PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Hello. You're a very responsive audience. Thank you very much. If you could just get to your seats a little more quietly, we can begin. I want to start by thinking Time Warner Cable for broadcasting this panel discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby.
And since it is being televised, it's all the more important that we try to be quiet.
Thank you very much. OK. Now, let's be quiet. Shhh. That's power.
Thank you very much. I'm Cornell's provost, Biddy Martin. I'm delighted to welcome you here. This is the sixth year that we've had our book project, our first-year reading project. Students in previous years have read novels by Chinua Achebe, by Mary Shelley, her Frankenstein, Kafka's The Trial, Sophocles's Antigone-- which is, by the way, not a novel-- and you have the privilege of reading with us F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
How many of you had read The Great Gatsby before you were assigned it? That's fantastic. That's excellent. That's wonderful. You're now in a much better position than you would have been to follow the readings you're about to hear from our panelists and to understand and appreciate the novel in its complexity.
So I'm very glad to know that this will have been at least the second time you've read it. How many of you who had read it before read it again extremely carefully? Sure. Yeah. All right.
I want to let you know that this book project-- as soon as you're a little quieter again-- the book project involves not only you, it's an effort to build intellectual community among students but also between students and faculty and the campus and the Ithaca area.
The Tompkins County Public Library has co-sponsored this project with us for years. It also results in our ordering of 20,000 copies of the book to send to Cornell alumni who also read the book and discuss it in their class reunions and get togethers. And through our extension program, a number of high schools in many counties in New York state are reading the book and discussing the questions that you received.
One of the many things you're here to do is to enhance the quality of your thinking. And I think today you'll see a group of faculty who can show you in quite a splendid way what it means to think analytically, and what it means to integrate several bodies of knowledge without losing focus and coherence.
I'm delighted to introduce them. You're in for a real treat. And I'm going to go right to the introductions. By the way, one sort of housekeeping matter-- we used to have this event last for two hours.
This year, it's only an hour and a half. And it's very important when the panelists finish their remarks that you not leave. Not only because if you stay or as you stay, you'll get to hear one another's questions and comments and more from the panelists, but also because we only have an hour and a half, if you get up and leave, you're going to interrupt the event and it will take quite a while for us to get back in focus.
So I ask you to wait until the hour and a half is up. All right, our first speaker is Professor Robert Frank. He's the Henrietta Johnson Lewis professor of management and economics. He's a contributor, monthly, to the Economic Scene column in the New York Times. He's a contributor as an op ed writer and an interviewee in many media outlets. He's the author of a number of important books, most recently, Does Rising Inequality Harm the Middle Class?, What Price the Moral High Ground?, which was published by Princeton University Press in 2004.
He's also the author of Principles of Economics, which has been translated into several languages, and Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess. He's most well known for a book that some of you may know called The Winner-Take-All Society, which he coauthored with Philip Cook in 1995. It's been translated into Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian, and I think, by now, a few more.
It won the New York Times "Notable Book of the Year Award" in 1995, Business Week's "Top 10 Books of 1995," The San Francisco Review of Books "Critics' Choice Award" in 1995, the China Times "Top 10 Books," the London Observer "Best Books of the Year" list.
He's an extraordinary teacher, and one of the things I want to emphasize about all three panelists today is that there are not only distinguished researchers, but outstanding teachers of undergraduates. I'm delighted to introduce, first, Professor Robert Frank.
PROFESSOR ROBERT FRANK: Thank you very much, Biddy. Well, you know, I'm not a literary expert. That's going to become clearer than ever when you hear the next two panelists. I have a math degree-- undergraduate, I got a master's degree in statistics, my graduate PhD degrees in economics.
I was wondering why I was invited to do this. I actually got several invitations to speak at Gatsby events in the coming months, and it's not because I'm a book expert or a literary expert. Marty Cole, the head sound engineer who's made it possible for you to hear me coming through the sound system, asked me what I was doing on the stage today. He knows I'm not a book person.
I'm here, I think, because my research over the past several decades has been about wealth and inequality. Those are big themes in The Great Gatsby. The question arises, why is this novel so popular now? It's enjoyed a surge in popularity again, I'm told, although it's very hard to find actual data on sales figures-- so let's assume that's a fact. Why might it be popular now all of a sudden again?
I think the explanation might be that the conditions we're living in now are very close to those people were living in when the book first appeared in 1925. At that time, we were setting new records each year for dispersion in inequality of income and wealth. The rich were seeing their incomes and wealth stocks grow at record rates. The gap between the rich and the middle class and even the rich and the near-rich was at record levels then.
All that changed with the Great Depression. We had a serious leveling of income and wealth distributions, and that stayed pretty much the same all the way through the mid '70s. But then inequality started to grow again, and just recently, we've started to reach, once again, the high dispersion levels that we saw during the 1920s.
And so wealth is really very much on people's minds. It's not that there haven't always been wealthy people, it's just that when wealth at the top stands in the same relation to wealth in the middle over a long period of time, people get pretty much used to what the wealthy do.
What you notice is what's new. So if you see a seven-foot tall sixth grader, that stands out. You see a seven-foot tall person at an NBA game, that doesn't stand out in particular.
And so when people are spending in lavish new ways that we haven't seen before, people write about that. It make the news. And so now we're living in a time when the consumption of people at the top is attracting the same sort of attention that the consumption of people at the top did during Gatsby's era.
Right now, the top 1% of earners are together-- that's less than three million people-- they're earning more than the bottom 40% combined. That's 110 million people. We've put some income inequality numbers up on the website, the Gatsby website. You can find where your family fits into the grand scheme of things. But it's interesting to track how that's gone.
It's a novel, as I say, that really gets to the heart of why wealth matters. It's always been of interest to people, how much money do I have compared to others? What's my status in the group? And that's not an accident.
We've now got a fairly good understanding of why people care about the things they care about. The Darwinian model is the model that we use to analyze how the nervous system responds to stimuli, what sort of goals it seeks.
That model tells us, for example, that we like sweets and fats so much because we evolved during periods of famine. And somebody who really liked sweets and fats would go to more trouble to get them whenever they were available and would be more likely to fatten up, therefore, and more likely to survive when food was scarce.
Why do we like what we like? Because liking those things helps us survive and reproduce. That's a highly over-simplified version of the Darwinian model of the human nervous system, but note how it applies to the questions related to wealth and status. It was always true in early human societies that the more income you had, the more material resources you had relative to others in the same group that you were in. The more likely you were to survive and reproduce.
Famines were common, and there was always some food available. If you were at the top of the income distribution, you had no worries. You would get fed.
If you're at the bottom, you were likely to starve during famines. Most early human societies were polygynous-- that meant the males took more than one wife if they could. I say "if they could" because if some do, that means some males are destined not to marry at all. It's just an inescapable consequence of the law of musical chairs.
