November 2010


“…The more there are who would say ‘ours,’/ so much the greater is the good possessed/ be each–so much more love burns in that cloister”(Dante, Purgatorio. XV. line: 55-57).

As I was reading Nussbaum’s article “Cultivating Imagination: Literature and the Arts” I could not help but think of Jeremy Rifkin’s RSA video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g) on “Cultivating Empathy” as both of these scholars look at the ability to empathize in society as a measure of a good society.

Rifkin relates a study in which scientist found that all human’s brains are soft-wired with “mirror neurons”– that is to say that if I see someone angry, sad, or going through whatever emotions, the neurons in the brain that control the emotion will fire in my brain as I watch the emotion in someone else. My neuron will mirror the neurons merely from observation.

Nussbaum’s claim then that “Children…are born with rudimentary capacity for sympathy and concern” (96), there is science to back her up, and more so than just Winnicott’s observations.

As an aside, Rifkin believes that empathy must be nourished; that we must build an “empathic civilization” which is not to say utopia, but a society in which we can build solidarity with not just one another but with all animals on this earth. Rifkin looks at how empathy has grown with technology. When humans were hunter gathers, empathy extended only to within tribes and the tribe on the other side of the mountain was an “alien other,” but with globalization, our tribe now encompasses the entire globe. And it seems that the way to create the empathic civilization that Rifkin is discussing would be through the arts, the way Nussbaum is suggesting.

I believe the correlation here between Rifkin and what Nussbaum points out when looking at Ellison’s ideas for his novel are informative for how to build a empathetic community: Rifkin says that humans are soft wired to feel what the other is feeling, and Ellison points out that his novel help us see the relationship with people we encounter everyday (Nussbaum 107). As Tagore is suggesting, as Rifkin is hoping for, as Nussbaum is analyzing– humans are wired to be sympathetic and a way to tap into that sympathy is through the arts and imagination. I am in complete agreement with Nussbaum when she mentions the arts as a way to teach children about “cultural blindspots” (108). As Nussbaum goes on to give examples of arts affecting young people (Chicago Chior, implementing art to psychotherapy, etc), it seems amazing that more schools are not doing this.

This seems like some dated material: “So it is no surprise that colleges and universities, instead of asking faculty members to correlate what we teach and how we teach it, assume instead that each of us will figure such things out on our own.” The school I went to before has what is called a “FIG” program, and while the acronym escapes me now, the point was to get students with a common major and group them together. The idea was that if these students took the same classes together, they would be more apt to learn collectively; it also meant that professors would engage one another and try to come up with topics that would intersect showing students how all these skills, from writing to science to history and math, all related in “the real world.”

This way if the fig class was learning about the 1950’s then in my composition class I would have all the students pick ads from the 50’s to analyze, for example.

While I agree with much of what Graff is saying and while I tentatively agree with assessment, there are some problems I am having with this article; For instance, Graff says:

“In college the contradictory messages intensify with a vengeance, as students go from one teacher who insists that good reading means inferring the author’s intention to another who dismisses authorial intentions as unknowable and irrelevant; or from one teacher who believes that textual interpretations can be objectively correct or incorrect to another who smiles or rolls his or her eyes at the naïveté of such objectivism; or from one teacher who expects undergraduates to employ a rigorous analytical methodology and terminology more or less like the teacher’s own to another who thinks it sufficient if students learn to appreciate a good read in whatever relaxed way is comfortable to them.”

At what point is the student responsible for figuring this out? If this is how universities have taught, and it is this method that has led to the thinkers we have now, then is it wrong to say something IS working here?

” Students thus learn to be relativists at ten o’clock and universalists after lunch. A University of Chicago student summed it up succinctly, if crudely, when asked how he coped with the challenges of the humanities and sciences: “In humanities I B.S. In science I regurgitate.” Professors often complain about the cynicism of this student shape shifting, but such cynicism is an understandable reaction to our curricular mixed messages.” Isn’t this the point? Is a college education not the time to be immersed in a multitude of differing opinions and thoughts? Isn’t critical thinking the ability to figure this out? Studying philosophy as an undergrad, I always understood that what was thought before changes, but if I am taking a class on Eastern philosophy, then I have to understand that Buddhist believe in reincarnation, no matter if the Existentials I learned about the semester before believe in an after life or not. College is the time to realize that there are many answers to questions and many different ways to approach a problem, and college is the time to figure out which way suites you best.

