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Culture et politique : représentations esthétiques et littéraires

Where heroes have to tread: spatialization in american fiction

« Là où les héros doivent errer » : la spatialisation dans la fiction américaine
Salwa Karoui-Elounelli
p. 196-215

Résumé

Le présent travail s’applique à explorer la rhétorique et la thématique de la spatialisation dans la fiction américaine en mettant l’accent sur le rôle constitutif que joue le mythe de la Frontière dans la vision esthétique du roman américain aussi bien de l’époque romantique que moderne, en insistant sur les manières dont ce même mythe se trouve redéfini et ré-informé à chacune de ces époques. A travers une analyse de l’articulation d’une vision de l’expérience américaine, en particulier de l’écriture elle-même dans The Scarlet Letter de Nathaniel Hawthorne, nous avons essayé, dans un premier temps, de circonscrire la manière dont l’imagerie spatiale ainsi que la représentation de l’espace traduisent l’expérience éthique et esthétique de la conquête de la Frontière, tout en annonçant la saturation à venir de l’idée de Frontière. L’œuvre de Scott Fitzgerald nous a permis, dans un deuxième temps, de dégager le caractère paradoxal du mythe de la Frontière. Le déploiement d’une rhétorique spatiale intense va de pair chez lui avec une vision esthétique qui finit par défaire le mythe de la Frontière jusqu’à l’épuisement. D’où la prédominance dans la littérature américaine moderne de l’idée d’une spatialité qui incarne la défaite.

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Texte intégral

  • 1  Carl Darryl Malmgren, Fictional Space in the Modernist and Post-Modernist American Novel, London (...)
  • 2 What I refer to as the Modern literature and episteme are respectively the literary (and artistic) (...)
  • 3  See Gérard Genette,  Figures I , Paris : Seuil, 1966, 101, 102.
  • 4  Sharon Spencer, Space, Time and Structure in the Modern Novel, Chicago, Illinois: the Swallow Pres (...)

1In the critical readings of contemporary literature the spatial imagery and spatial theme have increasingly been brought under scrutiny. One can even notice a convergence between the literary discourse and the critical-theoretical one in their investment of the spatial notion. Narrative theory, as in the work of Carl D. Malmgren,1 is articulated within a vision of narrativity as the creation (or the opening up) of different spaces, while some of the major studies of modern and postmodern fiction highlight the processes of spatialization informed by the Modern epistemological conception of time and space.2 Gérard Genette argues that the predominance of the spatial theme in modern literature reflects the writers’ need to “borrow” the stability of space in order to confront the absurdity and dislocation around them.3 In her study of “the architechtonic novel,” Sharon Spencer explores the aesthetic implications of the orientation of the modern novel towards the foregrounding of a spatial entity (as its main goal) through a deployment of perspectivity based on the Modern episteme.4

  • 5  Richard Poirier, A World ElseWhere. The Place of Style in American Literature, Madison WI:Universi (...)
  • 6  See for instance the account of Hawthorne’s description of his narrative (and of the romance as th (...)

2With regard to the studies of spatiality in American fiction in particular, Richard Poirier’s work discusses the tendency in nineteenth-century American literature to create visionary, stylistic spaces, relating such a tendency to the romantic preoccupations with free self-expression and with the celebration of a national identity.5 Poirier’s approach has the merit of stressing the peculiar aesthetics of spatialization in American literature, even though it never explains why the freedom and expression of the American self should depend on indifference to history and temporality. In fact, other current studies tend to adopt an approach similar to Poirier’s, pointing to a significant bond existing between the American novel’s investment of the spatial theme and spatial metaphor, and its celebration of the creative imagination and of aesthetic freedom.6

  • 7  Major critics such as Richard Chase, The American Novel and its Tradition, New York: Doubelday & C (...)
  • 8  For Gilles Deleuze, “La littérature Américaine opère d’après des lignes géographiques: la fuite ve (...)