And so falling behind in the income distribution had grave consequences from a Darwinian point of view. People care deeply about that. So when issues of wealth and status come up, those are red-letter issues. People pay attention to them. And the people who are motivated to attend to where they stand in groups and take efforts to move forward have always done a little bit better.
The drug Prozac, which is prescribed for depression, increases the concentration of serotonin in the human nervous system. That's a neurotransmitter. The concentration of serotonin has been shown to increase naturally when you move up the social ladder. You can think that people are programmed to climb social gradients, climb serotonin gradients. It's a very deep thing in the human condition.
And so when you look at Jay Gatsby, he's fallen in love with Daisy-- he's really James Gatz, he's from a middle class family, somebody who would not normally be eligible to marry the wondrous Daisy. And so he sets about trying to remedy that disparity by trying to amass a great fortune, and we don't see all that he's done, but I think we're meant to infer that he's bent every rule, taken every conceivable step to get to the top and has, as far as we can tell, succeeded brilliantly at doing that.
Suddenly, Daisy is somebody in his choice set, he hopes. And again, it's not that people are marrying for money. F. Scott Fitzgerald said in another context, "don't marry for money." Nobody wants to marry for money. That's a cold picture of married existence. What you do, Fitzgerald said, was "you go where the money is, " and then you fall in love and you get married then, and then probably you're going to meet somebody who's got money if you go where the money is first, before you fall in love.
I was speaking with a friend at a conference. He had recently gone halftime at San Francisco Law School. And he said he'd been divorced for a few years. He wanted to meet somebody. And he said when he would meet an attractive woman at a gathering, and the issue of what he did came up-- and it came up in conversation that he was working half-time-- he said a curtain descended in front of the woman's eyes. She was eager to get out of the conversation and look for some new one to start up.
He couldn't possibly be a player if he was working merely half-time. In surveys, men have always said that beauty and other characteristics ranked near the tops of their list, but in a recent survey, material resources ranked number three on the list of traits that men found attractive in women. Material resources have ranked always near the top or at the top when women are listing traits that they find attractive in men.
So it's clearly a major theme in the novel. How much you have determines who you're eligible for. What's always amazed me as I read novels and watch films is, how far ahead the novelists and filmmakers seem to be of the social scientists who are trying to describe the same phenomena.
I've been studying the happiness literature for the past several decades, and it's now turning up some truths that I think are fairly evident in the film that Val will discuss and certainly in the novel.
The happiness literature has two basic findings. One is that if you go in a country and you watch what happens over time as everyone gets richer over time-- which is typically what happens in developing countries-- the average happiness level stays the same. Everyone gets richer, measured happiness levels don't seem to change very much.
That's puzzling to economists-- why do people work so hard to get more money if getting more money doesn't make you any happier? The answer seems to be that there's a second link between money and happiness that's been uncovered in the literature. And that is, when you look at the relationship between rich people, middle income people, and low income people in a given society at the same moment, the rich people are much happier than the poor people. This doesn't seem surprising when you hear it said. It validates the decision to work hard and pursue your ambitions, you might say.
But there's still a great deal of controversy about whether getting richer makes you happier. Certainly there are many examples, many of them in the book, of people who have lots of money who are desperately unhappy. Being wealthy does not guarantee happiness, but there are many people who are poor who are unhappy.
There are more people who are poor who are desperately unhappy than rich, so the simple relationship seems to be getting more money won't make you happy, but it will make you happier than you would have been if you hadn't got more money. So there's that link.
But if you really want to ask what's the basic message, it's the very same one that emerges in the novel. Will setting your sights on getting rich and working hard to succeed make you happy? The happiness literature actually speaks very directly to that question.
It says that the people who care directly about happiness-- excuse me, care directly about making money-- are not likely to end up being very happy even if they make a lot of money. Caring about money, pursuing money for its own sake, is very highly associated with unhappiness in cross-sections of people.
The people who are happy, it turns out, are people who have found something that they love to do and have pursued it. That's I think the message of the novel. It's as well the message of the happiness literature. Don't set your sights on getting rich-- many of you, I know, came here hoping to land a job at JP Morgan or McKinsey Consulting, thereby to get rich. That might be a great path for you, but be open to the possibility that some other path might be better for you.
And if you really find something that you love to do, you're talented enough that you're probably going to get good at it. And if you get really good at it, you might make some money. And that's the very best way to make money. At the very least, you'll become an interesting person. And interesting persons-- this just in-- are attractive to others as well.
You'll find the person of your dreams with much higher likelihood if you find something you love to do and then pursue that. So I'll yield the floor now to the real literary people, but that's just a few words I wanted to pass on to you about the economic context of the novel. There's a lot of subtle description in there that I think really pays a close look but the basic forces are simple and I think fairly intelligible to social scientists. Thanks very much for your attention.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Thank you. Can you hear in the back? Yes. You can talk too.
All right. Our next speaker is Professor Amy Villarejo. You ready, aren't you? Professor Amy Villarejo, associate professor in film, theater, and dance and also the director of the feminist, gender, and sexuality studies program. Her scholarly areas of interest include documentary and experimental film-- she's primarily a film scholar-- television, theories of feminism and sexuality, queer film in culture, and America in the mid-20th century. Professor Villarejo teaches courses in the history and theory of film, popular culture, and feminist theory.
She's the author of an award-winning book entitled Lesbian Rule: Cultural Criticism and the value of Desire, published by Duke University Press in 2003. It was awarded a prize by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, which she received in London, England in March of 2005. This particular society is a professional organization, not only of college and university educators, but also filmmakers, historians, critics, scholars, and others devoted to the study of the moving image. She's the editor along with Matthew Tinkham of a book entitled, Keyframes, which is an exploration of work at the intersection of cultural studies and cinema.
She's just completed another book entitled Film Studies: the Basics, which will appear with Rutledge Press and about which she says, "It will serve as a guide for lifelong viewers of film who are eager for an overview of the field, and for some perspective on how to navigate the democratic potential of new media and the digital divide."
Her current research explores racism and left politics in mid-century American film, television, and radio. She's the winner of the Appel Prize in the College of Arts and Sciences for outstanding teaching and outstanding scholarship. I'm pleased to introduce, Amy Villarejo.
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: Thanks to Biddy's office for making this event possible, and to the technical folks for making my tech possible today. We're going to have an audio-visual presentation. So, I am indeed a film scholar-- a refugee from an English department-- and my argument today is simply, I hope-- fairly simply-- for an expansive and pliant understanding of what constitutes the text that is The Great Gatsby.
It's of course, "a great book," "an American classic," perhaps even the exemplary novel of the Jazz Age. But it is also-- and spread across the entire 20th century, almost-- a number of films, operas, plays, even in New York City Bar, and a catch phrase meant to reference ill-gotten gains and counterfeit prestige.
