald requires that.

I made the strong assertion that ALL the sentences were good, so if it's a test of me, I failed. I concede that.

I'm seeing "good" as the wrong word now. Some of the sentences are perhaps bad, but if bad, only gloriously, crazily bad. So bad it's good <— would be my argument if I had to defend him and if the issue were to remain sentence-by-sentence goodness.


If I may make a suggestion, I'd say part of the problem may be the out-of-context condition.

Some of these are really hard to comprehend without some background.

I know how it is when you get enthused with a writer, though; I've felt that way about Poe, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Byron, and Kipling.

gadfly said...

Seems like an awful lot of words to defend oneself against an idiot named creeley23 who does not appear to be a regular poster at the Althouse blog.

Folks who hang out at LiveJournal.com usually keep to themselves. On the other hand, your awkward defense of your blogs style in uncharacteristic of the Althouse we know. With the daily beating you take from regular commenters, this post is way off-the-wall.

When I was a kid playing baseball, players reacting to taunts from the crowd were said to have "rabbit-ears." Perhaps you need a souvenir from the Playboy Club.

creeley23 said...

Ann: It's your blog and your project and you can diddle it as you please.

My point, which you have said nothing to counter, is that your selection of Gatsby sentences presents a seriously distorted view of Fitzgerald's writing and Gatsby as a novel.

Gatsby is not a collection of a "very weird sentences," though to be sure it has some -- I'd forgotten how many -- but they are still not typical of Fitzgerald's writing.

I don't demand that you be reverential or teach a class on Gatsby here. I get that you are doing something else which gives you pleasure and an opportunity to explore facets of your own writing that you don't get to in the ordinary course of this blog, as well as an opportunity for Betamax to drivel on ceaselessly.

However, I speak up as I do because your selection of sentences is atypical, blog readers may not realize this, and you have not been straightforward in how the sentences are selected. Not all the sentences you choose are klunky, but most are because you are going for what you call the "speed bump" sentences.

As to your offering of "saltines and ginger ale," you may keep them along with your "cruel neutrality" which to me comes under the heading of "self-flattering civility bullshit." You are often cruel, but you are no more neutral than anyone else writing here.

m stone said...

@CEO:

The other characters were waiting for the day he'd get inspiration and manage to tie all those beautiful sentences together.

In some English composition classes, a group exercise involves providing one sentence and requiring the class to come up with the remaining sentences to complete the paragraph.

I'd like to take one Gadsby sentence (Althouse selections are excellent) and present it to my class. Challenge them to maintain the language and frothiness.

creeley23 said...

Seems like an awful lot of words to defend oneself against an idiot named creeley23 who does not appear to be a regular poster at the Althouse blog.

gadfly: I've read Althouse for years, but only started commenting last August and have done so on most days since. I focus my comments on topics that interest me and try to avoid the flamefests.

I don't "hang out" at LiveJournal. I just use it for OpenID sign-in.

You sure make a lot of thoughtless assumptions when you are out to disparage someone.

traditionalguy said...

Althouse translated: "It's my blog and I'll create if I want to. Fitzgerald's words are only a beginning point for my mind.

Which brings us back to Bob Dylan.

Does anyone remember the Professor's posts of her secret journey to an old farmhouse outside Cincinnati? Her pictures painted Gatsby like scenes of rooms, dogs riverbeds, tractors and a mysterious mid-westerner in a reflection.

traditionalguy said...

Welcome to you, Creeley23. Fresh points of view well expressed are what makes the comments section fun.

kentuckyliz said...

Hmmm...hostility.

That needs to be qualified. Genteel, intelligent, witty, amusing hostility among people who like each other (for the most part).

That's what makes the Althouse so interesting and fun.

I heart Faulkner. That's where I learned what miscegenation was.

a SWVA liz said...

The premise was that each Gatsby sentence was good on its own. That each sentence could stand on its own. I think she has adequately proven that premise is inaccurate. The writing is terrible.

The question to me now is whether the book stands as insightful as a whole. I thought I saw flashes of perception as I read it, considering that it came before the stock market crash. However, the question for me now is whether he actually realized the issues that were going to unravel that world in just a precious few years.

I see it in the book. Does he?

deborah said...

"Not all the sentences you choose are klunky, but most are because you are going for what you call the "speed bump" sentences."

Mind reading and projection. Most of the sentences selected are as she claimed, beautifully written. And she copped to non-randomness in the body of the post.

Will you favor us with a good, non-klunky, representative Gatsby sentence?

sydney said...

Well, I enjoy this project, and I hope it keeps going. Mr. Creely has his opinions, as we all do. Let's enjoy each other's company and thoughts for a little while longer.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Well, I have to say that this 'project' has killed any desire that I might have had to read (or re-read) Gatsby.

Ann Althouse said...

"Seems like an awful lot of words to defend oneself against an idiot named creeley23 who does not appear to be a regular poster at the Althouse blog."

I didn't need to make a new tag for him, which means he'd been front-paged before. In fact, he's been front-paged twice before this time.

Also, it's not as though I feel the need to defend myself. I had some things I was interested in saying about a whole series of things, including my imagined high school class, which I've been thinking about for a couple weeks. And I wanted to use that squares-are-easy-to-nibble stuff of betamax. Creely was a good jumping off point.

I don't defend against attacks generally. For example, this morning a prominent blog is prominently calling me "a shit," but I'm not going to encourage that by arguing about it.

mccullough said...

I dig this project. A lot of the sentences in the book are over-cooked and others are terrific and some are both good and bad. The book overall comes together well and the sum is greater than whole of the sentences.

The thing I now appreciate about the book is just how close it comes to not working.

Irene said...

The project could be much worse: extracting sentences from Love Story (a book that my Catholic-school English teacher read aloud to the class for about three weeks--she was making a point about the quality of literature).

Sam L. said...

Don't worry. F. Scott's dead; he won't sue.

Looks like fair use of something out of copyright (I would guess) to me.

creeley23 said...

Mind reading and projection. Most of the sentences selected are as she claimed, beautifully written. And she copped to non-randomness in the body of the post.

deborah: Mind reading and projection -- perhaps on your part.

"Beautifully written" is an aesthetic judgment. In mine, Althouse has provided a cook's tour of classic bad Fitzgerald sentences. Not even she likes all the sentences she has chosen.

They may provide great launching pads for riffing about language, but, even though I love Fitzgerald, I don't think those sentences are good or beautiful writing and I have supported my claims when I said so.

Ann didn't cop to the non-randomness until this very post. Early on I called her out for salting the sentence selection. She insisted she was picking sentences entirely at random and I believed her for that sentence. Since then it has become obvious she was choosing sentences for her own purposes, but didn't mention the change.

As to a good, non-klunky Gatsby sentence? Pick one yourself from http://www.mrbye.com/The%20Great%20Gatsby--text.htm . Most of them are good; some even great. You have to strain to find the klunky sentences Althouse is choosing.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Don Knuth once taught a class on the bible by sampling a single verse from each book, according to a rule. This class became the basis of a book, "3:16", which includes some wonderful calligraphy of each verse. Anyway, he claims in the preface that this technique is a well-known way to get a valid sense of a large body of data.

Fred Drinkwater said...

I should emphasize that it's the "rule" that make the sampling statistically valid. One cannot achieve the same result by picking sentences that look interesting at a glance.

CEO-MMP said...

Creeley: Perhaps we should consider that Althouse just doesn't know the difference between a good sentence and a klunky one?

creeley23 said...

Well, I have to say that this 'project' has killed any desire that I might have had to read (or re-read) Gatsby.

DBQ: Me too. That's why I'm making something of a deal here. Fitzgerald is a great American author, worthy of his classic status and continuing to be read.

But, at least for people like you, me and Balfegor, one wouldn't know it from the Althouse-Gatsby Project.

Wisco Gal said...

I just finished re-reading Gatsby. I loved it from start to finish. I agree that as a high school student you will not take the time to dissect the sentences....or go back and linger over them. As an adult, I took the time with the story and was in no rush. F Scott paints a beautiful picture with his elaborate language, although taxing at times. The reader truly has a vision not only of the characters, but of the era they lived in, complete with its fancies and follies. I was left feeling the tone of this book and the desperation conveyed. His point comes across loud and clear though he never spells it out. That is good writing...say what you will.

traditionalguy said...

What's the hairsplitting about the quality of the sentences for?

The Book stands as a great read about the 1920s industrial age and its new wealth being faced by an heroic character. In the end it still defeats him, and the money power rolls along.

I liked the images Fitzgerald painted with words. I liked them a lot.

deborah said...

"As to a good, non-klunky Gatsby sentence? Pick one yourself from http://www.mrbye.com/The%20Great%20Gatsby--text.htm . Most of them are good; some even great. You have to strain to find the klunky sentences Althouse is choosing."


Deflection.

For the record, I don't care for reading out of context, but it was an interesting experiment after all. But it's really only annoying if you've read the book. The test would be to do this with an unread book, to see how your mind reacts to just one sentence as a fragment of literature.

I would be very interested in a short story discussion project. I love them, and they would be convenient for the internet addled.

Smilin' Jack said...

I made the strong assertion that ALL the sentences were good, so if it's a test of me, I failed. I concede that.

When you read a work like Gatsby, it is a test of you. And you did fail. Just not the way you think.

ricpic said...