3The aim of this article is to expand upon these ideas by exploring the bond between the American novel’s strategies of spatialization and its peculiar (anti-realistic) aesthetics, in order to support the argument that the Myth of the Frontier partly informs such aesthetics7. American narrative fiction tends to express its anti-realism through a rhetoric and a thematics of spatiality, which bespeaks a preference of myth to history; a preference that may be as much a matter of individual choice as of cultural spirit. It is a spatiality that confirms what Gilles Deleuze8 describes as the distinct predominance of geography over history in American literature. Hence, the aim of this article is to trace the aesthetics of spatialization in the American novel to a cultural vision of space, itself anchored in the Myth of the Frontier. The main argument to be developed through a critical reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1926), and his short story: “The Ice Palace” (1920), is that the rhetoric of spatialization in American fiction unveils the significance of the Myth of the Frontier in the shaping of the American writers’ aesthetic visions, and in the mutation of the American novel’s aesthetics through two phases of its development. The three chosen texts illustrate the extent to which the American novel’s aesthetic re-inventions of the Frontier Myth are informed by the intellectual and literary spirit of each of the two major periods (the Romantic and the Modern), while such re-inventions unveil the aesthetic and even ethical issues that the American novel had to face in the Romantic and Modern periods.

Spatialization of the ethical and the aesthetic: Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

  • 9  Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1962.
  • 10 Ibid., 86.

4One of the main aspects in which The Scarlet Letter9 established the “identity” of the American novel lies in its articulation of ethical and aesthetic questions within a spatial rhetoric that foregrounds a typically American conception of human experience (the universal theme) in terms of conquering the frontier and appropriating the wilderness. The mythic structure of the narrative (the temporal sequence has little significance) frames the process of spatialization and the articulation of the spatial theme, emphatically announced from the opening scene. Indeed, the functioning of Hester’s memory in the first scaffold scene negates the temporality of the character’s past experience by reinventing it as a picture (spatial object) that contains other spaces from Hester’s home village, and competes with the outer space, the market place. The contrast between past and present (the temporal dimension of Hester’s experience) is reduced to an opposition between co-existing and competing spaces, the “picture-gallery”10 (Hester’s memory) and the market place.

  • 11 Idem.

5The invasive spatiality with which Hawthorne’s narrative opens is a reenactment of the frontier as openness, mobility and wilderness. The temporal dimension in what the narrator refers to as Hester’s “new life” disintegrates in the spatial image: “new life, but feeding itself upon time-worn material, like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall.”11 The wilderness implied in the image of dense vegetation is also antiquated (that is mythical, which negates the idea of newness and the category of time), while the image of the wall does not suggest spatial closure but sheer motion (“crumbling”).

  • 12 Ibid., 104.

6Even though the wilderness as actual landscape (the forest) and the actual frontier experience are explicit components of The Scarlet Letter (Hester’s cottage is located on the edge of the wilderness and it looks westward), it is Hawthorne’s imaginative investment of those elements—in the narration of moral and psychic experience—that establishes a typically American aesthetics of spatialization. Hester’s experience of guilt is described in terms of a fatal link with space: “A feeling (…) which compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghost-like the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime.”12 Hawthorne’s appeal to the Gothic paradigm (haunt, ghost-like) in the metaphor is not accidental; it reveals his awareness that the spatialization of the human psyche is intrinsic to the poetics of the gothic novel.

7Within the same spatializing rhetoric, Hester’s sin and the consequent psychic trauma are described through the image of a temporal point overwhelmed by space:

  • 13 Idem.

Her sin, her ignominy, were the roots which she had struck into the soil. It was as if a new birth, with stronger assimilations than the first, had converted the forest-land, still so uncongenial to every other pilgrim and wanderer, into Hester Prynne’s wild and dreary, but life-long, home.13

  • 14  The implied argument here is that American Romanticism developed within a cultural and political s (...)
  • 15  See how in its American version, the romantic vision of the self and its relationship with nature (...)
  • 16  Hawthorne, 105.

