February 9, 2013

"Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence..."

"... that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire."

This is today's sentence from "The Great Gatsby." (As you may have noticed, one of many quirks of the Althouse blog is the "Gatsby" project: Every day we zero in on one sentence — freeze it, personalize it, polarize it — go at it in isolation. The sentence may say: "Why do you center on me when there are other sentences that might put me in context and give me support?" Our hearts are hardened to that pathetic plea.

In today's sentence, we have talking that is both a lot and a little. It's a lot because because 2 women are talking at the same time. But it's also little, because it is unobtrusive, bantering, and inconsequential. So it's neither too much nor too little. It's not too much because it is too little. They talk over each other, but in such a gentle, light manner that it's not annoying. It doesn't even rise to the level of chatter.

Maybe the women's voices are like 2 instruments playing. The sound is described as cool, and you might think of jazz. It is 1922— The Jazz Age. But the use of the word cool to describe jazz — if I am to believe the Oxford English Dictionary — dates back only to 1948:
1948   Bridgeport (Connecticut) Telegram 13 July 9/1   Hot jazz is dead. Long live cool jazz!.. The old-school jazz created a tension, where the new jazz tries to convey a feeling of rhythmic relaxation.
Maybe Daisy and Jordan Baker were getting out ahead of their hot jazz era, presaging the new sound, devoid of inflamed passion. They are full of the absence of all desire. All is emptiness: their not-quite-chatter speech, their colorless clothes, their impersonal eyes.

22 comments:

edutcher said...

Use of the word, desire, gives it a somewhat sexual connotation.

Ann Althouse said...

The sound is described as cool, and you might think of jazz. It is 1922— The Jazz Age. But the use of the word cool to describe jazz — if I am to believe the Oxford English Dictionary — dates back only to 1948

In the old movie, "Zulu", the missionary's luscious but stiff daughter is described as, "... a cool one, very dry", so we may see this use as emotionless or impersonal.

Interesting flip of meaning.

edutcher said...

PS We didn't Gatsby yesterday, either.

Must have been a very rough day.

edutcher said...

PPS They're everywhere, they're everywhere!

Ann Althouse said...

Of course cool to mean a lack of heat, including all sorts of emotional heat, is much older. I'm saying 1948 for "cool jazz."

Ann Althouse said...

The OED gives the meaning "Exhibiting or demonstrating a lack of warmth of affection; not cordial, unfriendly" going back to 1641:

1641 Earl of Monmouth tr. G. F. Biondi Hist. Civil Warres Eng. I. ii. 97 The Dolphin who well weighed these alterations, grew somewhat coole towards his father in law [It. s'andaua raffredando co'l suocero].
1675 in O. Airy Essex Papers (1890) I. 319, I found him at first cooler in his reception then when I left him.
a1706 J. Vanbrugh Mistake i, in Wks. (1840) 442/1 Were I to meet a cool reception.
1751 E. Haywood Hist. Betsy Thoughtless IV. viii. 78 The cool reception he had given her sent her home in a very ill humour.
1800 E. Hervey Mourtray Family III. 77, I am rather upon cool terms with him.
1854 Thackeray Newcomes II. xxv. 237 But she did not care for Mrs. Clive, and the Colonel, somehow, grew cool towards us.
1924 P. G. Wodehouse Bill the Conqueror 31 For many months now this tendency to a cool formality on her part had irked Bill.
1997 T. Mackintosh-Smith Yemen (1999) iv. 90 His reception was cool, but he avoided any serious incident.

Ann Althouse said...

We go even earlier to get to "Of a person or a personal attribute, quality, etc.: not affected by passion or emotion, dispassionate; controlled, deliberate, not hasty; calm, composed." We get all the way back to Beowulf!