I don't share Fitzgerald's declared belief that the novel is in itself a superior form to film. I am, after all, somebody who teaches, Dude, Where's My Car?, so I don't entirely believe that Fitzgerald thought it either or entirely, given his career in the movies and the time that he continued to devote to uncredited contributions to dialogue writing in Hollywood.
And so, in surveying film adaptations of Gatsby today, from the 1920s to the turn of the 21st century, I want to concentrate less on the fidelity of adaptations-- that is, their perceived faithfulness to the source material of the novel-- than on adaptations themselves as readings of the novel shaped by their own times and interests.
I think you're probably the ideal audience for such a focus, because you're trained better than any previous generation in the synergies of media texts, in the interpenetration of text and image, in the collision of imaginative worlds made through multiple formats, multiple copyrights, and multiple signatures.
I'm going to look forward to your comments and provocations about what you see in and through these various "Gatsbys," and trust that you'll be alert for what routes into the novel they propose. My own take on the novel, as you'll hear at the end of my presentation, is that it's in least in some serious way about the experience you're currently having. That is, it's an allegory of belonging, a story about new worlds-- their conventions, their tyrannies, their habits, and their exclusions.
So I'm going to end with a little bit on that. So let me start with the film that was presumed to have disappeared without a trace, the 1926 version of The Great Gatsby, made the year after, as you know, the novel was published.
As I'm sure you're also aware, films of the so-called silent era-- that era from roughly 1895 when cinemas was invented until the late 1920s-- were shot on film stock made of cellulose nitrate, a substance known for its spectacular capacity to burst spontaneously into flame or to dissolve without warning.
Film historians estimate that more than 80%-- 80%-- made of the films during this period are now lost to us, making the task of saying anything fact-like at all about the silent era quite difficult.
The Gatsby version of 1926, sold by Fitzgerald for $45,000 and made by Paramount and Partners, has indeed imploded somewhere. But preservationists recently-- in fact, very recently-- have discovered and restored the trailer for the film, which I'm about to show you.
It's a fascinating piece of film-- one which, also by the way, assumes that you've read the novel, unlike later versions, which you'll see. And I want to hear concentrate just on two things for you to think about as you watch. So first, in an era when the cinema was struggling for legitimation as an entertainment for the middle classes, note the trailer's emphasis on class difference as delineated through mise en scene-- that is through setting, through lighting, through casting, and through costuming.
The first scene that you'll see introduces us to Georgia Hale as Myrtle-- she was Chaplin's co-star in The Gold Rush-- and William Powell, who had a distinguished career as George. And they're later contrasted with The Wild Party glamor that includes, the notes tell us, an incident invented for the film in which everyone dives into Gatsby's pool after he tosses in gold coins.
Without relying on language or even here on inter-titles, this medium is able to communicate volumes of information through relatively conventional images.
Another element-- the second element-- I'd like you to pay attention to is the motif of looking. The eyes of the famous TJ Eckleburg billboard, calling our attention to the self-referential cap capacities of cinema, to the pleasures of spectacle. So can we have the first clip, please.
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: I'm going to leave it to you to talk about it. I'm eager to hear your responses. The next adaptation is from 1949, and I'm afraid I can't show it to you since it somehow-- and perhaps fittingly-- circulates only on pirated DVD. I bought it on eBay.
So I'll just mention some of the interesting ways in which it departs from the novel and from this previous adaptation. Drawing upon the conventions of the cycle of films from the 1940s-- some you're familiar with these, known as film noir-- do you know what that is? Film noir? "Dark film?" This Gatsby opens as an unapologetic gangster film, supplying a back story for Jay Gatsby's wealth at which the novel really only hints.
Using stock footage that you would recognize as a classic 1940s footage of men in trench coats on rainy dark streets, Nick Caraway's voiceover gives an inventory of what he calls the "throbbing '20s--" this is from the voiceover quotation-- "new ways to get one's hands on the big money, the speakeasy, the gun man, the bootlegger, run runners, the hijackers, all the gang wars. And out of the '20s and all that they were," he tells us, came Jay Gatsby. "This Gatsby is a crook, pure and simple. His excesses are, however, savored in the film for an audience close enough to the '20s to be able to remember them.
The 1949 version was largely panned, but I would like to recommend it to you for its unruliness, its histrionics-- particularly with Shelley Winters in the role model of Myrtle-- and for its lack of concern. And this is I think what I like the most about it, with making Fitzgerald's evocative and suggestive prose into a manageable narrative.
In the very well-known version that follows several decades later in 1974 with Robert Redford as Gatsby and Sam Waterston-- whom we now know well through reruns of Law and Order, yes? So Waterston plays Nick. That wildness that is in this 1949 version gets contained into the blueprint for the ponderous pretty boy Gatsbys that follow. That's my catchall for the later Gatsbys.
By 1974 that is, we have a sensitive, beautiful, yearning, new-age Gatsby. Redford's performance defines the term wooden, weeding out any passion that might disrupt the stately narrative. And all of the attraction and fascination that binds Nick to Gatsby, including their war experiences, yields to a focus on costume-- here formal wear-- interiors, and these beautiful actors.
Keep mise en scene again in mind as you watch. Here's the meeting from Gatsby's party where Nick is called up, right, to meet Gatsby, who's hiding in his mansion. So the second clip, please.
- Excuse me.
- How do you do, old sport? I'm Gatsby.
- Nick Carraway. It's a pleasure.
- You live in the cottage across the lawn. I tried to buy it once.
- I've been trying to find you, but--
- I'm afraid I'm not a very good host. Truth of the matter is I don't much like parties. I thought we should get acquainted since we're neighbors. I hope you're enjoying yourself.
- Yes. Thank you.
- If there's anything you want--
- Oh, no. Everything's fine.
- Good. Good. It's a lovely night for the party.
- Yes. Is there anything else?
- No. I just thought, perhaps, we should meet.
- Excuse me.
- Shall I?
- No, no. Yes? What? I don't give a damn what Philadelphia wants. I said a small town. If that's his idea of a small town, he's useless. No. No.
I'm sorry, old sport. It was business.
- Yes, well, I've taken up too much of your time as it is.
- Are there any of my guests that you'd especially like to meet?
- No, no. Thank you.
- Perhaps we can have have lunch sometime. Tomorrow?
- Good. See you then.
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: You don't have to clap for that one. It actually makes a great novel boring. And the whole film is actually paced this way. You may see this film, as a matter of fact, at Cornell cinema. See it for yourself. So I think that what interests me is that we're moving from sort of rum runners in 1949 to lifestyles of the rich and famous in 1974.
And I think there is in fact a lot to say about this version. I'd like to know, for example, how you read that little moment in the mirror at the beginning of the sequence, and its oblique framing as Waterston moves into Gatsby's study, as well as what you make of the wide-eyed Nick Carraway himself, who enlists us in much the same way as does his TV prosecutor role to the version he presents of the tragic Gatsby.
