Flotsam collected from 29 trips to the shore – Part 1

Edvard Munch, Melancholy (1891)

Love is a beneficent form of laziness, like the soft rain that fertilizes the ground on which it falls.

Raymond Radiguet, The Devil in the Flesh

You wake up as the alcohol wears off around 3am. A child dragged through nettles.

Weak-kneed dreams and you’re waiting for me in a hotel I never return to.

Your absence is the labyrinth I venture through the wound to.

An ideal image of ourselves as lovable is punctured.

Darian Leader, The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression

Lost in the current of old memories. You miss the silliness, you miss the pulling faces.

Lyrics reach out in McDonalds–wrap your feelings in all the maudlin cliches of love. Gliding on eddies of sadness that sit somewhere below the chest. The anger no longer makes sense, temper snuffed out in the lagoon of ensuing melancholy.

Pithy pity on public transport. A billboard on the tube describes anger as mismanaged sadness.

You will never be those people again. No matter how hard you search for the lost feeling– contort yourself psychically for a return–your love only makes sense as anamorphosis.

As on the shore of the ocean

On the front of seperation,

On the pendulous frontier of motion

Time gives, takes back,

Strikes, deploys,

Vomits, gulps back,

Gives and regrets,

Fingers, falls, kisses and moans,

Returns to the mass,

Returns to the ocean …

Excerpt from: Paul Valéry, As On The Shore Of The Ocean, Translated by Louise Varesé

Does bravery lie in the ability to commit something and live with the consequences? Or does it lie in staring down the barrel of ‘what if?’ in perpetuity? Surely the former, their trajectory screeching off into the distance–out of view from your static caravan.

Letting go of fears: acquiring new ones.

You miss the animated attention you had no hope of matching, the fluttering around you at a pace.

How to come to an end in words, when…

The intimacy of the sentence that unfurls following your desires to a head, a swell, an image of an eye dilating.

You miss the anxious nuance of a split second decision in words. Now, alone, you feel slow and dreary.

Talk of rollercoasters, addictive personalities that seek the measure of the other, embracing, before the plunge.

#allpathsfaded

Coke-fuelled Uber rides, the rush of traffic, music throbbing, spezi colorway of industrial estates into the early hours of the morning.

What joins me to B. is the impossible, like a void in front of her and me, instead of a secure life together. The lack of a way out, the difficulties recurring in any case, this threat of death between us like Isolde’s sword, the desire that goads us to go further than the heart can bear, the need to suffer from an endless laceration, the suspicion even—on B.’s part—that all this will still only lead, haphazardly, to wretchedness, will fall into filth and spinelessness: all this makes every hour a mixture of panic, expectation, audacity, anguish (more rarely, exasperating sensuality), which only action can resolve (but action…)

[…] These moments of intoxication when we defy everything, when, the anchor raised, we go merrily toward the abyss, with no more thought for the inevitable fall than for the limits given in the beginning, are the only ones when we are completely free of the ground (of laws)…

Nothing exists that doesn’t have this senseless sense—common to flames, dreams, uncontrollable laughter—in those moments when consumption accelerates, beyond the desire to endure.

Georges Bataille, ‘A Story of Rats’ in The Impossible

You’re back in Sheringham. Alone in a beach shelter you’d once been together, you’re looking out at a cardboard box panorama of grey-green brown sea and tinfoil fleck clouds.

ASMR susurration of shingle beach. Wave upon wave. Shingle falls away.

Wave after wave after wave.

I hate you, Ocean! All your bounding tumults

I find within: the bitter laughter of

A man defeated, all his sobs and insults,

I hear resounding in the sea’s vast laugh.

Excerpt from: Charles Bauderlaire, Obsession, Translated by Anthony Mortimer

You can’t decide whether the sea is coming or going–is part of you praying on the return of the tide?

It’s not defeat that kills you. It’s the ever renewed hope.

Simon Critchley, What We Think About When We Think About Football

The Jungian principle of reciprocal individuation, where a deep and loving encounter is what generates development.

