Thursday, June 14, 2007

Great Scott

"READ THE ENTIRE LITERARY WORK. THESE NOTES ARE NOT INTENDED AND HAVE NOT BEEN PREPARED TO SERVE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE TEXT ITSELF OR FOR THE CLASSROOM DISCUSSION OF THE TEXT. STUDENTS WHO ATTEMPT TO USE THE NOTES AS SUCH ARE DENYING THEMSELVES THE VERY EDUCATION THEY ARE PRESUMABLY GIVING THEIR MOST VITAL YEARS TO ACHIEVE." Thus reads the standard disclaimer that prefaces every volume of Cliff's Notes, or "CliffsNotes", as we are encouraged to identify these erstwhile cribs, and let punctuation be damned. And several generations of students say: "yeah, whatever..."

Either my memory's crumbling, or reality is becoming a negotiable concept. Have I been there? Did I see that, read this? Did I try to bullshit someone that I did? It's like living a fantasy existence, but instead of pretending to be an international diamond smuggler, I let people marvel at how many Bergman films I've seen. And like all fantasists, the danger comes when you let both feet off the ground at once.

But it's not just about adopting an unearned mantle of learning; quite the opposite, in fact. For some reason, I'd convinced myself that I'd never actually read The Great Gatsby. So I picked up a second-hand copy and, of course, the point at which I realised that I had actually read it was the sentence that made me think "wow" the first time round. It's the narrator's description of Tom and Daisy Buchanan:

"They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and they drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together."

7 comments:

realdoc said...

Oh, you've reminded me how good it is. Must pack a copy for my holidays.

Billy said...

I don't think I've ever read the GG. Read lots of his short stories though, very good.

Murph said...

Zeugmatic for the People?

Tim Footman said...

Yeah, it's fantastic. But I can't believe it hadn't made a more lasting impression. When I first read it, I must have been about 19, and it was in the midst of a lot of Evelyn Waugh and other observers of the upper classes between the wars (Huxley, Wodehouse, Powell) and I just ticked it off as another novel about louche poshos, with good one-liners. And of course, I missed all the regret, because that's something that doesn't exist when you're 19. This time around, I found the line: "I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade." And that sounds very different at 19 and at 39.

Oh, and Murph, hate to be pedantic, but I don't think it's quite a zeugma. If they'd played polo and the trombone, that would do it. Wish Pashmina would come back to adjudicate.

Murph said...

I knew I should have paid more attention in the Simile & Oxymoron lesson. But just imagine how that portentous, menacing road looks at 59!

Tim Footman said...

In dog years?

dh said...

You've made me think Tim, again. I'm doing a lot of re-reading lately. GG is on the list.