But let me suggest to you that one of the great problems with this 1974 version is that it's flattening of the Nick Carraway character also lops off the line that is one of the most powerful to me in literary history, that is to say the last line of the novel. This version and without that whole paragraph that begins with, "As I brooded."
So I want to show you the last example, which is the 2000 made-for-TV Gatsby, an A&E version that's virtually a shot-by-shot remake of the Redford film. And here, you'll see its voiceover involving that last paragraph, beginning "As I brooded." If you would like to follow along in your books, you may. But I want to talk in closing about this last line. So the third clip, please.
- As I brooded on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way, and his dreams must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. 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.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further-- and then one fine morning. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
There's also A 2005 Gatsby. I also won't recommend it to you, but you ought to take a look at it if you're interested. It's a sort of hip hop adaptation of Gatsby called G, that was produced by Andrew Lauren, the son of Ralph Lauren, who apparently has a lot of money.
So let me just talk about that last line in closing. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
A distillation of the wandering, imprecise, fantasmatic, painful, even murderous relation to the past that is Nick Carraway's narration. These closing phrases describe the pulse of the mythology called Gatsby, condensing a brutal commentary on interwar America and social stratification.
It's also, as you know, a nautical metaphor-- and I speak to you today as a film professor who is also a very novice sailor-- that performs the work of Scott Fitzgerald's book. That is beading, sailing against the wind, tacking from one approach to another, or not directly but asymptotically toward a form of understanding, that is to sailors and readers, I'd hazard, infinitely more interesting, precise, challenging, and just plain thrilling than the relatively boring task of sailing down with the wind.
I think that most of these film adaptations sail down wind.
But to know what it is to beat against the wind-- to belong, in other words, to the culture of sailing or yachting, when it's called, when the boats are big and expensive and mostly moored-- is historically and culturally to belong to the very world Fitzgerald circumscribes and subjects to critical and taxonomic scrutiny in The Great Gatsby.
Beating on, in other words, figures the world of privilege-- at once alluring and counterfeit-- at the heart of Fitzgerald's novel. As constant as the green buoy light at the head of Tom and Daisy's dock, as elusive as the promise of the sails hoisted in defiance of the sound's calm.
What the film versions of Gatsby teach us, in my view, has to do with how we navigate our own waters, their lures and their dangers, their spectacles and their deceits.
And in this world, it's through our collective readings that we belong. Thank you.
BIDDY MARTIN: Thank you, Amy.
Professor Douglas Mao taught at Princeton and Harvard before coming to Cornell to join the English department. He, too, is a fabulous teacher. At Princeton, he held a named preceptorship, the John E. Annan Bicentennial Preceptorship, and has been a great teacher at Cornell as well.
He's the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship in 2004, and the author of a fine book entitled, Solid Objects, Modernism, and the Test of Production, which was published by Princeton University Press in 1998.
He's also co-edited another book entitled Bad Modernisms with Rebecca Walkowitz, which is forthcoming from Duke University Press. He's written numerous articles in very important journals in American and English literature. One has a title I particularly like, entitled "The Labor Theory of Beauty: Aesthetic Subjects, Blind Justice," published in Aesthetic Subjects. I'm delighted to introduce to you, Doug Mao.
PROFESSOR DOUGLAS MAO: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Cornell. You all look splendid. I'm glad you're here. I'm going to begin with an obituary of sorts.
June 17 1924. Scott Fitzgerald died today at his rental villa on the French Riviera. He was 28. The author of This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, and numerous short stories, Fitzgerald is survived by his wife Zelda and his daughter Frances. Sources close to the family report that Fitzgerald had been working on a new novel to be called The Great Gatsby, of which he had finished a little more than three chapters.
Of course, this obituary is a fiction. Fitzgerald didn't die in 1924 at the age of 28, he died in 1940 at the age of 44.
And in the extra 16 years of his life, he not only finished the Great Gatsby but also published another novel, Tender is the Night, as well as a great deal of additional writing. So why do I start with this false obituary?
Well, I want to begin this way because I'd like to do a little thought experiment with you. Suppose for a moment that Fitzgerald had indeed died after he had finished three and a little more chapters of Gatsby. Suppose, in fact, that he had died when he got to page 74 in our edition, which is right before Jordan Baker tells Nick the story of how Gatsby and Daisy met in Louisville in 1917.
Then suppose I asked you to talk about this fragment of a novel, this first 74 pages. Suppose I ask you what kind of a story it seemed to be telling to speculate what kind of a book Fitzgerald might have intended it to be just based on what you already have.
Well, what would you have to go on? You'd have the following. From chapter 1, you have Nick telling us how he got to West Egg in the summer of 1922, and how one day he went over to Tom and Daisy Buchanan's mansion.
From chapter 2, you'd have Tom's mistress Myrtle and her husband, George and a very, very bad party in Tom and Myrtle's love nest in Washington Heights.
And then in chapter 3 you'd have that enormous party at Gatsby's place.
And then the part of chapter 4 that we get before Jordan's story, you would have Gatsby driving Nick to New York and introducing him to Meyer Wolfsheim.
OK. So with only this much of the novel in hand, the rest of the story is unfinished.
What kind of book would you extrapolate? What kind of book would you think Fitzgerald was intending to write?
You might guess that it would become a gangster mystery built around the question of who Jay Gatsby is and where his money comes from and the Alan Ladd film version seems to have picked up on that. Or you might guess that it's some kind of love story, as indeed it is. Or that it was mainly intended to be a sketch of New York and the Jazz Age.
But you also might extrapolate from the first 74 pages that The Great Gatsby would primarily be a book about social interactions, a book about how people behave around one another. In other words, you might forecast that The Great Gatsby would be a heart a novel of manners.
Now, I'm sure many of you-- have many of you have heard the phrase "novels of manners" before?
OK. Well, fewer than have read The Great Gatsby.
Novel of manners is often applied to fictions like those by Jane Austen. How many of you have ever read Jane Austen?
OK good. Happy to hear that. In a novel of manners, the center of interest is the way people conduct themselves. In a novel of manners, a lot of the comedy, and sometimes some of the tragedy, comes from the way characters obey or disobey certain codes of behavior.
Most novels of manners assume that competent readers will be able to tell whether characters are behaving well or whether they're behaving badly, and these novels often invite you as the reader to feel rather superior to characters who don't know what good manners are. Right?
If you read a Jane Austen novel, you know that the whole point is that some doofus there doesn't get it, right? And you are invited to feel superior to that person.
As I was rereading Gatsby this summer, it struck me forcibly that what Fitzgerald puts before us in the first three and a half chapters of this book is a veritable parade of bad manners, right? Did you notice this? Think about it.
