7. Desire in the Waste Land
Mara: She's America on foot, winged and sexed
Suddenly I feel her coming. I turn my head. Yes, there she is coming full on, the sails spread, the eyes glowing. For the first time I see now what a carriage she has. She comes forward like a bird, a human bird wrapped in a soft fur. The engine is going full steam: I want to shout, to give a blast that will make the whole world cock its ears. What a walk! It's not a walk, it's a glide. Tall, stately, full-bodied, self-possessed, she cuts the smoke and jazz and red-light glow like the queen mother of all the slippery Babylonian whores. On the corner of Broadway just opposite the comfort station, this is happening. Broadway--it's her realm. This is Broadway, this is New York, this is America. She's America on foot, winged and sexed.
For the first time in my life the whole continent hits me full force, hits me between the eyes. This is America, buffaloes or no buffaloes, America the emory wheel of hope and disillusionment. Whatever made America made her, bone, blood, muscle, eyeball, gait, rhythm, poise, confidence, brass and hollow gut. She's almost on top of me, the full face gleaming like calcium. The big soft fur is slipping from her shoulder. She doesn't notice it. She doesn't seem to care if her clothes should drop off. She doesn't give a fuck about anything. It's America moving like a streak of lightning toward the glass warehouse of red-blooded hysteria. Amurrica, fur or no fur, shoes or no shoes. Amurrica C.O.D. And scram, you bastards, before we plug you! It's got me in the guts, I'm quaking. Something's coming to me and there's no dodging it. She's coming head on, through the plate glass window. If she would only stop a second, if she would only let me be for just one moment. But no, not a single moment does she grant me. Swift, ruthless, imperious, like Fate itself she is on me, a sword cutting me through and through. . . .
Daisy and Mara, the primary of objects of sexual desire in The Great Gatsby and Tropic of Capricorn, embody the thoroughly urban world in which they live: they are "unnatural women," they are America as the "incarnation of the hallucination of sex." In representing the modern woman, the "Jazz Baby," who stands for a modern reality the "true" novel's aesthetics must capture, both Fitzgerald and Miller follow Spengler's formula, "The man makes History, the woman is History." Employing a rhetoric of the Real, they make the women who are History that their novels might remake the historical genre. But in their choice of "historical" women both novelists pointedly spurn Spengler's rather threadbare, and mistakenly earthbound, celebration of Goethe's "Eternal Feminine." Spengler's "Feminine" does not draw man upward toward spiritual perfection as suggested by the last lines of Faust II, but stands for the perfection of mere perpetuation: "Feminine [...] is the primary, the eternal, the maternal, the plant-like (for the plant ever has something female in it), the cultureless history of the generation-sequence[....] In some degree Spengler's "Feminine" is realized in other modernist novels--Joyce's Molly Bloom and Faulkner's Lena (Light in August)--but Fitzgerald and Miller have little use for the "cultureless" images of this strand of the discourse of patriarchy. Their choice of the "Jazz Baby" poses the problem of the modern novel on different grounds.
In a viciously sarcastic letter to Max Perkins, Fitzgerald rails against modern authors who persist in "a stubborn seeking for the static in a world that for almost a hundred years has simply not been static." For all Fitzgerald's lush description of Myrtle's sensuously "surplus flesh" and "tremendous vitality," it is Daisy who, in Spengler's phrase but Fitzgerald's sense, "is History." Embodying the promise of endless, transitory pleasures, Daisy's voice is a sign of change, "a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour." Her "deathless song," over which Nick's final "aesthetic contemplation" must triumph, is not of the earth and its fecundity, but of money. Her appeal is calculated, and appealing because it is calculated: "(I've heard it said that Daisy's murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.)" When Daisy, driving Gatsby's modern machine, leaves Myrtle's "left breast swinging loose like a flap," letting out "the tremendous vitality she had stored so long," she proves herself to have been an unmanageable object for Gatsby's rather naive symbolic desire. The "challenge" Daisy poses for Gatsby and for Fitzgerald's modernist aesthetics is one of mastery: to recover from the voice of "endless transitory pleasures" a visionary relation to an American landscape, now capitalized and mechanized. It is left to Nick to pick up where Gatsby fails, to repossess Daisy and the landscape "through [the] confusion and cynicism" of a dynamic symbolism.