OE Beowulf 282 Gyf him [sc. Hroðgar] edwendan æfre scolde bealuwa bisigu bot eft cuman, ond þa cearwylmas colran wurðaþ.
c1430 (1386) Chaucer Legend Good Women (Cambr. Gg.4.27) (1879) l. 258 Thow..thynkist in thyn wit that is ful cole That he nys but a verray propre fole That louyth paramouris to harde & hote.
1570 P. Levens Manipulus Vocabulorum sig. Niiiv/1, Coole, quietus.
1600 Shakespeare Midsummer Night's Dream v. i. 6 Such seething braines..that apprehend more, Then coole reason euer comprehends.
1611 Bible (A.V.) Prov. xvii. 27 A man of vnderstanding is of an excellent [margin coole] spirit.
1679 W. Penn Addr. Protestants i. ix, in Wks. (1825) III. 39 A descreet and cool hand may direct the blow right..when men of fury rather ease their passion, than mend their youth.
1736 Bp. J. Butler Analogy of Relig. ii. vii. 270 Some of them were Men of the coolest Tempers.
1781 Gibbon Decline & Fall (1787) III. xxx. 167 (note) , The bloody actor is less detestable than the cool unfeeling historian.
1839 T. Beale Nat. Hist. Sperm Whale xiii. 164 The line is running through the groove at the head of the boat..the headsman, cool and collected, pours water upon it as it passes.
1855 Tennyson Maud xxii. i, in Maud & Other Poems 74 While she wept, and I strove to be cool.
1890 C. King Sunset Pass 56 Don't get stampeded. Just keep cool; watch and listen.
1938 Los Angeles Times 11 Jan. a14/2 The yips and a turn of jittery nerves were suddenly turned into a cool head and a stout heart.
1992 W. Horwood Duncton Rising xxv. 335 The Master Stour, now cool, calm, and collected, smiled benignly.
2002 N. Lebrecht Song of Names ii. 35 He can still unsettle me like nothing on earth. This cannot continue: get a grip, stay cool.

chickelit said...

Keep cool with Coolidge!

CWJ said...

Ann, you're everywhere in this comment thread. But I love this sentence because a man wrote it.

I have often noticed how women can talk over each other but be completely mutually understood. Not a man thing in my experience. That a man would not just notice this but incorporate it into this sentence is simply great.

Basta! said...

"1641 Earl of Monmouth tr. G. F. Biondi Hist. Civil Warres Eng. I. ii. 97 The Dolphin who well weighed these alterations, grew somewhat coole towards his father in law [It. s'andaua raffredando co'l suocero]."

The Dolphin?! An overtranslation of the French Dauphin?

chickelit said...

The Dolphin?! An overtranslation of the French Dauphin?

Done on porpoise.

CWJ said...

you know?

It never occurred to me that anyone could spike a thread more effectively than Ritmo. I stand corrected.

Ann Althouse said...

Note the instructions above the comment composition window: "We delete comments that discuss deletions. Any questions about deletions should be resolved by emailing us."

Ann Althouse said...

"That a man would not just notice this but incorporate it into this sentence is simply great."

Men. They are so amazing. What can't men do? Huzzah for the men! They don't merely notice things. They incorporate things into sentences! Simply marvelous!

betamax3000 said...

Thank you for the explanation.

sydney said...

I know women who talk like that. Even they aren't listening to themselves. It's all just background noise. White noise. Cool, white noise.

Paddy O said...

They're flibbertigibbets.

traditionalguy said...

The art of talking at once with a bantering inconsequence has come to describe commenting done by certain of the cooler Althousian Salon guests.

But most of us need some work on doing it with an absence of all desire.

Lem said...

freeze it, personalize it, polarize it...

Show off it.

Paddy O said...

"Huzzah for the men! They don't merely notice things. They incorporate things into sentences!"

The Modern men certainly did.

Postmodern men deconstruct things into sentences.

Leslie Graves said...

Should I imagine in reading this sentence that they are talking to each other while simultaneously talking over each other?

For example, sitting on a couch looking at each other, into each other's eyes and both of them are talking away?

Or are they perhaps sitting next to each other and talking away, but not to each other?

betamax3000 said...

""Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter..."

Hence the term 'flappers'.

Dante said...

Well, this sounds like something I said to a friend of mine.

Women don't actually talk to each other. It's a bunch of sub-language emotional expressivity.

If you doubt it, watch Miss America, or a group of women leaving a restaurant. It's a bunch of dumb sounds, accompanied by modern day hugs and properly closed eyes and expressiveness.

So yeah, I get this.