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Repetition Race and Desire in The Great Gatsby
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Repetition Race and Desire in, The Great Gatsby, Adam Meehan. The University of Arizona, Although disagreement persists over exactly what role race plays in The Great Gatsby. the issue cannot be ignored especially in recent critical studies Yet Gatsby reveals an. unexplored angle that intersects with psychoanalysis in relation to Lacan s fundamental. fantasy The protagonist s object of desire objet a Daisy is the maternal figure in a. self destructive adult repetition of the oedipal drama complicated by her metaphori. cal associations with the American landscape and her husband Tom s patriarchal and. nativist views Ultimately the novel s symbolic structure is haunted by a latent desire. to reconstitute Gatsby s ambiguous socially projected racial makeup as only figuratively. Keywords F Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby race psychoanalysis. subjectivity, ace was the elephant in the room in Fitzgerald studies for decades but since. around the mid nineties it has been a hot button issue A smattering of crit. ics as early as the late 1960s and early 1970s began exploring Fitzgerald s. personal racial politics But it was the likes of Richard Lehan s The Great Gatsby. The Limits of Wonder 1990 Je rey Louis Decker s Gatsby s Pristine Dream The. Diminishment of the Self Made Man in the Tribal Twenties 1994 and Walter. Benn Michaels s Our America Nativism Modernism and Pluralism 1995 that set. the stage for a thriving discourse on race in Fitzgerald s fiction and especially. The Great Gatsby, A major catalyst for these seminal readings was the rise of new historicism. which led to a reexamination of the nativist ideology that proliferated follow. ing the First World War The social climate of the early 1920 s says Decker. specifically as it is expressed in increasingly racialized forms of nativism creates. the conditions under which Fitzgerald s narrator imagines Gatsby as a figure for. America 56 In sharpening our perception of the social cultural and historical. conditions that Gatsby grows out of new historical influence sowed the seed for. the recent outcrop of critical attention to the novel s treatment of race This new. cycle of criticism with noteworthy contributions including Meredith Goldsmith s. Repetition Race and Desire in The Great Gatsby 77, White Skin White Mask Passing Posing and Performing in The Great Gatsby.
2003 Benjamin Schreier s Desire s Second Act Race and The Great Gatsby s. Cynical Americanism 2007 and Greg Forter s chapter on Gatsby in Gender. Race and Mourning in American Modernism 2011 has situated the novel s racial. politics in relation to prevailing contemporary critical approaches including per. formance studies queer studies and narratology helping establish what is now a. well defined body of scholarship on the issue, However the issue of race in Gatsby has not been su ciently explored from. a psychoanalytic perspective and I would argue that further intervention in this. realm is needed My justification for this is essentially twofold First a slew of. recent studies drawing inspiration from Frantz Fanon s appropriation of Lacanian. psychoanalysis have added a compelling and valuable dimension to the study of. race and have considerably recalibrated the field These include to name a few. the influential collection Female Subjects in Black and White Race Psychoanaly. sis Feminism 1997 edited by Elizabeth Abel Barbara Christian and Helene. Moglen Claudia Tate s Psychoanalysis and Black Novels Desire and the Protocols of. Race 1998 Barbara Johnson s The Feminist Di erence Literature Psychoanalysis. Race and Gender 1998 Christopher Lane s collection The Psychoanalysis of Race. 1998 Kalpana Seshadri Crooks s Desiring Whiteness A Lacanian Analysis of. Race 2000 Mikko Tuhkanen s The American Optic Psychoanalysis Critical Race. Theory and Richard Wright 2009 and various contributions from Slavoj i ek. Homi Bhabha Joan Copjec Judith Butler and others The second reason is that. while surprisingly few critics have taken up the task Gatsby lends itself remark. ably well to psychoanalytic interpretation A B Paulson John Hilgart Barbara. Will Richard