Much like “Clearing” before it, this song seems to be about a failed relationship that Liz, in retrospect, feels was empty/lacking in substance (“Our love was nothing”). She says of her and her ex-partner, “we were but reflections of rooms that hold echoes across the divide, of rooms with a ragged interior”–a series of illusions and distortions nested within each other.

She starts and ends the song referencing a present (a letter she’s written whose contents are unclear) that she’s been saving for when her and her ex-partner have “figured it out”. Perhaps this means figuring out how to be on speaking terms again, or processing the end of their relationship in another way. In any case, Liz doesn’t seem confident that they will figure it out, whatever “it” is, since they’re still “turning circles” around the issue.


AnonymousEditor  
319

3 years ago

Rare are the individuals who are not hurt by understanding.

Everyday actions like going to the shops, walking in a park, going to the cinema or being in certain parts of one’s city suddenly become incredibly painful. Each place we visit, even the most familiar, revives memories of when we were there with the person we loved. If shopping at the supermarket or walking down the street with one’s partner had never been a particularly special experience, doing it now becomes painful. It isn’t just the revival of happy memories linked to those places that matters, but the fact of knowing that we won’t see them there ever again. Even new experiences can be agonizing. Seeing a film, viewing an exhibition or listening to a piece of music makes us want to share it with the one we’ve lost. The fact that they aren’t there makes our everyday reality seem acutely lacking.

Darian Leader, The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression

Must we continue now? Carrying little deaths within.

You dream of some VCR footage you’d seen of her as a small child, only this time she plays on your knee, a bundle of precious energy.

Nights through dreams tell the myths forgotten by the day.

Carl Jung

Masked in the morning’s glow, the lover no longer there.

The mornings and late evenings are the hardest: intimacy at its glaringly most absent.

You just want to wrap them up in cotton wool.

You miss the best of her that in this waking memory, forgets the worst which made it impossible.

Was it all rows? Were you really enamoured?

Sat for days in the park, watching children play in the absence of something to say.

London is haunted. Her absence like an apophatic god, the wind blowing over the tree’s leaves.

Traipsing down supermarket isles, products you’d once bought together catch your attention anathema. You’re caught in the tumble dryer of the emotionally disturbed stomach, rendered a weltering ball of flesh.

You find yourself impulsively drawn to the same spots. Locked in memory, you unwittingly trace the topography as in the poverty heat maps of Charles Booth. What and where? In what way did the cruelty of doubt’s demands latch onto this street?

Camille Javal: I’ve noticed that the more we doubt, the more we cling to a false lucidity, in the hope of rationalizing what feelings have made murky.

Jean-Luc Godard, Le Mepris

Your self-righteousness frightens you. Your words maim and only after do you take a half-responsibility, a responsibility that was absent in utterance.

You passed over the threshold. You stepped over a line.

There is no going back: forgiveness is not in forgetting.

The injunction to forgive and forget is not only implausible but absurd. […] On the contrary, forgiveness is more a matter of remembrance, in the Freudian sense of the word, than oblivion. It requires you to actively confront and relive the past, not least to avoid being enslaved by it in the manner of the neurotic. Otherwise one remains perpetually in thrall to the offender, unable to prise oneself free from his deed, and to that extent the puppet of one’s personal history.

Terry Eagleton, Radical Sacrifice

The best thing would be to write down everything that happens from day to day. To keep a diary in order to understand. To neglect no nuances or little details, even if they seem unimportant, and above all to classify them. I must say how I see this table, the street, people, my packet of tobacco, since these are the things which have changed. I must fix the exact extent and nature of this change.

Jean Paul Sartre, Nausea

You collage in the hope of establishing a taxonomy of feeling. An inventory that somehow always falls short. Always more to grasp, more to pull in. Always another book to read that might reify feeling. Another explosion of colour to be bagged, to be put in the fish tank.