8If Hester’s sin is a moment of a new birth that converted the wilderness into her home, what is decisive is not the moment, but the space it opened up to the protagonist. The transgression of the moral code (sin) is depicted by Hawthorne as a frontier experience; that is, an appropriation of the wilderness beyond the romantic vision of the time. Indeed, if Hester’s act of transgression and consequent social exclusion opened up to her the space of the wilderness as a “home,” this does not merely attest to Hawthorne’s romantic celebration of the natural landscape as the refuge for the non-conformist heroine. The wilderness does not become Hester’s home in the literal sense; it is rather imprinted with the footsteps of the American pioneer heroine, in the same way as the footsteps of a previous pioneer had been immortalized by the rose-bush at the threshold of the prison. In fact, from the perspective of American Romanticism, the wilderness is significant more as a frontier than as a refuge14; it is not the alternative to the social world in a conventional romantic sense (a setting offering itself to a romantic symbiosis with the isolated hero), it is rather the object of the American hero’s conquest and appropriation.15 Therefore, the conventional romantic opposition between the natural landscape and the social world has little significance to Hester’s view. Puritan society is perceived as nothing more than a “place,” a scene or a “pathway” that is a “raw” space (stripped from cultural connotations) the value of which emanates from the imprinted footsteps of the beloved (Dimmesdale). Thus, when unveiling the sentimental value that the social environment can have in Hester’s view, the narrator conveys the vision of an American pioneer: “There trod the feet of one with whom she deemed herself connected…”16

  • 17  The notion of “raw” space here is not meant to be taken for granted; within the fictional, literar (...)

9Hence, the recurrent image of a “raw” spatiality17 for the American solitary heroine to tread into cannot be reduced to a romantic expression, since it is not limited to the setting of the wilderness, not even to other (cultural) spaces. In fact, the image of the spatial frontier informs Hawthorne’s conception of aesthetic experience and artistic creativity.

  • 18   Hawthorne, 109.
  • 19   “Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that (...)
  • 20   Hawthorne, 118.
  • 21 Ibid., 120.  
  • 22 Ibid., 107.
  • 23 Ibid., 120.

10Indeed, Hawthorne establishes in The Scarlet Letter anAmerican aesthetic vision articulated in a spatial rhetoric, without the classical equation between the aesthetic and the beautiful. Through the two figures of artistic creativity (Hester and Pearl), the novelist explores the main issues related to the aesthetics of literary writing and to the nature of artistic imagination itself. Through the implicit dialogue going on throughout the novel between his symbolist style and the puritans’ symbolist mode of perception, Hawthorne explores the possibilities of meaning associated with symbolism (polyvalence and indeterminacy in language itself) and the potential of this literary mode allowing the writer to foreground the spatial nature of textuality. Hester is the text of the preacher’s discourse about sin18 ; and the reading process is presented as an act of crossing the threshold of the narrative space19. But in the articulation of aesthetic issues, Hawthorne goes beyond assuming the spatial nature of textuality; the question of artistic creativity is explored through a rhetoric of spatiality informed by the Myth of the Frontier, and in turn, redefining it (the creative imagination and the experience of writing as the new frontier). Thus, on “the stage of Pearl’s inner world,” “an adverse world”20 is created to be conquered by the artist. Hawthorne not only conceptualizes the relation between artist and artistic product (writer and writing) as a form of violence but also as a specific kind of violence: that of the conquest. Pearl’s gesture of grasping the token of shame, her gaze at it21, like Hester’s “sinful hands”22 working with the needle (the double of the writer’s pen), suggest a vision of the act of writing as a violation of the “adverse world” of taboos, challenging the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate, in order to reinvent the mythical openness of the American Frontier as an aesthetic space within which the artist experiences the limit of the diabolic: “It was as if an evil spirit possessed the child”.23

  • 24  See Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Co (...)
  • 25  “But the brook in the course of its little lifetime among the forest trees […] seemed to have noth (...)
  • 26  Hawthorne, 108.

11The American version of the Faustian artist24 (Pearl’s artistic performance is assimilated to witchcraft; a sort of pact with the demon) emerges through the experience of treading inexhaustible space: the wilderness. In the forest scene, Pearl is not so much eager to follow the track of the brook (the brook being similar to her, with its unknown origin) as she is enthusiastic about grasping the scarlet flowers25; the artist is interested in the inexhaustible side of the wilderness (not its unknown, mysterious side), the side that offers itself to her only when the wilderness becomes a symbol, a myth, like the scarlet letter itself. Thus, with Hawthorne the wilderness is already a mythical space re-invented as a spatial symbol (and recreated within the ironic frame of “as if”: “she was as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere”).26 Hawthorne founded the pattern that would distinguish the American novel: the conscious attempt to recover the spatiality of the American myth as an aesthetic construct which, in turn, informs the American conception of writing and textuality.