Godden James M Mellard and others have certainly laid some. groundwork in this respect but there remains much to be said about the novel s. psychodynamics, If we accept Kalpana Seshadri Crooks s assertion that Lacan s theory of. subject constitution provides us with cognitive landmarks or positions by which. to bring the subject of race into representation 2 we might argue that a psy. choanalytic reading of race in Gatsby involves identifying the major cognitive. landmarks in the life of the title character These are primarily manifested. in adult repetitions of childhood and teenage fixations In order to make. sense of these landmarks we should begin by contextualizing Gatsby s desire. in relation to Lacan s fundamental fantasy which he codifies in the matheme. a A reading of the novel that places Gatsby as the barred subject the. void of subjectivity and situates him in relation to Daisy as l objet petit a a. allows us to look beyond Daisy as mere commodity fetish but rather as an object. manifestation of Gatsby s primal lack the signifying phallus While commodity. fetish is one facet of Daisy s symbolic overdetermination the novel through. Nick tells us quite clearly what Gatsby is really after He talked a lot about. the past and I gathered that he wanted to recover something some idea of himself. perhaps that had gone into loving Daisy 117 emphasis mine Although Nick s. suggestion is frequently cited critics tend to revert to the standard interpretation. 78 Journal of Modern Literature Volume 37 Number 2. of Daisy as just another item in Gatsby s list of things I suggest that we take. Nick s proposition more seriously and pay closer attention to the construction and. function of Gatsby s desire in the text, Benjamin Schreier has made the valuable observation that Gatsby enacts a. deeply problematical drama of identification whereby the representational capac. ity of identity ultimately American identity is an object alternatively of desire. and skepticism and that it ultimately lacks faith in the symbolic orders on. which stable conceptions of identity rely 155 Yet a more concentrated re. contextualization of Lacan s symbolic order relative to race will help us bring. the novel s psychodynamics into sharper focus If we look beyond or perhaps. more accurately through Daisy as commodity fetish she may be viewed as an. object manifestation of Gatsby s desire to return to the realm of the pre Symbolic. prior to the figurative castration of the oedipal drama Her maternal role which. is crystallized through the association of the green light at the end of her dock. with the fresh green breast of the new world on the final page of the novel. suggests her broader symbolic role in the text as America itself And if we accept. Decker s claim that Gatsby is borne back ceaselessly into a Nordic past as recol. lected within the climate of the Tribal Twenties when conceptions of whiteness. both narrow and become a sign not of skin color but of national identity 53. we might argue that she ultimately represents Gatsby s desire to reconstitute his. ambiguous suggestively Jewish racial identity in line with a fantasized Nordic. American past Adopting Walter Benn Michaels s broader claim about Jewish. identity helps us further contextualize this process. The point then of identifying as a Jew the stranger who wants to marry into your. family is to identify as American the family he wants to marry into which is to. say to transform American identity from the sort of thing that could be acquired. through naturalization into the sort of thing that had to be inherited from one s. parents Insofar as the family becomes the site of national identity nationality. becomes an e ect of racial identity 8, Put in this broader context we can read Gatsby s renouncing of his biological. family as a denial of his racially adulterated lineage and his desire to marry Daisy. as an attempt to enter create a family that would regenerate his socially projected. ancestry as figuratively white Ultimately this reading o ers us a unique way of. reconciling the symbolic duality of Gatsby s autopoietic process and America s. fantasized and racially whitewashed mythopoeic past. SITUATING GATSBY S DESIRE, Just after the midway point in the novel Nick recounts what must inevitably be.