There exists a condition which with me at least is not all that rare in which the presence and absence of a beloved person are equally hard to endure; or at least in which the pleasure derived from their presence is not that which, to judge from the intolerableness of their absence, one would have expected it to be.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Waste Books

How often your identifications in the text are merely saccharine graspings, fortune cookie like. Do you truly identify? Or are these passages simply ambiguous enough to lasso you? You’re caught living life by the dictates of a horoscope.

I’ve upset you now, I can feel it.

Time to hold onto that feeling and move away.

While Butades traces, she cannot see her lover. She is blind to him as she draws. The same goes for all drawing. The object or model even if facing the artist, cannot be seen at the same moment as the mark of the drawing is made. There’s always a gap or delay. The mark relies on memory. And when memory is invoked, the present object is ignored: the artist will be blind to it.

Jeff Collins, Introducing Derrida: A Graphic Guide

You are blank, you are lost, you are vacant. You are beyond the pale.

You write from the rubble.

Hot springs steaming from their moiling surface, obsidian rock juts from cold snow.

No general theory about pain. Each patient discovers his own, and the nature of pain varies, like a singer’s voice according to the acoustics of the hall.

Alphonse Daudet, In the Land of Pain

Searching for a feeling of a given physicality, the way it occupies space, its residue in a word of an image.

It is the attempt to represent, or to restore, by means of articulated language those things, or that thing, which cries, tears, caresses, kisses, sighs, etc., try obscurely to express, and which objects seem to want to express in all that is lifelike in them or appears to have design.

Paul Valery

Writing: forever the melancholic reconstitution act.

A love affair is a grafting operation. ‘What has been joined, never forgets.’ There is a moment when the graft takes; up to then is possible without difficulty the separation which afterwards comes only through the breaking off a great hunk of oneself, the ingrown fibre of hours, days, years.

Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

A collection of those fibres, those spectres, recalled as and when they occur; a diary of the seance.

William H. Mumler, ‘Spirit’ Photography

You are watching your vaporiser on loop. It ushers streams of smoke that arc upwards leaping like horses at full gallop only to dissipate into nothing.

That passed, so can this.

O pardon me. My doubtful heart was slow

To credit that which I did fear to know. 

Cyril Tourneur, The Atheist’s Tragedy

The painting in your window on a January day of a mother-to-be, out of love, and shortly to die thereafter from the complications of the birth.

Life feels totalitarian and unfeeling without them. Everything is unimaginative, tower block uniformity.

Now you’re gone: like a television left on all day whilst I’m out.

True compassion is to suffer in silence for others.

Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories III, 1990-1995

You failed in this endeavour.

She is gone and now you can no longer see yourself.

You are a disappointment to yourself. Living seems acquiescing to the fact. Accepting and going on. 

A bowling ball hitting the floor, time and time again.

A succession of dull thuds.

What now? Re-stage it all as a chamber drama?

Give form to old ghosts under the duress of COVID’s metamorphoses?

You begin writing film reviews instead.

Narrator: “The cinema,” said André Bazin, “substitutes for our gaze at a world more in harmony with our desires.”

Jean-Luc Godard, Le Mepris

Hysteresis, New York – A review of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013) and Jack Clayton’s The Great Gatsby (1974)

Felix Valotton, The Lie (1898)

A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It’s January 1st and the 95-year copyright of The Great Gatsby (1925) has expired; the floodgates are open to ‘anything and everything fans might want to do with it.’ Each adaptor, a cartographer before new lands, stands on the shores of the Sound: Gatsby’s pleasure palace beckons with ‘all the iridescence of the beginning of the world.’  In the salted haze of the coastal air, sea gulls squawk and scrabble over loose scraps; the caterwaul along the shoreline the morning after the party.

A spate of retellings blot out the horizon: Gatsby as vampire, Gatsby as shimmering lure to LGBT New York; a Muppets Gatsby, a televised Gatsby, and so on. William Joyce, the proposed director of an animated Gatsby announced just last week, thinks that no longer ‘constrained by live action’ he can ‘finally realize the elusive quality of the novel.’