Rather than “desperate rationalization” as Gaff puts it, look at what that fragmented curriculum got him: He was the president of the MLA. I feel that the following paragraphs about the high achievers seeing through the disparate courses and opinions and succeeding undermine Graff’s arguments about connecting courses. For all the reasons that Graff, himself, mentions. This is what “critical thinking” is– this is what I try to teach students about genres; this is what I teach students about reading literature (that there are all these different ways to do it and that there are all these meanings an that none are more right than the other) because this is the kind of bureaucrat b.s they are going to have to decipher when they get out into the real world. The students who don’t get this will be the mediocre employees of tomorrow, but why do we think that all our students have to leave the university as rocket scientist, doctors, lawyers, or English professors? They just need to be able to function in society and hopefully recognize bad political rhetoric and not vote for candidates with empty messages.

I am NOT saying that I disagree with what Gaff is saying and with how he wants to change universities. I completely agree with professors sharing what they are doing and coming up with ways to integrate different subjects and show the connections between disciplines; I just disagree with his reasoning as to why it should be done. I am also continually bothered with the humanities having to justify itself in this way. Why is it that the humanities has to tell society that it is useful because ‘look-at-all-these-ways-the-humanaties-connects-to-other-subject’? I have never used what I learned in pre-calculus or high school chemistry or middle school dodge ball in “the real world”- but I understand these subjects were important for getting me to think in different ways. Yet (outside of dodgeball) no one questions the validity of a business major learning the periodic table. I also worry that assesment might pressure the teacher too much and not put enough of the power in students’ hands. How can we teach students to take responsibility for their education and then turn around and blame ourselves for not connecting subjects for them?

So while making my last post, I noticed that I sent that crazy ramble to my professor, and not the following which is what I meant to send:

Jacques Derrida states, “all responsible witnessing engages a poetic experience of language,” which is to say that the most responsible way to bear witness to an event is through a poetic language that does not claim to grasp the moment, capture it, or totalize it. Derrida also states that love is a question between “who” one loves or “what” one loves. The question is: does one love the other or some quality about the other. It is my belief that these statements can inform a certain reading of many different concepts that are depicted in literature, most obviously conceptions of love, but also conceptions of heartbreak. I believe that these moments in literature invoke Derrida’s conception of poetic language to try to convey to the reader a sense of these abstract concepts such as love and heartbreak. Furthermore, I believe that within the idea of conveying emotions beyond thematization in poetic language that Martin Heidegger’s conception of identity (Being) as always moving ahead of itself, as being-in-the-world-towards-others, rather than a static, non-moving, self-same identity, is the reason that love and heartbreak cannot be put into words and why it is that poetic language is the best way to convey these ideas .

Stemming from these ideas, I believe that there is a serious critical gap in exploring conceptions of heartbreak, which I believe follow the same conceptions as love. That is to say that heartbreak, like love, can best be explored through this poetic experience of language. Additionally, I believe that there is a phenomenology of heartbreak that has been explored but not explicitly put into words. Though not explicitly about heartbreak, as mentioned earlier, I believe that heartbreak can only be themetized through poetic language. I also believe that Harold Schweizer’s phenomenological look at enduring time in his book On Waiting can inform a view of heartbreak, which is after all, a waiting to “get over it.” These ideas intersect with Derrida when he examines ideas of mourning. Derrida explores having to carry on after an other has passed: “The survivor, then, remains alone….At the least, he[the survivor] feels solely responsible, assigned to carry both the other and his world, the other and the world that have disappeared” (140). But what happens when the world of the other is only gone from me? In heartbreak, the other is gone but not gone from the world, so while I carry the world of the other in me, the other’s world is not gone.