Take chapter one at Tom and Daisy's house in East Egg. Here, both Tom and Daisy certainly exhibit bad behavior. Early on, you'll remember that Tom starts talking about how the white race is in danger of being submerged, Fitzgerald encouraging us to feel not only that Tom's sentiments are appalling, but also that his ignorance is embarrassing even to his wife. He has no idea what he's talking about but he scarcely notices how ludicrous he sounds to the others.
Later in the scene, Daisy behaves poorly, or at least one might say inelegantly, when she tells Nick how cynical and sophisticated she is. Right? Remember, she says "God, I'm sophisticated."
Her delivery is clumsily theatrical so that Nick immediately feels the basic insincerity of what she had said, right? Kind of borderline bad manners. But the gravitational center of bad manners in this chapter is Jordan Baker. OK?
Remember what happens. In the middle of dinner, the phone rings. Tom goes to get the phone. It's probably Myrtle on the line. Daisy follows him. OK?
This is already not good behavior if you're being very careful about manners and being somewhat formal, because after all, you're not supposed to leave your guest to get up and answer the telephone for some strange person. So already things are a bit rocky. But then you have to love what happens next, right?
Tom and Daisy have gone off, and the polite thing to do if you're Jordan and Nick sitting there is to make polite talk to cover whatever drama might be going on, right?
So Nick, who is of course, always polite, does start talking. But Jordan and shushes him and leans forward "unashamed," as the quote says, trying to hear what Tom and Daisy are quarreling about. Right?
This is really the worst possible behavior, and then it gets worse because Jordan confides that Tom has a woman in New York also. OK?
Nick's verdict on the whole evening is, "I was confused and a little disgusted as I drove away."
Chapter 2 gets off to a nasty start when we learn that Jordan isn't the only one who's advertising Tom's affair. Tom himself has been advertising Tom's affair, as it turns out.
Nick tells us that Tom's acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up in popular restaurants with her-- that is, Myrtle-- and leaving her at a table, sauntered about chatting with whomsoever he knew. Then, after Tom rudely pulls Nick from the train, we're introduced to Myrtle, who seems vulgar in every way.
And if you try to think about this novel without Myrtle, it becomes really a whole different text. She is absolutely crucial to the texture and the tone of this book. She's overdressed, she has bad taste in furniture, her reading is trashy, her ambitions are trivial. She's loud and, of course, she is rude.
Meanwhile, the party at the Washington Heights place is a festival of bad behavior. There is Myrtle's sister Catherine talking quite improperly about how Tom and Myrtle hate their spouses, there's a strung of inane drunken conversations about nothing, and all of this culminates in Tom's breaking of Myrtle's nose and ensuing hysteria.
In Chapter 3, this small and very horrible party is followed by a large and glamorous party-- the one at Gatsby's mansion.
But here, too, people are loud and obnoxious and impolite. Nick says that the guests quote, "conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with an amusement park. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all."
Right? It's bad manners not to introduce yourself, although under the circumstances maybe not so bad. But still, guests conducting themselves as if at an amusement park. The concern with manners here is more than apparent, right?
Then in chapter 4, we have Gatsby driving Nick to New York and saying too much or too little by turns-- again, a socially strange situation. And we meet Meyer Wolfsheim, who certainly seems to observe some odd standards of conduct. He has just met Nick, yet but this does not deter him from waxing sentimental about the night Rosie Rosenthal got shot, and he is also happy to exhibit some cuff buttons made from human molars, presumably ripped from the head of someone who got in his way.
By most standards, not especially tasteful behavior.
So what does Fitzgerald achieve by running all this bad behavior before us? For one thing, of course, he draws us closer to our narrator, Nick. Right?
As we watch all these people embarrassing themselves in various ways, we can hardly help judging them negatively. And as we judge negatively the people Nick shows us, we tend to give Nick more credit for thoughtfulness and keen observation.
Now it may be that most novels try to draw us closer to the narrator and ask us to get critical distance on the other characters we're being shown, but, you know, as I was reading this novel this summer, it struck me that Gatsby is unusually insistent in this regard. OK? Especially in the opening chapters.
There's something kind of obsessive about the way Fitzgerald encourages us to cast a cold eye on loudness, coarseness, obnoxiousness, gossip mongering, and vulgarity. All of which, by the way, I wish you marvelous luck in avoiding during your four years at Cornell. I'm sure you make us very, very proud.
Now at this point, you might say-- starting now, right? At this point you might say, but doesn't all of this about manners get in the way of the romance that's really at the heart of this book? If what I'm saying is true, doesn't it mean that this book really falls into two parts, that it's a kind of novel of manners on the one hand and a love story on the other hand?
To this, I would answer, "no." OK? And if there's one thing to carry away from what I'm saying, this is the important point. It's that the love story itself is bound up with ideas about behavior, vulgarity, and beautiful ways of living versus ugly ways of living.
When on page 148, we finally learn what first drew Gatsby to Daisy in Louisville in 1917, the paragraph begins this way-- "She was the first nice girl he had ever known. In various unrevealed capacities he had come in contact with such people, but always with indiscernible barbed wire between."
Now, "nice" can mean a lot of different things here. Certainly, nice has something to do with social class and wealth as well as the appearance at least as sexual restraint.
But as the paragraph goes on, it becomes clear that what Gatsby finds most attractive in Daisy's world isn't money or social position per se. What's most attractive is that Daisy seems to have a way of living that's more beautiful-- an existence that's less vulgar than anything Jay Gatsby has known before.
Don't forget either, what we learn about the young James Gatz-- who becomes Gatsby-- near the very end of the novel from his father, who shows up for the funeral. We learn, of course, that James made lots of resolutions in that copy of Hopalong Cassidy resolutions about improving himself.
But we also learn that he once told his father that he ate like a hog. It happens to be on the last line of a page in our edition. He told his father he ate like a hog.
This little glimpse into Gatsby's early life tells us a great deal, right? We don't really have a lot to go on, in a way, about Gatsby's early life. But this is informative. It suggests that probably the oldest dream of all for James Gatz is a dream of living around people who have better manners than to eat like hogs.
Daisy, the first nice girl he gets to know, seems to embody just that dream. And we might speculate-- although we can't be sure-- that if he had met some other nice girl first, that girl would have come to embody his dream. Remember too, that when Gatsby senses that Daisy disapproves of his loud parties, he immediately stops having them. He's extremely worried about what Daisy finds tasteful and what she finds tacky.
And keep in mind also, that when Daisy finally turns away from Gatsby in the scene at the Plaza Hotel, it seems to be because she's learned that his wealth originates in criminal activity. Right?
Right before that, if you go back, you'll see this-- right before that, it seems that she may be thinking about leaving Tom. And we infer that one of the reasons she might want to leave Tom is that Tom has a brutal and violent streak, right? We've seen him break Myrtle's nose and we know that he seems to have injured her finger, right?