Such excitement, such a changing of the forms and appetites of Gatsby’s characters is surely appropriate; Fitzgerald made a career of documenting the changing desires that the elusive fairy light of the zeitgeist incited. But, rather than dwell on the eldritch newly rich or the gaze of a gay Gatsby over a rainbow tinged Sound, you found yourself drawn back to the outrage sparked by Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 retelling of Gatsby, which,—as one assumes the renditions above will be in due course—was criticised for being too divergent from its source material.

The more generous reviewers found the film an amuse bouche that lacked Fitzgerald’s taste and incision; a nostalgia prevailed for the subtler bouquet of Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation. The more acerbic, such as Richard Brody at the New Yorker, found the film ‘under the top,’ declaring that for all the kaleidoscopic ‘lurching and gyrating’ of Luhrmann’s ‘whizzing’ 3D rendition, none of it was ‘remotely alluring, enticing, fun.’ Where the frenzy of the Jazz Age had a ‘diabolical appeal’ for Fitzgerald, Luhrmann’s movie ‘offers none.’ Like an aging Steppenwolf-cum-Theodor Adorno (swap jazz for Jay-Z) Brody diagnosed the film as holding ‘no seduction’, finding the action ‘turbulent and raucous without being promising.’ He took no quarter for the director either, who, ‘a man of his times, has no patience for mystery, no sense of true and brazen immodesty.’

Others took a different tack, in place of tasteless infidelity, self-confessed ‘pedant’ Charles Moore at the Telegraph took aim at Luhrmann’s constancy:

It often turns out that the one thing worse than infidelity to the book is fidelity to it […] It is a would-be faithful film, and a terribly, terribly bad one.

Lacking ‘Fitzgerald’s gift for making a few words say a lot,’ Luhrmann’s film ‘accumulates detail like a pile-up on a motorway.’ Moore follows up with the standard mid-Transformers-pandemic slur that the director uses ‘computer generation as a substitute for imagination.’ Leaving the cyborgian sterility alone for now though, directly after this our critic inexplicably U-turns, accusing Luhrmann of being an adulterer to place:

Perhaps the oddest thing about the film is that it makes so little of the other subject of the book – America itself. It aspires to make a great American film of a great American novel, but does not locate itself observantly in the culture that fascinated and appalled Fitzgerald. In the end, this is just a film about rich people behaving unpleasantly.

Just how one can be meticulously loyal to the source material and avoid America is anyone’s guess, or Clayton’s adaption.

The remark was symptomatic of a wider discordance which clouds both Moore and Brody’s takes. Both critics fall into criticism which serves inadvertently as praise: both straight up echo and then ignore Fitzgerald’s sentiments on the ‘test of a first-rate intelligence’ being the ability to navigate and occupy both sides of any given dichotomy. Paralyzed by paradox, Moore writes: ‘the movie doesn’t know whether it is looking or taking part, and when it does look, it does not know what to concentrate on,’ as if in a deliberate nod to Nick’s revelation after the party round Myrtle’s:

I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

Brody differs slightly, instead opting for a snobbish, misplaced ontology that ends in denying the film any contradiction whatsoever:

The movie conveys the sense of waste but not of what was wasted, of the superfluous but not of excess, and of the phony but not of the glorious theatre of life. In its reductive way, it not only doesn’t display two opposed ideas; it offers no ideas at all.

In his own reductive way, Brody would have us believe that he holds proprietary rights to Fitzgerald’s rose-tinted g(l)aze.

These reviews are recounted in passing as an illustration of the widespread distaste that greeted the film’s release. One need only return to Fitzgerald to refute their outlook, with Clayton’s 1974 adaptation standing in as a more than apt (and dull) sounding board that might project the merits of Luhrmann’s Gatsby. The films are near enough the same length–a hefty 2 hours 20 mins plus–yet this is where the commensurate qualities end. One is an at-times, frenetic fugue imbued with some of the unsustainable energy of the Jazz Age; the other: a third-rate costume drama.