  • 27  Cf.  Nina Baym, “Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Autho (...)
  • 28  Some contemporary studies have developed the notion of “écriture féminine” (feminine writing) to d (...)

12It is obvious also that the gendering of spatiality and of artistic creativity (embodied by Hester and Pearl) reveal Hawthorne’s tendency to associate both the Frontier experience and writing with the female figure and female experience. In The Scarlet Letter, the substantial link established between the wilderness (as a feminine spatiality) and the space of artistic creativity (being, through Hester and Pearl, a feminine space as well) means that Hawthorne laid down within the American novel a paradigm in which the landscape is not gendered as a female object for the male protagonist (pioneer) to possess, otherwise Hester would not be the protagonist exploring the Frontier.27 The feminine is central in the articulation of the spatial theme in The Scarlet Letter—not so much in order to equate the feminine with oppressive social space, nor with space as object of the hero’s desire for (sexual) possession and conquest—but because the association created between the open spatiality of the Frontier Myth and the female figure allows the novelist to enhance what is (to my sense) a substantial theme in his text: writing and artistic creativity as feminine. Hawthorne seems to have produced an early version of “feminine writing” (using the category of the feminine to suggest the subversive, transgressive nature of the aesthetic and of writing).28

  • 29  The relation between the cultural and the aesthetic involves a substantial amount of confusion.  I (...)
  • 30  Hawthorne, 120.

13Hawthorne’s reinvention of the Myth that shapes his aesthetic vision not only attests to the presence of the cultural29 in the aesthetic; it also unveils a constant preoccupation in American literature with postponing the saturation of the Myth of the Frontier, a preoccupation that accounts for a significant tendency (laid down by Hawthorne, Melville and Poe), assumed by American fiction, to assert the Myth in the limit of the diabolic and of death itself (“Pearl’s gaze […] would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden death30”), thus, paradoxically affirming what the American literary text strives to negate: the saturation of the Myth. The fiction of the lost generation in the twentieth century was to be informed by this sense of saturation, as will be discussed in the next part through the example of Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald’s fiction: spatialization as a defeated sublimation of the Frontier Myth

14In Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby as well as in his short story “The Ice Palace,” the geographical splits in America (East/West; North/South) are evoked to suggest beyond the contrasts an overwhelming sense of exhaustion within which the Myth of the Frontier is inevitably trapped. The Myth informs the rhetoric and aesthetics of spatialization in both works at the same time as its saturation is signaled and fought through aesthetic sublimation.

  • 31  F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace,” Modern Short Stories, Jim Hunter (ed.); London: Faber & Fab (...)
  • 32  Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace”, 154.
  • 33 Idem.
  • 34  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 63.
  • 35 Ibid., 83.

15In “The Ice Palace”31, Sally Carrol’s house is distinguished from the other houses by the fact that it is the only one that faces the “dusty road”32; the only house that is not “entrenched behind great stodgy trees.”33While the description of the row of houses engulfed in the dense, “stodgy” vegetation creates an image of the wilderness as a saturated space (an implicit allusion to the saturation of the Myth itself), the protagonist’s house is presented as an outside, as a spatial point of new departure for the reinvention of the Myth, the possibility of which is suggested by “the dusty road.” Similarly, Gatsby’s house (a “road- house”34) is located in the Western hemisphere of a setting that epitomizes what Fitzgerald presents as the split in the American landscape between East and West. Gatsby’s estate in the western part of Long Island establishes the same effect of saturation of the
Western Myth. Even the acres of lawn extending on the outside of Gatsby’s house and frequently alluded to by the narrator at crucial moments, stand as an ironic distortion of the Myth. The lawns being carefully tended by a gardener, and clearly bounded by a “sharp line”35, become part of the deceptive luxurious life of the protagonist (the “wild” nature of the growing vegetation in “The Ice Palace” is ironically negated in The Great Gatsby). Thus, in these two works by Fitzgerald, the spatial theme itself is invested to communicate a sense of crisis in the author’s relation to the cultural Myth that informs his imagination and his definition of America. In The Great Gatsby as in “The Ice Palace,” spatialization is a process that simultaneously suggests the irrevocable force and defeat of the Myth in informing the literary articulations of America as a central theme in Fitzgerald’s fiction.

  • 36  Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace”, 158.
  • 37 Ibid., 156.
  • 38 Idem. My emphasis.
  • 39 Ibid., 154.
  • 40 Ibid., 156.
  • 41 Ibid., 154.

16In The Ice Palace, behind the obvious contrast between the southern (idealized) landscape and the northern one (the spatial theme revolves around one of the cultural splits in America), the Myth of the Frontier runs equally through the opposite landscapes (though in apparently opposite metaphors). However, the American Myth is not presented as a healing force, dissolving the split between South and North; it is rather another source of paradox in Fitzgerald’s attempt to define America. In the southern landscape, the wilderness is suggested in the numerous descriptions of dense and invasive vegetation crossed by Sally Carol and Clark (“they were in the country now, hurrying between tangled growths of bright green coppice and grass and tall trees that sent sprays of foliage […] the wild grown grass”36). Gender and racial issues are equally spatialized (in “the noisy niggery street fairs”37, and in the fact that the spatial split in America is what girls are brought up to memorize) within the scene of the moving car that reinforces the idea of the conquest of space. The motion of Clark’s car is described in terms that suggest the pioneer experience of crossing the open frontier: “he crossed two dust ruts […] The Ford having been excited into a sort of restless resentful life, Clark and Sally Carrol rolled and rattled down Valley Avenue.38” The car, like the overgrowing vegetation, has become the machinery that incarnates the larger-than-life proportions of the Myth of conquering the open frontier, which is neither dependent on the individual’s control nor even on the limit of his life: “as though he considered himself a spare part, and rather likely to break.”39 But the motion of the car leads to where “the dusty road became a pavement”40; it ends with “death rattle”41 and ends at the point of departure (the Happer house). Like the lawns in Gatsby’s world, the car and the vegetation echo the distorted, deceptive nature of the American Myth when taken at face value; that is when it animates the American vision of the individual’s relation to space. The circularity of the story’s structure (the same scene of the house facing the dusty road and approaching car) reinforces the selfsame undermining of the ideal of progress substantial to the American Myth.

  • 42 Ibid., 159.
  • 43 Idem.
  • 44 Ibid., 161.
  • 45 Ibid., 160.

17Similarly, the Northern landscape is stylized around the assertion and negation of the Myth of the Frontier. The scene of Sally Carrol and Harry walking inside the cemetery is rendered in terms that suggest the pioneer experience of crossing the plains: “they passed through the gateway and followed a path that led through a wavy valley of graves.”42 If the openness of the valley and the impression of motion created by its vastness are engulfed by the grave, the invasive vegetation of the south is likewise petrified (the carved flowers, the “marble cherubs lying in sodden sleep on stone pillows and great impossible growths of nameless granite flowers”43). What is announced and associated with the North is not the death of the Myth (the natural elements are the product of an artistic work); it is rather an aesthetic reinvention of the Frontier Myth within a vision of death as infinite spatial openness (Sally Carrol points to “a thousand greyish-white crosses stretching in endless, ordered rows44”). The spatialization of death in “The Ice Palace” becomes an epitome of Fitzgerald’s paradoxical relation to the Myth of the Frontier: he admits its existence as a shaping force in the American artistic imagination, while suggesting that a handling of the Myth as a spatial (concrete) experience can only lead to violent distortions of the spirit and the ideals associated with it. A name and a date inscribed on a tombstone allow Sally Carrol to create a story in which space is the hero, since the dead woman whose name is written on the tombstone is “born to stand on a wide, pillared porch”45, and so in Sally Carrol’s imagination, dying young means never being capable of crossing the threshold of a space or of space. At another, aesthetic level, however, the protagonist’s invented story is the opening up of a new fictional (narrative) space from within the fictional world of Fitzgerald’s story. The paradox of the Myth of an ever-open space and the sense of the end (death) is solved when the American writer re-conceptualizes it as an aesthetic construct.