I feel that Schwiezer’s conception of waiting can inform these questions. Schwiezer outlines a theory of waiting using Henri Bergson. Basically, there are two temporalities: one thought and one lived (time and duration). Clocks give us thought time– an abstraction that is measured. Bergson gives an example of enduring time by saying that watching a lump of sugar melt in a glass of water gives us lived time– time that must be endured– a time that must be waited “willy-nilly.” This willy-nilly implies vacillation, which Bergson terms “impatience” (16). It is in this lived time, this time that is not calibrated to our will, that time becomes “time as the other than.” Duration then seems “other than” as in other than can be measured; therefore, it is time that is consciously endured rather than the time in which things get done (16): “In waiting, the hour cannot be turned into lunch; the waiter must live the hour” (Ibid.). The hour can not be a distracting; as Schwietzer puts it the hour can not be turned into a “lunch hour.”

What is implied here is that in waiting the waiter cannot defer or prolong, shorten or lengthen, his time and thus his “being.” In waiting the waiter feels his own being. I get here a feeling of Heidegger’s “being-towards-death.” From what I understand of Heidegger’s anxiety:

Heidegger argues that our ontic feelings of anxiety testify to the “groundlessness” of human existence, revealing an ineradicable insecurity which Heidegger connects to the fact that our existential trajectories – the life-projects, roles, and identities that define who we are – have “always already” been shaped by a past that we can never get behind and head off into a future in which these self-defining projects will always be incomplete, cut short by a death we can neither avoid nor control. In Heidegger’s famous phrase we exist as a “thrown project”: thrown out of a past we cannot get behind, we project ourselves into a future we can never get beyond. “Existence” (from the Latin Ek-sistere, out-standing) is this standing-out into time, a temporal suspension between natality and mortality (http://www.philosophers.co.uk/cafe/phil_mar2003.htm)

If anxiety arises out of our existential trajectories, then wouldn’t we feel that groundlessness more when we are forced to endure time? If the anxiety is a result of being always-already shaped by a past we cannot get behind and being thrown into a future we can not head off, then wouldn’t we feel this anxiety in moments when we, as Schweizer puts it, “feel our being” in waiting– because in waiting our being cannot protract or contract, we vacillate, we are in this state of willy-nilly “will I, won’t I.” This dithering is made manifest in our pacing the room; The walking back and forth is the waiter wanting to get away from a body that endures– the body is always a reminder of mortality. (Again, I think of a “Being-towards-death”).

I extensively look at these conceptions of time and existential anxiety because I see in these phenomenological experiences much of what a phenomenology of heartbreak would feel/look like. In heartbreak, the heartbroken must endure time. He must wait to “get over” the person, and this “getting over” becomes problematic when thinking about what Derrida has to say about mourning. What happens then when the loved one is not dead but just gone and out of my life? Is there not a mourning there, but one that is much different (and yet eerily similar) to Derrida’s mourning. According to Derrida, in order for mourning to succeed, it must fail. Mourning is the getting over of a lost loved one, but does it not feel wrong to think we can get over the death of a beloved; therefore, Derrida’s conception of mourning is that is must fail in order to succeed, but in heartbreak, doesn’t the mourning have to succeed? But it can’t fully succeed because the person is not dead, just not there, which leaves us back to why Derrida says that mourning as “getting over” would seem odd, especially odd if the person is still alive, or so I would think. Or is it that mourning does succeed because we can finally get over the person? While this latter question implies a possible solution, I still find it problematic because, to use Derrida again, when the other is gone we must “carry the world of the other” but the world of the other hasn’t gone anywhere, just away from me. Yet I can’t help but to have the world of the other in me in dialogue.

Another possibility I see is that since, as Heidegger says, Dasien is always-already thrown forward and taking up possibilities and future possibilities, is heartbreak, then, the realization of having certain possibilities no longer available? This is what existential anxiety is, after all, so is heartbreak then just an intense experience of existential anxiety? To contrast that idea, is love then the suddenly multiple possibilities before me?