Hysteresia.

Those who continue to vote although there are no more candidates.

Those who continue to watch television when the broadcasters are on strike.

The phantom limb which goes on hurting even after it is amputated.

The man who is made redundant but regularly goes to his former place of work every morning.

The Japanese stubbornly contemplating the sunset at Ayer’s Rock even though there is no sun.

The tightrope walker who keeps edging forwards on his imaginary rope until he realizes it is not there and falls into the void.

The subject who takes himself for a subject even though he disappeared long ago.

Jean Baudrillard, Fragments: Cool Memories III, 1990-1995

In the essay series The Crack-Up, Fitzgerald details how ‘an exceptionally optimistic young man experienced a crack-up of all values, a crack up that he scarcely knew of until long after it occurred.’ This is hysteresis, raw and unforgiving, ‘the subject who takes himself for a subject even though he disappeared long ago.’ Echoes of the Jazz Age, My Lost City, Babylon Revisited… Fitzgerald is a writer of revelations that lag behind the time that evoked them; fairy castles conjured through mists of memory and inebriation. Trawling through Fitzgerald’s prose, fragments offer themselves up as fractals:

I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between the very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky; I began to bawl, because I had everything I wanted and I knew I would never be so happy again. My Lost City (1932)

I was in love with a whirlwind and I must spin a net big enough to catch it out of my head, a head full of trickling nickels and sliding dimes, the incessant music box of the poor. […] This article is about that first wild wind of success and the delicious mist it brings with it. It is a short and precious time – for when the mist rises in a few weeks, or a few months, one finds that the very best is over. Early Success (1937)

So… to address the elephant in the time machine, The Great Gatsby, as in the above, is a recalling of past events. The narrator Nick Carraway refers to the ‘book’ he is working on. He writes, with not a little dishonesty, that the details related are ‘merely casual events in a crowded summer.’ It can be inferred then, that it is only in their recall–in looking back–that these events absorb Nick. In the subsequent unforgiving march of time, events have wrapped Nick in a melancholic, bromide fug.

Luhrmann’s film embraces this, using the device of Nick writing a memoir in an asylum, whereas Clayton’s film rarely leaves a sweat-drenched present. When we interact with Luhrmann’s film we experience the machinations of melancholia and mourning, an immutable past rupturing the surface of the present. Clayton’s adaptation is comparatively flat.

In Nick’s retroactive coming to terms with, he has been accused by many readers of being a consummate politician; his narration is after all eulogising Jay Gatz, fraud, gangster and accessory to Myrtle Wilson’s murder as ‘The Great Gatsby.’ In a letter to Ernest Feydeau in 1872, Gustave Flaubert wrote:

When you write the biography of a friend, you must do it as if you were taking revenge for him.

Nick too, is in the act of taking revenge. Revenge for his friend whose reputation lies slandered by the press after his death; revenge for his friend who is ‘worth the whole damn bunch put together.’ For Nick, Gatsby cuts a tragic figure and is totemic of something unique, something lost: ‘an infernal hope, a hope that leads to perdition.’ Gatsby’s dream is an impossible one that never arrives. It’s a dream reconstituted from a past which lies far behind him. Nick, like Charlie Wales in Babylon Revisited, is caught up in a wistfulness over a bygone character, a lost essence:

He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything wore out.

Told from the position of the present meditating on the past, the glitz and glamour is always confabulated, its reminiscence bittersweet. It’s hard to not see some of Nick’s dilemma within Fitzgerald, when he writes in the personal essay Handle with Care:

I only wanted absolute quiet to think out why I had developed a sad attitude towards sadness, a melancholy attitude towards melancholy and a tragic attitude towards tragedy – why I had become identified with the objects of my horror or compassion.

Nick relates Gatsby’s melancholia for the lost object of Daisy, its still to be decided whether Nick’s malaise will pass over as in mourning, or like Fitzgerald, be a melancholic entombing within of the lost object Gatsby.