I think the most endearing thing about Fitzgerald is that he was romantic to the end. Why even his despair was the despair of a disenchanted romantic.

edutcher said...

traditionalguy said...

Althouse translated: "It's my blog and I'll create if I want to. Fitzgerald's words are only a beginning point for my mind.

Which brings us back to Bob Dylan.

Does anyone remember the Professor's posts of her secret journey to an old farmhouse outside Cincinnati? Her pictures painted Gatsby like scenes of rooms, dogs riverbeds, tractors and a mysterious mid-westerner in a reflection.


For crying out loud, she was in love!

Having been in a similar circumstance (ours lasted a lot longer), I think she has a right to rhapsodize when her whole life at that point is one big operatic aria.

(and if anyone was like Ann in that situation, it was me and not You-Know-Who, so I shouldn't get yelled at).

Ann Althouse said...

Just so you don't go out into the real world and embarrass yourself: the correct spelling is "clunky." Not "klunky."

Anyway... I understand the desire to defend the famous writer. I feel that's what English teachers do. You always had to write essays that catered to the teacher's assumption that the assigned author had greatness. She herself was stuck having to act as if that's true, since otherwise how could you justify making the students read it?

It's not like assigning Supreme Court cases. You're free as a lawprof to rip the things apart and find all that's badly done.

I appreciate that freedom. I know the things I make students read are valuable to them and that they must learn to read this stuff.

I've been teaching that kind of writing for more than 25 years, and I'm bringing some of what that's made me to this project and applying it to this big old naked sacred cow of a book.

Don't be so defensive!

Lean back and moo.

Moo all night.

deborah said...

I find Gatsby anything but heroic. A self-pitying sad sack, none-too-bright born loser, maybe.

marvel said...

Two thoughts:
1. If you're flipping through a book semi-randomly picking sentences, by chance I would think you would end up picking the longer sentences. The distribution of words among sentences is not random/equivalent. You are more likely to pick a word that is part of a long sentence than one that is in a short sentence because there are intrinsically more words in long sentences than in short. (Assuming a roughly equal distribution of long and short sentences in a work.)

2. The kludgy Fitzgerald sentences tend to be those that are describing ethereal, illusory scenes ultimately built on lies. If his sentences feel slippery, unfocused and muddled, it's because he is capturing the essence of his critique of high society with the language. It's why the middle of the 7th Harry Potter book is so miserably boring; the language itself is boring so that you feel (as the reader) as bored and aimless as Ron and Hermione felt. (Speaking of poor writing, there are very few JKRowling sentences that would stand up to the criticism lobbed at Fitzgerald.)

Terry said...

Marvel wrote:
It's why the middle of the 7th Harry Potter book is so miserably boring; the language itself is boring so that you feel (as the reader) as bored and aimless as Ron and Hermione felt.
I'm not a fan of the Harry Potter books (to be honest I've only read the first, and I thought the movie was better).
However. your words remind me of another book: John Crowley's Little, Big.
The plot is difficult to surmise, but at one point a child of elfland, Auberon, rejects his heritage and lives as mundane a life as possible. It's the most boring part of the book, and Auberon, the character, seems to know it. Crowley is a master of synecdoche.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

What's the hairsplitting about the quality of the sentences for?

The Book stands as a great read about the 1920s industrial age and its new wealth being faced by an heroic character. In the end it still defeats him, and the money power rolls along.


I suppose this is the reason that I am not enthralled by this project or enticed to read the book (although I will likely take it up again and read it with an adult's eye and perspective as opposed to a high school assignment.)

A work of art should not be viewed through a microscope or with your nose pressed up against the canvas.

I liken it to examining a beautiful face in one of those high powered magnifying mirrors. The viewer is going to be distracted by the gigantic clogged, oily pores and tiny lint or dust mites on the eyebrow hairs instead of being able to see the whole thing and in situ or context. Instead of beautiful....it is just gross.

betamax3000 said...

I'll start with "Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there".

To back up a moment: the band Yes sang some of the most hippie-damaged self-indulgent nonsense the 70s lava lamp had to offer ("Sing, bird of prey / Beauty begins at the foot of you / do you believe the manner?") but for some reason when they sing "Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there" that particular angel on the head of the pin works for me; shrug.

Same with the painter Jasper Johns: most of his work leaves me indifferent or worse, but there are a few of his paintings that get me to return to them, over and over.

I enjoy looking at Fitzgerald in the one-sentence-snow-globe format. I might have fun with them, but some really do sing* (even if -- in my head -- it is Naked William Shatner Robot doing the singing) and some go sideways, but I VERY much enjoy the give-and-take of those who are digging in deep, of seeing what about a sentence gripped them (or turned them cold). One vital thing I learned back in school: listen to the smart kids. Often they find the frame that makes the picture inside make sense, and then you just have to remember their insight and use it on the test essay.