I think, therefore, that there is a connection to be made between love and heartbreak, which I think phenomenologically are the same experience interpreted in different ways, and I think ways to interpret these emotions are through Derrida’s conception of poetic language and through a philosophy of waiting. I think that the conditions of possibilities for these ideas are found in Heidegger’s conception of Dasein, and I think that heartbreak, like waiting, can be interpreted through Heidegger’s idea of “present-at-hand ”

Here are some thought I am having about a whole bunch of stuff I want to study:

The first question when it comes to “love” is: what is love? How do we define it? Love is one of those things, I think, that can’t be described in language. Anything you have to say about love is only about love, not love itself. This idea comes from Derrida:

The who or the what of love, like the who or the what of being: We cannot place our finger on the “thing” that it is. And I was unable to explain this to my friends (but that might have had something to do with the alcohol they were drinking).

After thinking about it for a while, I thought of our ideas about love, and how these ideas (and this idea of the “que” or the “qua”) can be seen in Cinderella. Here we have a “love” story, but what is it that the prince falls in love with? Essentially a foot. What is going on in that story that the prince can’t recognize his love by sight, sound, touch, smell, but by the show she wears? Thank goodness that her foot didn’t bloat after a night of dancing, or that none of the other women in the land has the same size foot as Cindy. But it is this essentialism that defines our Western conception of love.

Looking at Romeo and Juliet, we have Juliet saying that “a rose by any other name still smells as sweet”– and it is this rose that we equate with love. This essential something– this self-same identical person that we fall in love with. This is what Derrida points out so aptly. How many times do you hear about a relationship that falls apart because someone in the relationship “changed.” :

For some reason we equate change with something bad (at least in a relationship). Isn’t this what ruins the relationship in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall? Alvie meets Annie, falls in love with her, encourages her to take classes and “better” herslef, and then when she changes, she outgrows him and they break up. So what was it that Alvie fell in love with? Was it Annie? But what about Annie did he fall in love with? And what did Annie see in Alvie? What about Alvie was any different? He is a comletely static character, which is why the audience can see why Annie leaves him, but where does that leave love?

I finally understood this opening scene when taking a Woody Allen class: This idea of not wanting to belong to a club that would have you as its member is what I understand Lacan is talking about when he talks about desire. Whenever I’ve been in a decent relationship (and this is, more and more, applying to friendships even) I always wonder why the other person likes me. What do I posses that the other person likes and wants to be around. Being at this party as a non-drinker, non-smoker, I have realized that I am getting a little boring in my middle-age, so why do people hang out with me? (I am exaggerating here for the purpose of discusion– because as I say these things, I can also say that whenever a girl turns me down I always wonder what is wrong with her: I am smart, and funny, and handsome– but it all goes back to the idea of what is “love”)– Rather, I should probably emphasize “what is love?”

I think, ultimately, that we shouldn’t put any kind of label on love and try to define it in words. That is the job of the poet: to write about love in a mysterious way. And here I wish I knew more about Hiedeggar and poetic language.

It is through Hiedegger, afterall, that I get this idea of love as not something concrete. As Derrida says, the question of love is the same as the question of “being.” Is being a who or a what? If we take being as being this constantly thrown forward then there is no “thing” that we can call love (or being). If being is being-in-the-world-with-others-towards-death, then it is not a static self-sameness identity that we can grasp. There is no rose or foot to put our shoe on, in this case.

In Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, this is clearly seen. Here there is a novel where the “who” and the “what” are constantly changing. The main characters are constantly changing their identity and even there psychical bodies, so there is no static who or what to love. But the story is one about love regardless of not having a static thing to love. This is true love– an unconditional one that stays no matter what the object of love “is.”

Love is like being then– always thrown forward ahead of itself and never static. Love is not a foot (that is a fetish– that is lust). Maybe there are so many divorces because people don’t realize that if their partner changes, that is a good thing, and that maybe they should change too. If you don’t move a muscle, that muscle atrophies and dies. Love and being are the same way, no?