Luhrmann’s film benefits from taking the book at its own temporality. Recalling Sigmund Freud’s guidance as to how to evoke free association in a therapy session, the director stages Nick in the act of trying to remember, trying to make sense of the past which flashes by like the landscape seen from a train window. The film rarely goes ten minutes without reminding us of this process. It frequently steps away from the spooling past and puts us back in the asylum, be it the doctor’s office, or in Nick’s room as we watch him working over a typewriter, or looking wistfully out of a window. We are aware of the passing of the seasons. It is spring when Nick finishes the memoirs he began in the frostbitten blizzard of winter.

Life moves on interminably, we see the cruelty of the changing seasons which have no respect for man’s passing. In these backdrops we witness a nature that has the heartless insistence to persist. Echoing Keats’ Ode to A Nightingale (this passage was used as an epigraph in Tender is the Night), Nick is left only with memories to cling to, as he is forced by the necessity of the present to keep treading ‘through verdurous glooms.’

Hunter S Thompson famously typed The Great Gatsby in its entirety to get the feel of writing an American ‘masterpiece.’ Francis Ford Coppola not so famously transcribed the same into ‘a meticulously faithful’ screenplay. This generous epithet given by the YouTube stream blurb seems a stretch for this Russian doll; several layers of lacquered wood away from the kernel; Hunter S Thompson blasted into the Colorado skies by an obsequious Johnny Depp.

Other than its staging of temporality, where does Clayton’s film go so wrong? Surprisingly, the blurb implies, ‘Theoni Aldridge’s costume design and Nelson Riddle’s nostalgic musical score won the film its only Oscars.’ This seems a bit of a stretch for a sometimes cheesy, sometimes clumsy soundtrack – the end credits stand out: a riotous blast of chorus girls supplying cardiac arrest in place of heartbreak– and the costumes, which through some failed miscegenation with the camera come across drab and laboured. See Mia Farrow’s washed-up-jellyfish of a tiara for the second party at Gatsby’s.

As above so below, one need look no further than the dullness of the opening sequence. After an opening credits of empty sets and empty promise, Nick zigzags across the choppy waters of the Sound, clumsily losing his hat in the process. This scene–an addition by the filmmakers–does nothing to advance the plot and comes across as merely lazy blocking. In this regard, it is typical. Fitzgerald’s novel, now held almost universally to not have a wasted word, a single sag, is a moth-eaten bean bag in the hands of Clayton; it envelops you within its folds; the experience is one of opaque boredom. Take for instance, only moments later, the depiction of the room in which Nick is first entranced by Daisy. In Fitzgerald we have:

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 celling, and then rippled up over the wine coloured rug, making a shadow on it as a wind does on the sea.

This passage translates merely as a fumbled itinerary for set dressers; there is nothing magical or enticing about it, no enveloping billowing of the curtains. Mia Farrow, like a convalescent in a musty retirement home lays back, gauche on a dun couch. The framing is lazy and without excitement; there is none of the incandescence one expects from the start of Nick’s reverie. The eye is not invited in, nor does anything stimulate the senses in a way evocative of memory. If good film can be approximated to the Fitzgerald’s description of personality–‘an unbroken series of successful gestures’–then this sequence is surely a failure. There is none of the ‘heightened sensitivity to the promises of life’ at work, there’s nothing ‘gorgeous’ about it.

By contrast Luhrmann’s technique is rhythmic and visually gripping. After a succinct framing of the story within the past via Nick’s memoir, the director jumps straight into the action. We’re led by an impetuous Tom through the grand Georgian grounds of his estate. In place of the anaemic Bruce Dern is a snarling Joel Edgerton. A motor-mouthed, larger-than-life sportsman, ‘Life is something you dominate if you’re any good,’ he bellicosely bounds ahead, recalling his past achievements which are mirrored by the extended trophy cabinet along the walls—and then—flowing blankets flapping in the wind—cinema’s capacity for magnification and enumeration of lavish detail—everything snaps together with choreographed precision—Daisy’s sultry voice whispers ‘Nick’ and an enticing hand from behind a sofa beckons us in, evoking John Berger’s sentiment:

Love treasures hands like nothing else, because of all they have taken, made, given, planted, picked, fed, stolen, caressed, arranged, let drop in sleep, offered.