So that she may be looking to Gatsby as someone who has a lot of money also and a good style of living but is also gentler and kinder. But then she finds out that Gatsby is essentially a gangster, right? And she runs away. Her life with Tom might be characterized as beautiful only on the surface, or only part of the time-- but life with Gatsby might be from her point of view thoroughly ugly. Right?
Gangster's simply cannot be nice in the way Daisy would demand.
Finally, remember that even Nick-- who makes Gatsby such a sympathetic figure-- even Nick is careful to let us know that he quote, "disapproved of Gatsby from beginning to end."
And you may think I'm saying that this book finally values good manners over everything else. But of course, the situation is more complicated than that. For one thing most of us-- I think-- will have trouble not being attracted by some of the bad manners and bad taste in this book.
After all, the noise and the mayhem of Gatsby's parties is part of the fun, the dinner at Tom and Daisy's might be rather dull if there were not this marital drama, and some of us, or some of you, might even relish the terrific awfulness of an evening with Myrtle and Tom in Washington Heights. Right? It's squalid, but it's kind of entertaining.
Nick himself admits to feeling some of this attraction. Writing about the Washington Heights evening, he says that he was quote, "simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life." And writing about Myrtle after her death, he credits her with a tremendous vitality.
In the end, I think, this novel is energized by a tension between the urge to disapprove of bad behavior and a certain captivation by bad behavior. Make no mistake-- the attraction of good behavior here is real. Why? Because one thing this novel really does make us see is that in a world where everyone behaved well, we would probably like people better. We would probably esteem and admire them more for their nobility, their grace, their thoughtfulness.
On the other hand, it is true that life in a world where everyone behaved well might be a little less interesting than life in a world where people sometimes behave badly. Further-- and here I round to a finish-- too serious devotion to good manners has other pitfalls. Among them, that it can be dangerously mixed up with longings for wealth and social position.
We do have a sense that Daisy might have found happiness with Gatsby if she could have worried less about having everything nice. And we may also speculate that Gatsby might have found love with someone worthier than Daisy if he hadn't cared so much about being part of a world where people don't eat like hogs.
The novel doesn't repudiate good manners as such, but it does repudiate the straight jacket that good manners can become. With this in mind, I would like to end by looking a part of one more scene in the novel, the one in which Gatsby and Daisy are reunited after five years at Nick's cottage. I am going to read this section of a scene to you. It begins in the middle of page 86. If you want to follow along, that's fine, otherwise just listen.
So Gatsby and Daisy are in the sort of parlor. Nick hears a terrible silence and so he finally decides to walk in and see what's going on.
Gatsby, his hands still in his pockets, reclining against the mantel piece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even of boredom. His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock, and from this position, his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy who was sitting frightened but graceful on the edge of a stiff chair.
"We have met before," muttered Gatsby.
His eyes glanced momentarily at me and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily, the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place.
Then he sat down rigidly, his elbow on the arm of the sofa and his chin in his hand.
"I'm sorry about the clock," he said.
My own face had now assumed a deep tropical burn. Nick is embarrassed, right? I couldn't muster up a single commonplace out of the 1,000 in my head.
Again, a failure of perfect manners. You should be able to say the commonplace that will smooth the social situation.
"It's an old clock," I told him idiotically.
I think we all believe for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on the floor.
"We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, her voice a matter-of-fact as it could ever be.
"Five years next November."
The automatic quality of Gatsby's answer set us all back at least another minute. I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion that they help me make tea in the kitchen, when the demoniac Finn-- that is, the servant-- brought it in on a tray.
Amid the welcome confusion of cups and cakes, a certain physical decency established itself.
OK. What to notice about this scene?
First, there's the way that Gatsby's face covers over the clocks face, as if he's trying without knowing it to make time go away. In other words, it's as if he's enacting his desire that Daisy will look into his face and the passage of time will disappear. This little metaphor, then, resonates in a different way through the later line, "The automatic quality of Gatsby's answers set us all back at least another minute."
Of course, what Nick means is that everybody is conversationally stuck, but the language also suggests that everyone has become a clock. In a way, that makes time malleable once again-- set back at least another minute. Again, it seems almost possible to do something in human relationships that's not possible an accurate time-keeping, to go into the past, if just for a minute.
OK. What I like best of all in this scene, though, is the line, "I think we all believed for a moment that it-- that is, the clock-- had smashed on the floor."
With the image of Gatsby's face blocking the clock right before, Fitzgerald has encouraged us to think of the clock as standing in for a time. The image of the clock smashed on the floor suggests in a different way that time has stopped or been annulled.
But notice what happens at the same time to personal interactions. OK?
They're all standing around, and Nick hazards that they all think crazily that the clock is smashed on the floor when in fact it's intact. Right?
There's a failure of manners in this moment. It's bad manners to break something in someone else's house. It's bad manners to say idiotic things. It's bad manners to stand around dumbly and awkwardly in a group.
But in this case, the bad behavior isn't something we condemn, nor on the other hand, is it fun in the way that some of the other rowdy behavior we've seen might be fun. Rather, it's just sympathetic.
For a moment, the characters seem wonderfully vulnerable because they don't know how to behave, and they seem drawn together in a kind of conspiracy of hallucination that we can also join. I think we all believed that it had smashed in pieces on the floor.
In other words, the theme of the urge to stop time, which is so prominent in Gatsby's story-- I mean you can't miss that one, right-- here beautifully intersects with the theme of manners. It's as though Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby all relax for a moment under the spell of a stopping of minutes that's also an interruption of perfect behavior.
But this interruption doesn't invite our censure, rather it seems productive and healthy. I like to think of this scene, then, as one in which there are glimmers, for just a moment, an alternate reality in which manners don't matter so much, and neither does time.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Well, when we're listening to these kinds of presentations, I think time doesn't matter so much. Before we get the mics in place so you all can ask questions and make comments, I want to let you all know that there is one person here who is more responsible than many other people who contribute to this event every year. And that's the Vise Provost for Undergraduate Education who is responsible actually this year for the choice of the book which she had to persist in making happen. And also for a lot of the organization tended to the event. And she is Michelle Moody Adams, and I'd like to ask to stand.
And the person from whom you get the funny emails is Michael Bush.
Now, for those of you who are ready to ask a question or make a comment, please proceed to the mics. And those who were thinking of leaving, mind your manners. Ha ha ha. Yeah, I know.
OK. Come forward. We'll go to this mic first. Yeah, great.
AUDIENCE: OK. This question is probably directed to--
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Can everybody hear? Sorry. Shhh. OK, great.
AUDIENCE: Well this question is directed probably specifically for Dr. Robert Frank. In the book The Great Gatsby, all the actions of the characters are fueled by money. Daisy picks the wrong man because she wants to be comfortable. James Gatsby pursues the American dream because he's in love, and even Myrtle breaks social conventions to climb the social ladder. Do you feel when it boils down to it, that money is the cornerstone of all life? Or can we fight the clutch that money has in society?
