February 6, 2013

"For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s..."

"... as though there was more struggling upon them
than a wisp of startled air."

That's today's sentence in the "Gatsby" project, in which we isolate one sentence, each day, from "The Great Gatsby" and try to figure out what the hell is going on.
This one isn't hard. It's just a guy trying to talk. Imagine how you would write this sentence if you only wanted to express: I had trouble talking. There's only a slight chance you'd end up with a sentence this long. And if you did, could you have sustained the drama like this, from moment to air? What lightness in moment and a phrase trying to take shape, then blah blah blah wisp of started air.

The narrator is struggling to speak, and the author is struggling to drag out a long sentence about this struggle. It's a sentence that begins and ends in lightness and that has heaviness in the middle. I'm counting 3 things as heavy: 1.  the near redundancy of mouth and lips (each with its own my), 2. the intrusion of the unwanted character a dumb man, and 2. more struggling upon them than.

There was nothing but air on the man's mouth-and-lips, but it seemed like more could be there, struggling.

ADDED: Chip Ahoy animates the sentence:

29 comments:

edutcher said...

In other words, "Hummunna, hummunna, hummunna...", usually uttered in the presence of a member of the opposite sex so incredibly delicious that words and brain both fail simultaneously.

With the possible exception of Shouting Thomas, a moment shared by all males throughout history.

Terry said...

If you were Hemingway, you would write:
"I had trouble talking."

Terry said...

No, wait, 'trouble' and 'talking' have too many syllables.
"I could not speak".

Basta! said...

I was taken up short by "as though there was more struggling". . . the subjunctive was already dead in 1922? Or is this locution hinting at the fact that the speaker was not suitably *cultured*?

kentuckyliz said...

The gasping dumb man should kiss a woman and steal her breath and set God to romping.

wyo sis said...

The difficulty of the sentence points out the difficulty he was having trying to speak. It's symbolic of the constriction of his mind.

Chip Ahoy said...

Speaking difficult

betamax3000 said...

"For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s..."

Damned Incubus phrases, taking form in an Innocents' Mouth.

Your lips part but the Incubus is in the shape of a possum and now your mouth is full.

The Incubus appreciates frosted wedding cake ceilings, which only makes your lips drier.

The possum cries "Ewing" but no one can tell: a possum crying Ewing sounds like "EeeewinEeeewinnnEwingaMumble."

You cannot spit nor swallow: the Possum commands all available Mouth Space.

Fitzgerald danced with the Possum: adjective by adjective he wrestled in poor light, because shadows upon shadows etc.

This is why some people find Fitzgerald Impossumable to fathom.

Yep.


betamax3000 said...

Does anyone remember Mad-Libs? I'm thinking Fitzgerald is made for this.

Fill in the following words (Verb #1, etc), then replace them in the appropriate places in the following sentence...


Verb #1
Noun #1
Noun #2
Adverb #1
Noun #3
Verb #2
Plural noun


"There was (verb #1) now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing (noun #1)backward in eternal (noun #2).."
"... superior couples holding each other tortuously, (adverb #1), and keeping in the corners — and a great number of single (noun #3) dancing individualistically or (verb #2) the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the (plural noun)."

betamax3000 said...

(Waiting for the Magic.)

betamax3000 said...

I would love to see an abridged version of Gatsby where all words are removed other than adjectives.

If you read it in a monotone it would sell Calvin Klein products.

betamax3000 said...

"Sprawling, swollen, interminable:" Calvin Klein's underwear For Men.

betamax3000 said...

"frosted wedding-cake, wine-colored rug:" Calvin Klein's Lingerie.

betamax3000 said...

"Face flushed slightly, eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears:" Calvin Klein's Mace.

Spray it on those who Care. Too much.

betamax3000 said...

"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."

Calvin Klein's Spanking Lotion: Rouge and Powder the Outstretched Hand of Love.

betamax3000 said...

"As my train emerged from the tunnel into sunlight, only the hot whistles of the National Biscuit Company broke the simmering hush at noon."

Calvin Klein Train Tunnels: You Know What we Mean.

Choo-choo."

betamax3000 said...

"The door that I pushed open, on the advice of an elevator boy, was marked 'The Swastika Holding Company,' and at first there didn’t seem to be any one inside."

Calvin Klein Dressing Rooms: Step inside to Edgy. With Fleece."

betamax3000 said...

"Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crêpe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty..."

Fired Calvin Klein Model.

betamax3000 said...

"Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes."

Calvin Klein Pea Coats: Spacious Pockets, Tragic Flair.

betamax3000 said...

"They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house."

Calvin Klein: All of the Models in our Ads are Over Eighteen."

betamax3000 said...

I want to see Ann and Meade's Fitzgerald Mad Lib sentences. Or else I break out the Naked Calvin Klein Robot.

Chip Ahoy said...

As hard as Gatsby tried to form the phrase in his mouth, first a triangle then a square then a circle, he found that he could not due to his lips not fully cooperating with the endeavor.

Terry said...

Chip Ahoy wrote:
Speaking difficult
It's the number of syllables in the words, not the number of words.
"It was not easy to speak".
-----------------------------
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house
in a village that looked across the river and the plain to
the mountains. In the bed of the river there were peb-
bles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the
water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the
channels.

----------------------------
I've always thought Hemingway's words would outlast Fitzgerald's words. Now I think that I know why. Look at how much information passes in a few, simple words compared to Fitzgerald's tortured sentences.
I can reduce A farewell to Arms to three sentences:
A young man goes to war and is sore wounded. He falls in love with a nurse and escapes the war with her. The nurse dies giving birth to their child and the young man is left alone.

Hello? Can't do anything like that with Gatsby. Fitzgerald's mind was too fervid to tell a simple story of love and loss.

Chip Ahoy said...

talk hard

Dante said...

I shouldn't state the obvious, but a dumb man can not talk. It's like those Frankenstein movies.

So you have to decide: A phrase the mouth would not utter, or a mind incapable of making the appropriate words.

I prefer the later. The mind of the sophisticate so unable to deal with the base animal feeling, that even a dumb man would be able to utter the feeling.

See, anything you want.

traditionalguy said...

Breath needs a mouth and a tongue to speak. Or is it the mouth and tongue that needs the breath?

They really need each other to cooperate. Only then do you get a mind that is inspired.

David said...

Chip goes Rosebud.

marvel said...

How can air be startled? Can you sneak up on air and shout "Boo!" and it jumps?

sydney said...

Is it "startled air" or "started air"?