Schwiezer then goes on to outline a theory of waiting using Henri Bergson’s lump of sugar as his basic premise. Basically, there are two temporalities: one thought and one lived (time and duration). Clocks give us thought time– an abstraction that is measured. But watching a lump of sugar melt in a glass of water gives us lived time– time that must be endured– a time that must be watied “willy-nilly.” This willy-nilly implies vacillation, which Bergson terms “impatience” (16). It is in this lived time, this time that is not calibrated to our will, that time becomes “time as the other than.” Duration then seems “other than” as in other than can be measured; therefore, it is time that is consciously endured rather than the time in which things get done (16): “In waiting, the hour cannot be turned into lunch; the waiter must live the hour” (Ibid.). The hour can’t distract him/herself.
What is implied here is that in waiting the waiter cannot defer or prolong, shorten or lengthen, his time and thus his “being.” In waiting the waiter feels his own being. I get here a feeling of Heidegger’s “being-towards-death.” From what I understand of Heidegger’s anxiety:

Heidegger argues that our ontic feelings of anxiety testify to the “groundlessness” of human existence, revealing an ineradicable insecurity which Heidegger connects to the fact that our existential trajectories – the life-projects, roles, and identities that define who we are – have “always already” been shaped by a past that we can never get behind and head off into a future in which these self-defining projects will always be incomplete, cut short by a death we can neither avoid nor control. In Heidegger’s famous phrase we exist as a “thrown project”: thrown out of a past we cannot get behind, we project ourselves into a future we can never get beyond. “Existence” (from the Latin Ek-sistere, out-standing) is this standing-out into time, a temporal suspension between natality and mortality (http://www.philosophers.co.uk/cafe/phil_mar2003.htm)

If anxiety arises out of our existential trajectories, then wouldn’t we feel that groundlessness more when we are forced to endure time? If the anxiety is a result of being always-already shaped by a past we cannot get behind and being thrown into a future we can not head off, then wouldn’t we feel this anxiety in moments when we, as Schweizer puts it, “feel our being” in waiting– because in waiting our being cannot protract or contract, we vacillate, we are in this state of willy-nilly “will I, won’t I.” This dithering is made manifest in our pacing the room; The walking back and forth is the waiter wanting to get away from a body that endures– the body is always a reminder of mortality. (Again, I think of a “Being-towards-death”).

I see in these phenomenological experiences much of what a phenomenology of heartbreak would feel like. In heartbreak, the heartbroken must endure time. He must wait to “get over” the person, and this “getting over” becomes problematic when thinking about what Derrida has to say about getting over a loved one. While Derrida is talking about mourning and the loss (death) of a loved one, what happens then when the loved one is not dead but just gone and out of my life? Is there not a mourning there, but one that is much different (and yet eerily similar) to Derrida’s mourning. In order for mourning to succeed, Derrida says it must fail. Mourning is the getting over of a lost loved one, but does it not feel wrong to think we can get over the death of a beloved; therefore, Derrida’s concetption of mourning is that is must fail in order to succeed, but in heartbreak, doesn’t the mourning have to succeed? But it can’t fully succeed because the person is not dead, just not there. Or is it that it does succeed because we can finally get over the person? While this latter question implies a possible solution, I still find it problematic because, to use Derrida again, when the other is gone we must “carry the world of the other” but the world of the other hasn’t gone anywhere, just away from me. Yet I can’t help but to have the world of the other in me in dialogue.

Another possibility I see is that since, as Heidegger says, Dasien is always-already thrown forward and taking up possibilities and future possibilities, is heartbreak, then, the realization of having certain possibilities no longer available? This is what existential anxiety is, after all, so is heartbreak then just an intense experience of existential anxiety?

It seems the depiction of class in Hurston’s novel is more complicated than merely being a depiction of status. There is rather an intersection of class and status linked to race and color, which is seen in the exchanges that Janie has with Mrs. Turner. For Mrs. Turner, it seems that class is decidedly linked with race as the narrator tells us that Mrs. Turner can “forgive” Janie for wearing overalls “like the other women who worked in the field” because of Janie’s “coffee and cream complexion and her luxurious hair” (140). Mrs. Turner even goes on to say that “…dey outghta make us uh class tuh ourselves,” referring to light-skinned blacks (142).

Of course though, everything that Mrs. Turner says is refuted by what happens earlier in the novel. Even if whites were to make light-skinned blacks a “class tuh [them]selves,” would it matter? The people of Eatonville create a social hierarchy even away from a controlling white hegemony.

The people of Eatonville consider Janie to be high class, and this is seen at the very beginning of the novel when Janie walks back into town and the townfolks are gossiping about her: “–why she don’t stay in her class?–” (2). While the town’s view of Janie as being of a higher class has slightly to do with her appearance, it is her money that makes her high class, which is seen in Janie’s gold spittoon: “It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder” (48). This is hints at the contrast between Gatsby and Janie: while Gatsby, no matter how much money, could never be part of the upper echelon, Janie and Jody could buy their social status in Eatonville, just as earlier Killicks is considered someone of higher social standing because he owns land.

Jody, who was just like the people in Eatonville except for having money and because of money having power, considers the townsfolk “trashy people” (54), and doesn’t want Janie to interact with them. Although this attitude arises from both class and patriarchy, as Jody believes that a woman’s place is in the home. Jody conveys this view a number of times. He uses not only class but his position as the bread-winning-man to control Janie and discourage her from not getting involved in what the “trashy people” do (for example when Jody and the town bury the mule 60).

Class is wielded throughout the novel against Janie as a way for her to get out of her position as a woman (her grandmother’s way of living: marrying out of poverty). It is only through money, marrying into money, that she can be classy, and she can easily compromise her class by making “mistakes.” Pheoby warns Janie that running around with Tea Cakes is somehow compromising her class: “He don’t know you’se useter uh more high time crowd than dat, You always did class off” (112).

I think this raises an interesting question about what “class” means. If someone has class, can he/she lose that class? Tom Buchannan is considered by society as someone of high class even though he is a womanizer and brute while someone like Tea Cakes can never be considered of a high class even if he buys into it, or can he? JOdy is able to buy his way into the upper crust in Eatonville, but is this because Eatonville is a new town just for blacks? How then is class defined? It almost seems to be something one is born with (the nature vs. nurture exchange between the men on the porch).

For instance, Janie is considered by everyone to have some air of class about her even though she enjoys doing things that are not considered fit for her station, such as gossiping and joking on the porch with the men. This is further seen when Tea Cakes tells Janie that he didn’t invite her to the party he threw with her money because he was afraid she “…might get all mad and quit” him for associating with the non “muckty mucks” people. (124).

In the end, Janie is back in Eatonville with everyone gossiping about her, and it doesn’t matter to Janie. I htink this illustrates Janie’s realization that class is just a social construct, so it doesn’t matter if the townsfolk gossip about her and about what happened.

Uhhh… Let’s see; premise: “to set forth beforehand, as by way of introduction or explanation.” Also “in logic, “a previous proposition from which another follows,” Again, I wonder as I read Frank Farmer’s essay on imitation… Why do many of these writing pedagogy people write so… shall we say: uniquely?

A premise is a starting point. If these were my student, I would write in the margins, “Just make the assertion” or something like that. I hate this kind of redundant writing (probably because I see it in my poor writing, but I’m not a “lit” guy, right? I read the stuff; I don’t necessarily write it). Now that I am completely off topic, let me get to the article.

I do like Farmer’s idea of imitation. I am amazed that the hippie expressivist were against imitation. Wouldn’t “finding your voice” and your “true self” be helped with reading people who have found themselves, and with reading text that “speak” to you? Maybe I am too Bloom-anxiety-of-influence-y on this, but doesn’t every great writer find his/herself through imitation? Through grappling with a literary fathers?

Grappling with literary fathers is not to say that the fight is done once King Laius is defeated. Rather, like Farmer says, we should teach students to seek out new fathers to kill because, “…if they have no opportunity to develop new perspectives by entering into, trying on, the perspective of another, then, indeed, we have taught them little more than to be content with the immediate position they assume…” (421); my question to this is: how do we get them to NOT be content with their immediate position–their starting point, their premise, if you like?

I understand that with imitation, students need to realize that the point is for them to “come to terms” with the language of another so that the student can make the language his/her own, but in all of Farmer’s praise of Bahktin, where does Farmer talk about actual pedagogy that can be used in a classroom? And while I agree with Farmer that parody is “…useful because it offers an excellent way to braoch some of the complexities of three enduring staples of rhetorical education: context, audience, and purpose”(425), I have to disagree on purely theoretical terms.