Carey Mullígan has a sensual allure as Daisy. When she giggles and whispers, Nick is taken aback, made nervous, made to feel under the spotlight; he must perform for her, hold an attention that may leave at any moment. With her companion Jordan, who coquettishly sneaks looks at Nick, there is a fun about them, a promise of the excitement that these rich, young women hold. In there movement and poise, a dance of predation ensues, they circle the increasingly disorientated Nick.

Here we are granted inner access to the beginnings of Nick’s idolatry of Daisy Buchanan, Fitzgerald’s most Keatsian interpolation. A ‘chrono-morphism’ pervades The Great Gatsby, you can read time elapsing into most passages, but nowhere is this more acute than in the rendering of Daisy’s voice. Recalling Heraclitus: ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,’ Daisy’s voice is a continually transforming and transformative elixir to Nick. Take this from their first meeting:

It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

And then from when Daisy goes to a party at Gatsby’s:

Daisy began to sing with the music in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out a meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again. When the melody rose, her voice broke up sweetly, following it, in a way contralto voices have, and each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air.

By contrast Mia Farrow has none of the composure, nor music of Fitzgerald’s prose. Idolatry is impossible when she delivers her lines a shrill Miss Havisham channeling The League of Gentlemen. Where in both the book and Luhrmann’s adaptation Tom is seen as a relative outsider from the first gathering, excluded from Nick, Jordan and Daisy’s urbane sophistication and wit; in Clayton’s film Farrow’s hysterical delivery of her lines places her squarely as Tom’s victim. She has no power over Tom, Nick or the audience. Where in the former Daisy toys with Tom’s Nordic race theories, mocking his attempts at intellectualism, Farrow has nothing sardonic about her; she comes across a brattish child whose party is being spoiled by a racist uncle. There is no self-assurance to her performance, none of the ‘thrilling scorn’ when she announces that’s she’s ‘been everywhere and seen everything,’ or when echoing Edmond de Goncourt’s comment ‘We are dying of civilization,’ she erupts ‘Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!’ As a result, it’s equally impossible to have the reaction Nick records of:

The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.

How to doubt her sincerity, when what we’re presented with is so glib it invisibilizes the question? Ultimately we do not believe Farrow either to have the mystique or to be conniving enough to exact a contributory emotion.

As with the lie of the painting above, as with the lie of photography–a photograph but a freeze of a thing thawing in time–in the novel Daisy’s voice is a transient wonder that ultimately lies. Nick is never quite able to put his finger upon this elusive quality of Daisy’s voice; he is always trying to rope in new signifiers to grasp at it. It is only when Gatsby opines that her voice is ‘full of money,’ that he concedes that its essence has been bottled. This voice full of money, which goes to the highest bidder, that’s exciting, excitable, whimsical, that’s impermanent, catatonic, capricious, that’s attention-deficient, disloyal, the great driver of tragedy etc. Farrow never beguiles us thus. Why should we care? Why would we allow our lives to be torn in twain for her? We are indifferent. Ulysses’ conundrum is never staged:

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.

The Promethean power of love aside, how to come to terms with an unfeeling insincerity? Nick is unsure. As in when Daisy tells him how much she loves to see him at her table, comparing him to a rose, ‘an absolute rose’. Nick reacts,

This was untrue. I am not even faint like a rose. She only extemporising, but a stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words.

It is surely no coincidence that this rose imagery returns right at the point Gatsby’s death is recalled:

No telephone message arrived […] I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.

What a grotesque thing a rose is. The corolla withers brown and the petals rot, giving way to a sordid tuft and a thorny cane. In Nick’s eyes it’s the Buchanans who’ve done the plucking:

Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: