7. Desire in the Waste Land
Hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement
In constructing the fictive worlds of The Great Gatsby and Tropic of Capricorn, neither Fitzgerald nor Miller leaves the discourse of patriarchy. Just as their characters cross paths in the same the high vision of New York from the Queensboro and Brooklyn Bridges, they meet and cross again on the street level of male sexual fantasy. At these junctures one can read from The Great Gatsby to Tropic of Capricorn as if from one "New York" novel, its parts differentiated only by the peculiarities of narrative voice:
I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others--poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner--young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.
I sit on the stoop for an hour or so, mooning. [....] The best thing for you to do now, Henry, is to go and get yourself a frosted chocolate [...] and forget about the destiny of man because you might still find yourself a nice lay and a good lay will clean your ballbearings out and leave a good taste in your mouth whereas this only brings on dyspepsia, dandruff, halitosis, encephalitis. [....] Instead of the frosted chocolate I keep walking and soon I'm exactly where I intended to be all the time, which is in front of the ticket window of the Roseland. [....] Enter very calmly, Henry, and keep your eyes peeled! [....] slowly redescending the stairs and sizing up the taxi girls all diaphanously gowned, powdered, perfumed, looking fresh and alert but probably bored as hell and leg weary. Into each and every one of them, as I shuffle about, I throw an imaginary fuck.
Again at eight o'clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five deep with throbbing taxicabs bound for the theater district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.
Supposing she said--twenty bucks! and you could say Sure! Supposing you could say--Listen, I've got a car downstairs. . .let's run down to Atlantic City for a few days. Henry, there ain't no car and there ain't no twenty bucks. Don't sit down. . .keep moving.
It is only incidental to the shared "reality" of these passages that Fitzgerald and Miller happen to be describing the same five square blocks of New York City. What imbues the scene and interior monologues with "reality" is the parallel rehearsal of a bedrock fantasy of male desire--the power of "the restless eye" (Fitzgerald) to convert every woman who avails herself of public life into a private object of what Miller baldly calls "an imaginary fuck." Fitzgerald is more discreet, but no less clear: "and imagine that [...] I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove."
Understanding the drama of modernity as ultimately and exclusively male, both novelists draw heavily upon the violent thematic and figural resources of misogyny to set the world stage for their male characters' experience of meaninglessness and thus for their own aesthetic "answers." As they render it, the problem of desire in the American Waste Land is a problem of the object--never "commensurate to [man's] capacity." If desire is to be rescued from the deceptively "promising face" of a Daisy or a Mara, as from the deceptive lure of consumer goods or the "promise" of New York, that rescue must be effected through a repudiation of the inadequate object in favor of art. Fitzgerald announces the patriarchal structure of both author's priorities--the choice is between chopping up women and chopping up "good scenes":
I want Myrtle Wilson's breast ripped off--it's exactly the thing, I think, and I don't want to chop up the good scenes by too much tinkering.
Or, as Miller would have it:
There will always be a cunt or a revolution around the corner, but the mother who bore me turned many a corner and made no answer, and finally she turned herself inside out and I am the answer.
The Great Gatsby, no less than Tropic of Capricorn, is, as Fitzgerald put it with emphasis, "a man's book." In neither book do women really speak; when they do, it is to substantiate their status as objects within the larger drama of male desire played out all about them. In neither book do women really act; when they do, it is to dramatize challenges to male hegemony that end in the recuperation of male prerogative and privilege. By crafting, each in his own way, a thoroughly legible "modern reality," decodable, in part and in whole, in terms of misogyny, Fitzgerald and Miller effectually equate male sexual desire with meaning and knowledge. To say as much, however, is to say unfortunately little about either The Great Gatsby or Tropic of Capricorn that we do not already know, for it can be said, and has been said, of most novels written by men and many written by women.