Not an original thought by any means, but the thing I see about the Althouse blog is that it is like a perpetual party, often in the wee hours mode. Cocktail party chatter like Sally Starr and two-toned shoes in the dining room, politics being argued in the kitchen, friendly drivel out on the deck, awkward conversation in the line for the bathroom. People come and go, drinks get spilled, laughs are had, a few noses get out of joint: good times.

I hope the Gatsby Project continues for a good long ride. When its time does come to an end I toss out the following for consideration:

Many Gatsby threads back Ann searched for "potato" in Lady Chatterly's Lover (long story), and I got a kick out of the juxtaposition of two writers' sentences based only on a word. Perhaps we could pick a stable of books (Chatterly? Moby Dick? Infinite Jest? ) where the daily literary cafe would then be a sentence from two of them that contains the day's key word (cloud, cow, etc) -- no context other than what stars align with the other sentence -- a potato in every author's snow globe, as it were.

*A final aside: when I had the Naked Dylan Robot laugh and laugh at the idea of Fitzgerald's words not 'singing' the hidden joke (for me, at least) was having the idiosyncratic-voiced Dylan decide the merits of singing: a Moebius Strip too far, it seems...

creeley23 said...

Creeley: Perhaps we should consider that Althouse just doesn't know the difference between a good sentence and a klunky one?

CBO-MMP: Well, she now claims the clunky sentences are so bad that they are good -- the "Plan 9 from Outer Space" defense -- but she failed to mention that aspect in her posts when she rhapsodized about one clunky sentence after another.

I think it's as she said a little later: she chooses the sentences for interestingness.

I can see that. There are some jaw-droppingly gorgeous sentences in Gatsby and there is not all that much to say about them beyond, "Gosh!"

creeley23 said...

Ann: If correcting my spelling is your best comeback to my criticism, then I'm not the one who should be concerned about embarrassment here. (BTW Fitzgerald was one of the worst spellers in American literature.)

As to your notion that I'm defending the great writer like a dutiful student -- another insight fail. Try again. Guess how well I got along with my English teachers. Guess how much I care about being a dutiful student. Did you not notice how harsh I've been on his sentences in the Gatsby Project?

If I'm defending anything, it's my hard won love of Fitzgerald -- no thanks to the English teachers and lit people in my life who made foolish claims like "What I like [about "The Great Gatsby"] is that each sentence is good, on its own." Then I read the text for myself and saw something very different.

No, Fitzgerald is a great writer in spite of terrible flaws. As Edmund Wilson said of Fitzgerald's first published novel, "This Side of Paradise is "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

creeley23 said...

While I'm on this tear...."cruel neutrality."

I do dislike that term. It reminds me of my est days when Werner Erhard and his lieutenants would justify their abuse of people by a similar oxymoron, "ruthless compassion."

So when I hear someone celebrating their "cruel neutrality", I take it as read that some kind of mindfuck is in the offing.

William said...

I think The Great Gatsby offers an unbroken series of successful sentences. The slack of some sentences is used only to tighten the knot in the obsevation.....If you find a chipped brick or a bit of loose mortar is the Doge's Palace a failure?

Penny said...

Short form of betamax3000's 9:49pm comment:

"All points of intersection are valid."

deborah said...

Soothing, soothing William, well said. But then there is the topic of internal logic.

In the body of today's post Althouse gives us today's Gatsby quote:

I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all — Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.

I like it.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

.If you find a chipped brick or a bit of loose mortar is the Doge's Palace a failure?

But...if all you are focusing on is the brick or the mortar to the level of obsessive minutia, are you really seeing the Doge's Palace at all?

Smilin' Jack said...

"I have to say a lot of people feel he failed the test."

Failed means less than 60% though. Don't you think fairness to Fitzgerald requires that.


I'm pretty sure Fitzgerald would have ended that last construction with a question mark rather than a period. Anyway, rather than merely sneering at "bad" sentences in Gatsby, why not be constructive and improve them? Surely, with your fine sense of literary discrimination you could turn all those "bad" sentences into good ones, or at least "not bad" ones. Then you could publish "The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as corrected and improved by Ann Althouse." I'm sure it would be a blockbuster, and you'd make a fortune. And no need to stop with Fitzgerald--I'm sure Shakespeare could benefit from your editing too.

deborah said...

"So when I hear someone celebrating their "cruel neutrality", I take it as read that some kind of mindfuck is in the offing."


You say that like it's a bad thing.

I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all — Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.

This is really a good denoeument sentence. It's evocative and spatial and reminds me of one of my favorite sentences, fourth to last, where I think the novel should have ended: "He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."

deborah said...

Here is Creeley's link to a pdf text, which reads straight through without chapter links:

The Great Gatsby