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 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.
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.
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 said:
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 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
"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: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:
"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."
"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."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.
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.