  • 46 Ibid., 163.
  • 47 Ibid., 175, 177.
  • 48 Ibid., 168.
  • 49  This can be illustrated by many significant points in the story: the circularity of the car motion (...)

18This re-definition of the Myth within the aesthetic category is achieved by Fitzgerald in the numerous openings of fictional spaces through imagery. This explains the “outburst”—in the Northern setting—of motion (the image of cold creeping everywhere46); snow travelling “in wavy lines” and silence flowing.47 Sally Carrol’s imagination is even capable of perceiving motion in the stillness of snow “sometimes I look out an’ see a flurry of snow, an’ it’s just as if somethin’ dead is moving”. 48 Consequently, the spatial split is dissolved in the imaged recreation of the mythical openness and mobility of the American Frontier. With every movement undertaken by the protagonist a new narrative space is opened (the wound of the South, the black condition, gendered human relations, the imagined story of Margery Lee, the Civil War); even her simple and frequent action of looking out of the window opens up a multitude of landscapes (white hills and valleys, farm houses). But the female protagonist opens spaces in which either she is not allowed to tread (the landscapes remain distant, far beyond her reach) or she treads to discover the distortion and defeat of the Myth.49 Fitzgerald’s articulation of a link between the spatial theme and the female figure (not only in “The Ice Palace” but also in The Great Gatsby) seems to reinforce his gloomy vision and uncertainty about the American Frontier Myth.

  • 50  To Sally Carrol, the terrifying aspect of the Ice Palace lies in the fact that it spatializes the (...)
  • 51  Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace”, 179.
  • 52 Ibid., 177.

19The Ice Palace itself—meant to be a figurative reminder of the geographical and cultural split between North and South50—becomes a metaphoric double for the labyrinthine openness of the narrative that is a re-spatialization of the multi-layered fictional (narrative) pace of the story itself. As such, the Ice palace crystallizes Fitzgerald’s tendency to associate the defeat of the Myth to the re-shaping of the Frontier as a female experience. Indeed, the Ice Palace is invaded by the visionary landscapes created by Fitzgerald’s spatial imagery (one of the passages in the “Ice Palace” is “like the green lane between the parted waters of the Red Sea, like a damp vault connecting empty tombs51”), and it is invaded by visionary doubles of the pioneer act of crossing the frontier (the loud music inside is “like some paean of a Viking tribe traversing an ancient wild”)52. Consequently, “The Ice Palace” as a metaphoric and spatial double to the labyrinthine structure of the narrative, also becomes an extension to it. The labyrinth of “The Ice Palace”, like the labyrinth of the narrative—emerging from the attempt to create an aesthetic sublimation of the American Myth—ends up being only an assertion that infinite spatial openness, even in narrative space, is an illusion; a labyrinth is a false openness.

  • 53  See The Scarlet Letter, 121.

20Moreover, what Fitzgerald excludes from the narrative space is the moment when the temporary nature of the “The Ice Palace” materializes (that is its dissolution), which would destroy the notion of labyrinth and restitute that of the abyss (the abyss is a real infinite openness, and a journey within the same spot was “actually” Sally Carrol’s experience). This might reflect Fitzgerald’s obsession (shared with some other writers of the lost generation) with the defeat of the Myth. Hawthorne’s use of the image of the abyss in describing the infinite openness of the artistic imagination53, suggesting thus the possibility of an aesthetic recreation of the mythical openness of the Frontier, reveals a more optimistic vision of the Myth and of the American experience.

  • 54  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 95.
  • 55  See Nina Baym, op.cit., 72 and 75.
  • 56  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 90.
  • 57   Ibid., 92.