PROFESSOR ROBERT FRANK: Well, the novel certainly does seem to be very effective in making the point that pursuing money and getting it is not a guarantee that you're going to end up very happy. In fact, the question came up in our preparation seminar-- why did Fitzgerald kill Gatsby off? And again, I'm not the book guy, but it occurred to me that it was a useful device just to show what an empty life Gatsby had managed to forge for himself. There was no one really at his funeral except his father. He ended up with nothing, despite having succeeded so well.
So again, the bottom line message, I think, from those of us who study the happiness literature in a more general context is that lusting after money is not going to get you where you want to be, but finding something you really like to do might lead you to a comfortable-- maybe even lavish-- material lifestyle, but is much more likely to make you satisfied in the long run.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Thank you for that question. Perhaps it would be interesting to think about Bob's talk in relation to Doug's-- to see the importance of social interaction and social relationship that emerged out of Doug's reading of the novel, which certainly competes with the desire for wealth. Yes. This mic in the back.
AUDIENCE: In the beginning of The Great Gatsby, to me, it seemed that Nick often found himself in a precarious situations, socially, I guess since he was younger, and even his whole situation with Daisy and Gatsby and what have you. So I guess I would like to ask, in the end, it seems like he wasn't as focused on money. He wasn't making a lot of money from bonds.
And, I personally don't believe that he walked away any happier. So I would like to ask Dr. Robert Frank, does Nick exemplify something about money? Is he an example of how money can make you happier? Or, if you're not focused on money, that it will have some other type of implication in your life?
PROFESSOR ROBERT FRANK: Yeah, I didn't really have a good read myself on how happy Nick was. He seemed like it was one of those perceptive observers who feel stung by the imperfection of human nature he sees all around. But he didn't seem nearly as unhappy as a lot of people in the novel. So the fact was, he described himself as an honest man and there's some satisfaction in a life that's-- in some broad sense-- one of integrity. But I don't know if he's happier or not.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Amy or Doug, do you want to comment on Nick?
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: Not particularly.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Doug?
PROFESSOR DOUGLAS MAO: I just think it's interesting that we don't know much about Nick's motives, right? We know that he gets off on observing people, right? But we don't really know-- I mean, yeah, OK-- but we don't really know how he sees his life course going, right? He seems to kind of fall into the bond selling and he doesn't seem to have a strong direction. So one of the ways it's interesting to think about Nick in terms of Bob's models and discussion is, here's someone who doesn't really have a long-range plan at some level. And what do we do with that, right? Is that just a mistake or could there be something productive about not deciding too soon?
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: That's interesting. OK, here. At this mic, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: This is an economic question, but I'd like to get all your takes on it. Noam Chomsky said something like, it's a fantasy to believe that having an economic system based on greed or self-benefit or whatever you want to call it-- capitalist system. It's a fantasy to believe that this will result in universal happiness and wealth, in part because the people who succeed, who do for their self-benefit constantly, find a way to hijack the public sector and bend that to their will. Do you believe this is true? And also, being an ILR student, I'd like to get your take on labor unions as a counteracting force to these successful people, these are upper class.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Great questions. Bob, do you want to answer this?
PROFESSOR ROBERT FRANK: Well, what we know about the market system is that it does generate a lot of wealth. Managed economies don't seem to have succeeded at generating much wealth, and so I don't think there's much debate any longer whether the market has to play a major role in the organization of economic life. I think everybody agrees that it does. That includes people in China and other former purely socialist economies. And it's true that there's been a lot of corporate corruption in the news, but people who study ethics in the corporate domain, which I've done also for many years, what's striking is that in the upper echelons of business, what a strong role character assessment seems to play in decisions.
The top leaders in business are not the sleazeball characters that you see caricatured in the media. For the most part, they're generally pretty responsible, caring people. There are conspicuous exceptions we all know about, but think about this-- suppose that you lost an envelope-- at the end of this session, let's even imagine. So there's so many people here, you'd have no idea who found it. And there were $10,000 in cash in the envelope. Your name and address is written on it.
Can you think of somebody not related to you by blood or marriage who you feel sure would return your envelope to you? Most people when they think about that say, well, yeah they can name people who they feel sure would do so.
Well, think about this-- when you're up for a big promotion, will the person in charge of deciding whether you get promoted have an opinion about whether you would return his lost envelope if you were the one who found it. Probably by that time, he or she has come to know you pretty well, and in situations that require trust-- which is to say, virtually every important job in a big firm-- that's one of the key dimensions that people look for.
Are labor unions important? Yes, absolutely they are. I think the capacity of labor unions to combat inequality is much weaker than it used to be, just because of the global marketplace.
If a union bargain is too tough, they know that the firm can go overseas. And so I think we need to rely much, much, more than in the past on the government as a instrument for leveling disparities in income and wealth than we used to rely on labor unions to do.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: By the way, the dean of industrial and labor relations gave a good yell when you said that's where you were located. In the back, here. On the right.
AUDIENCE: OK. Thank you. My question is directed to the entire panel. When I read The Great Gatsby, you realize that it's filled with symbolism. You can look throughout the novel-- you have TJ Eckleburg's eyes, the theory of green light at the end of the pier. But one question that I had was the cover. You look at the cover before you even open the book, and I was wondering-- visually, what do you feel the meaning of cover is?
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: What a great question. Doug, you want to take that? Amy?
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: I want to know what you think it is.
AUDIENCE: Well, if you look at the cover, it's a lot of bright lights surrounded by darkness with a feminine face on it. And I mentioned the ethereal green light at the end of the pier. It seems attainable but not palpable, so I feel that it fits in the theme of the novel, or the color. You see bright lights-- something that you want to go towards, but can you attain it? It's like there, but not there.
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: I think that's a great reading.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Yeah, it's wonderful. Doug?
PROFESSOR DOUGLAS MAO: My understanding is that this is adapted from an early cover. Is that right? Do we know? I believe I've seen this reproduction. So I think this is the picture, at least. The painting is from one of the first editions if I'm not mistaken. And it suggests to me that the way it was being marketed or thought about was, we want to get the something dramatic in top, right? We want to show that this is a serious novel about human longing or something like that. But we also want to make sure that it registers as a Jazz Age text on the bottom.
And I think that that cover captures that pretty well. What I'm interested by is that in a lot of covers and representations, there are depictions of the eyes, right, but not of the actual spectacles of Dr. TJ Eckleburg, which suggests that people are trying to get away from a lurid advertising aspect of that actual billboard, which I think is a mistake.
I would like to see those spectacles, partly because the idea that this is an optometrist ad makes particularly kind of chilling and fraud and creepy and interesting that moment when George, at the end, says, you can't hide from God, right?