considered an unverifiable account of Gatsby s adolescence. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people his imagination had never. really accepted them as his parents at all The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg. Repetition Race and Desire in The Great Gatsby 79, Long Island sprang from his Platonic conception of himself So he invented. just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent. and to this conception he was faithful to the end 104. Outside of the general unreliability of both our title character and narrator Nick s. admission that he told it to me at a time of confusion when I had reached the. point of believing everything and nothing about him 107 leads us to further. question the story s veracity But what is particularly interesting about Gatsby s. account is that it holds equal interpretive value whether it is true or not Either. his parents actually were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people who he never. really accepted or else he fabricated the account and in doing so refuses to accept. whoever they really were Nevertheless the suggestion that his parents either were. or may have been farm people has substantial though multiple and perhaps. competing implications On the one hand this lineage may symbolically tie. Gatsby to America s earliest settlers implying a hereditary stake in the nation s. history and emphasizing his essential Americanness On the other hand an. association with itinerant immigrant farmers may imply a family lineage that. could potentially be perceived as non white, Gatsby s account reflects the ambiguity into which he is continually cast and. casts himself throughout the novel Ultimately we do not come to understand. his history with any more certainty Instead we are confronted with the essential. polysemy of the novel which as critics have observed arises out of the many. narrative and textual contradictions that cleave fissures in the meaning of the text. But regardless how we characterize or interpret Gatsby s family history what. matters is that he renounces it In doing so he symbolically extricates himself. from the oedipal drama and sets the stage for what James M Mellard has called. in relation to Fitzgerald s short story Winter Dreams an adult repetition of a. childhood phenomenon 55, In his highly original reading of Winter Dreams part of what has come. to be called the Gatsby cluster of short stories that prefigure the novel Mel. lard argues that this tale of ill fated romance illustrates how we may read the. dialectic of desire not only in the context of oedipal authority the Lacanian. Law of the Symbolic Father but also in that of the abjected mother residing in. the semiotic chora Julia Kristeva posits as prior to the patriarchal order ultimately. repressing it 51 In the story a young boy named Dexter Green who aspires. to transcend his humble upbringing and join the ranks of the upper class falls. in love with a wealthy girl named Judy Jones Much like Gatsby he covets her. as a symbol of the wealth and status that he hopes to acquire The narrator tells. us at one point that he wanted not association with glittering things and glit. tering people he wanted the glittering things themselves Winter Dreams. 220 221 Like Gatsby the story speaks through the language of commodities. as material possessions become tantamount to social stature Matthew J Bruc. coli describes the story as the strongest of the Gatsby cluster stories explaining. that like the novel it examines a boy whose ambitions become identified with. 80 Journal of Modern Literature Volume 37 Number 2. a selfish rich girl Indeed Fitzgerald removed Dexter Green s response to Judy. Jones s home from the magazine text and wrote it into the novel as Jay Gatsby s. response to Daisy Fay s home 217 By reading Dexter s desire through Lacan s. account of the oedipal plot Mellard chronicles the eventuation of Dexter s oedi. pal resolution Like Daisy from the beginning Judy wears a halo of desirability. because of her metonymic association with a place and eventually a subject of. wealth and power Mellard 58 Through the metonymy of Dexter s desire Judy. ultimately represents the symbolic phallus that Dexter lacks on account of the. figurative castration of the oedipal drama As a symbol of the phallus Mellard. says of Judy she represents something beyond desire 66 and as the symbol. of that which the subject wants but cannot have she invokes castration in the. prohibitions of the law of the father 67, The oedipal drama unfolds almost identically in Gatsby The crucial di erence. is that while at the story s end Dexter has truly become the postoedipal subject. has resigned himself to loss loss not of grief or of Judy but of that which every. oedipalized subject loses the phallus Mellard 74 Gatsby instead charges on. toward the painful jouissance that resides in possession of Daisy and is eventually. punished for his transgression of the Law of the Name of the Father As with. Repetition Race and Desire in The Great Gatsby 77 White Skin White Mask Passing Posing and Performing in e Great Gatsby 2003 Benjamin Schreier s Desire s Second Act Race and e Great Gatsby s Cynical Americanism 2007 and Greg Forter s chapter on Gatsby in Gender Race and Mourning in American Modernism 2011 has situated the novel s racial

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