Yes, I believe that imitation is useful, which is why I always have my students read an expert or ‘A’ paper; the idea is that this example is one to be imitated and used to begin to craft a voice of their own– where I disagree is on Bahktin’s essentializing. All this talk of double-voiced discourse as if we could ever be objective. The idea Farmer brings up at the beginning of the essay of appropriating “someone’s else’s words” (416), as if there was ‘somone’ out their who owns the words that students will appropriate. All that said, I repeat that I fully agree with Farmer and the usefulness of imitation. To illustrate how echoing someone else can transform the person echoing, here is Derrida discussing how echo, by repeating the last words she hears, turns the words repeated into her own, which I believe is what students can do in imitation:

“she speaks in her own name by just repeating his words” -Derrida

The idea of writing about race in The Great Gatsby is interesting. I have read this novel a few times now and have never thought of it in terms of race, but race is always present, in any novel.

First, though, I needed to find out what “race” means. Is it culture (or just linked with culture)? Is it the psychical attributes? As I learned from PBS,org, “…humans have not been around long enough…to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface differences, we are among the most similar of all species”– and despite what Tom’s “scientific” book “The Rise of the Colored Empires” might say, when we talk about race then, we mean a, “…classifications of humans into populations or groups based on various factors, such as their culture, language, social practice or heritable characteristics.” I point this out because the issue of race has alway fascinated and confused me, and I think that is what draws me to postmodern theory that shows how these terms are socially constructed and not just naturally inherent. With this in mind, I think that race can be looked at in The Great Gatsby in the same manner it can be looked at in Hughes’s poetry: Hughes addresses race… well, how? Is it that Hughes is black? or is it because Hughes writes about Harlem? or both?

I think it is both. Hughes’s race comes out when he writes about Harlem, jazz, blues, bee bop, and the culture that informs him, as a black man in Harlem–That is to say, Hughes writes about his ‘culture, language [and] social practices.’

Fitzgerald, as some people have pointed out, speaks about race by not speaking of it (but he does speak about the “white race”), and in doing so, it makes “white” the default, normalizing race. However much Fitzgerald does not directly invoke race, race is implied when Nick talks about his Ivy League days, when Gatsby says he went to Oxford because it is well known that there were no “colored” people at these ivy league schools at this time, we might also wondered if there were any colored people at Gatsby’s parties, and we can infer, with people like Tom going to these parties, that the only colored people there were walking around with silver trays with drinks on them for guest; And while Nick has a Finnish woman as a servant (and why is her race invoked?), we never learn the race of the “eight servants, including an extra gardner” that prepare Gatsby’s mansion for the party. Why does Fitzgerald feel it important to name the race of Nick’s maid but not the eight servants?

I believe the novel addresses race more in these subtle moments than in the obvious ones, such as Myrtle’s aside about the “shiftlessness of the lower orders”, the “These people” (36), which is interested that “shiftless” is used to describe “these people” when it is the rich Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle who wander around shiftlessly and amorally.

Another subtle moment of race in the novel is the extravagant buffet of the party: “…hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” (44). Food is, I believe, one of the biggest signifiers of race. If this party were given by my family, there would be a whole roasted pig, congri, white rice and black beans; if this were a party in Harlem, the food would be bar b q, pigs’ feets, watermelon– the point of this (reading it again what almost feels like racist comments) is that Fitzgerald takes the time to write about the actual food that is displayed, which is intricately linked to race and class. Just as the location is linked with race; just as having Daisy come over for tea and lemon cake (Gatsby’s big plan to meet her again) is linked with race because this activity is itself a very “white.”

These moments are peppered through out the novel. In telling the reader that Klipspringer plays rag time jazz, Fitzgerald is making a comment about race because this is not the jazz that Hughes is writing about in his poems. In other examples, Fitzgerald mentions a person’s race (the Greek who sees Myrtle struck by Daisy, for instance), and then other times he doesn’t. While there are plenty of moments that Fitzgerald ignores race, there are also plenty of subtle moments he does.