And then the other guy Michaelis says, that's an advertisement. And then there's no response. So you don't really know. It's kind of funny, but it's also kind of horrifying, and that a little bit, unfortunately, is lost in this painting, I think.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Great question, again. Yes, in the back on this side?
AUDIENCE: Thank you. I guess my question is directed towards all of the three panelists. My question mainly is based upon the concept of naming individuals. As we see in the book, there's the beautiful Daisy. We have a plain and simple Nick, who is known, by his preference, as the narrator as Nick or I. And then we have the great Gatsby, the title of the novel. Continuing from that, he likes people "Old sport." What would you take out of the fact that he calls people "Old sport." And then I guess a second half of the question is, does the doctor TJ Eckleburg-- that name sounds really grandiose-- he's a doctor, he's got initials in his name. Is there any correlation between that and the title of the author? And so I guess, to what extent does the class or the desired perceived class show through the names of the author and the characters in the story?
PROFESSOR DOUGLAS MAO: OK. Well, TJ Eckleburg, you know, I hadn't thought about this before. It seems obvious but now I'm thinking TJ Eckleburg sounds a little bit like a kind of an optometrist version of T.S. Eliot, who is a rising literary star at this time.
And Fitzgerald was not in some ways a voracious reader, but he was aware of what books were important in his day, and he read a lot of Conrad and Joyce and so on. And so I wonder if TJ Eckleburg doesn't have a little resonance of sort of the T.S. Eliot who was basically, that was the brand name of profundity in this age, right?
So, I don't know about that. "Old sport" I take to be just a way of signaling a kind of old school. One might say, the "Ralph Lauren of the era," right? A kind of preppy privileged way of speaking that Gatsby has adopted, which is natural to him.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Great. Thank you. Great comments, too. Yes, here in the front.
AUDIENCE: This question is for Professor Rao, if I'm pronouncing that right.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: The one in the middle?
AUDIENCE: Yes, the one in the middle.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Villarejo.
AUDIENCE: Villarejo. My question actually falls on the symbolism of the eyes present throughout the novel. You spoke about how, in the film with Robert Redford, Nick's eyes moved into view with seeing Gatsby from the mirror in that point. It's just, eye contact and visualization seem very important throughout the entire novel.
And when I read the novel and I saw the advertisement of TJ Eckleburg, the optometrist, I noticed it was faded and I kind of took the whole metaphor of the area surrounding it-- it was a wasteland, it was fate and everything-- I kind of took that as a metaphor for god who was kind of absent from the land. It was kind of a god-less time because all of the liquor and gangs and everything going on like that. Am I reading into that right, or I am just too much into the fadedness of the advertisement?
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: No, I think that Doug's point earlier raises the question of how these sort of metaphors of visualization or of spectacle or of consumer culture and the excesses of spectacle associated with this luxury-consumption world that The Great Gatsby get figured. And you're absolutely right to pick up on the play of looking in that sequence from the 1974 film, which is also making a comment about what film itself can visualize, right? What it can show to us and the ways that it can parade in front of us the spectacles that Doug was talking about, right?
So one of the most memorable scenes in that version is the scene of Gatsby pulling all of those shirts out of his closet, right? Were fetishizing these beautiful shirts, right? So that the pleasure of actually watching the commodities parading before us is really at stake there.
So I think you're right to focus on that. The god reading of Eckleburg circulates. I mean, that's it's clearly in play in the novel too as well as that landscape as a landscape of social stratification, right? They're moving from Long Island into the city, and it's not as though that landscape has changed so much, right? I mean, you can imagine that as watching the changing nature of class from one space to another. So that's a great question.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Over here in the front?
AUDIENCE: Yes, I have two questions. My first question was, in the novel when Wilson shoots Gatsby at the end, is it showing how they're both similar, how Wilson was poor and he was trying to get out of the valley of ashes and trying to keep Myrtle there by moving to the west, and Gatsby is pursuing Daisy, and he came from a poor background in the mid-West and was trying to achieve something that happened, how they've equal at the end and that they both died by themselves. And my second question was that, a theme in Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby is how the East was very crass and materialistic and jaded, while the West was more pure and innocent. And how do you feel or agree with that theme?
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: I'm a Californian. Of course it's more pure! No. You know, I think that there's a lot that we ought to talk about, and tomorrow's groups are going to be a good time to do that. In terms of what the middle west really means in this book, because the East is a very particular stratum as it's sketched in this novel. And the middle west is this sort of undifferentiated big space. So that strikes me as a really useful opening.
Do you want to say more more about the deaths?
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: As for the deaths. Yes.
PROFESSOR DOUGLAS MAO: I'll just say-- and I think your first point is lovely, I hadn't thought about that, but it's a wonderful reading. You know, a great way of reading text is to think about what spaces characters are in or not in at different points in the narrative, right?
And it is true that this is George's entry into the world of the wealthy. It's the first time he sort of leaves the garage and there's a lot to say about that I think. So that's a wonderful reading.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: I think we should take another, one more, question. And then I promised you that at the end of an hour and a half if you would stick around, we would end. And we will do that.
So we're in the back on the right.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Hi.
AUDIENCE: Gatsby says he wants to relive the past, and most people kind of assume that this means back when he was with Daisy. But the fact of the matter is that he's been dreaming about being with Daisy for so long that his past isn't being with Daisy, but dreaming of being with her. So do you think he's more enchanted with dreaming about being with her than actually being with her, for fear of disenchantment.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: I think that is a beautiful point. Do you want to comment on that?
PROFESSOR AMY VILLAREJO: Yes.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Yes. I think it's a great point. I was just re-reading the passage this morning near the beginning or middle of the novel, where they make-- well, we could use Freud's notion of the family romance. So they make a point that Gatsby denigrates his own parents or wishes to distance himself from them and doesn't really think of himself as having been parented but of having created himself as the son of god.
And so, I think the notion that he lives in his head, in a world of fantasy and desire, that only lands on Daisy but is not in the first instance motivated by Daisy is a great point.
PROFESSOR ROBERT FRANK: There's actually a great economics experiment that bears out your conjecture, and it's one in which the economist told people to imagine that they were going to get a kiss from their favorite movie star. But they had to pay for it. And then the question was, how much were they willing to pay for it if the kiss came right now? Or, the alternative was if the kiss came in three days. And people were willing to pay substantially more for a kiss in three days than for one right now because they wanted to savor the prospect of the kiss in addition to the kiss itself.
PROVOST BIDDY MARTIN: Well with that in mind, why don't we think about tomorrow instead of asking more questions today. I apologize that we can't do more. Thank you very much.
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Provost Biddy Martin moderates a panel discussion about "The Great Gatsby" in Barton Hall with incoming students and the following Cornell faculty members:
Douglas Mao, Associate Professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences Amy Villarejo, Associate Professor of Film in the College or Arts and Sciences and Director of the Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program; and Robert Frank, the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics in the Johnson Graduate School of Management