21In The Great Gatsby, the notion of tragic errand underneath the plot plays a function similar to the labyrinth in “The Ice Palace.” In his existential errand, Fitzgerald’s protagonist (not only the extended lawn outside his “road house”) becomes the personification of America, an ambiguous entity standing between the real and the dream (“The truth was that Jay Gatsby (…) sprang from his Platonic conception of himself54”), haunted, and ultimately destroyed, by the deceptive Myth of the Frontier. In his masterpiece, Fitzgerald’s struggle with the American Myth is exposed within a use of gender similar to that involved in one main paradigm in American fiction; developing the Frontier notion as a substantially male concern and longed-for experience, while the spatiality intended to embody it (and so intended for the male protagonist to conquer and possess) is linked to the female figure (here, mainly the character of Daisy).55 Gatsby’s gaze often wanders across the bay and it is repeatedly attracted to the green light coming from the opposite hemisphere of the island; early in the narrative, his tragic fate is announced in his failure to realize that “the colossal significance of that light had now vanished for ever.”56 Through Gatsby’s end, Fitzgerald seems to suggest the disastrous impact of any attempt to contain the American Myth, to concretize it (in the figure of Daisy the beloved who stands for spatiality itself), or even to magnify it: “It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way.”57

  • 58   Ibid., 94.

22 In fact, before the Myth is finally defeated, its illusionary proportions are magnified even in the other characters’ minds; one of the stories about Gatsby negates the existence of his house and depicts him as endlessly and secretly moving in a boat.58 The fictitious association (fictitious because created from within the fictional world and through the characters’ fabulation) between Gatsby and the open landscape of the sea reinforces the announcement of the inevitable defeat of the Myth presented by Fitzgerald as the fabulous mistaken for the concrete.

  • 59   Ibid., 128.
  • 60   Ibid., 129.
  • 61   Ibid., 136.

23In another moment of crisis (after the confrontation with Tom and his desperate attempt to regain Daisy), Gatsby is reduced to “the dead dream [that] fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room.”59 The restricted and closed spatiality with which Gatsby is linked foreshadows the imminent failure: the American Myth reaches a dead end, where, having failed to be contained by time, it can only be contained by its unreal (“lost”), yet spatial self. The spatialization of death in a sentence that stands as a paragraph (“so we drove on towards death”60) not only announces Gatsby’s tragic end, but it also reflects Fitzgerald’s struggle with the same paradox exposed in “The Ice Palace.” The attempt to re-invent the Frontier as a spatial entity induces a tragic errand that consumes spatiality and destroys the dream (Gatsby’s errand does not end in the sea as the rumor says but in the swimming pool). A short time before his death, “Gatsby stepped from between two bushes into the path”61; the possibility of resuming the frontier experience (even the possibility of recapturing the wilderness) is announced. However, this possibility only emerges in the moment of Gatsby’s death: it emerges as the product of a literary, Gothic imagination (so dear to the American artist!). The scene of his death is imagined by Nick as a moment of recognition when Gatsby discovers his own distortion of the Myth, which made it quite strange even to himself:

  • 62   Ibid., 153-154.

He must have felt that he had lost the old world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about [...] like that ashen fantastic figure gliding towards him through the amorphous trees.62

  • 63  In my interpretation, the dimension of tragic failure that The Great Gatsby includes in its explor (...)

24Because he bounded the Myth within the false, artificial world of luxury (the Modern world has reduced the Frontier itself to an object of consumption), Gatsby’s death is presented as a moment of alienation from the (spatial) self: alienation is experienced when Gatsby painfully faces the distortion of the natural landscape, when the wilderness is rediscovered as a void (“the scarcely created grass”). As the wilderness has become a ghost (“terrifying leaves”), the only figure that emerges from it is that of death. The Myth, thus, consumes itself the moment it is re-spatialized; as a reinvented space, the Frontier could only become a Gothic landscape of terror and death. But, is this not the moment when the continent itself was “fortuitously” discovered and metamorphosed into “a new world, material, without being real”? The American Myth seems to have been defeated at the very moment when it came into being (that is when constructed in the early Gothic narratives) and by the very space that created it.63

  • 64  Nina Baym, op.cit., 77. She argues that the gendering of the Myth of America as male is intrinsica (...)

25However, Fitzgerald’s tragic vision of the American Frontier when it is associated with actual, geographical space, does not entail an erasure of the Myth. The American aesthetic vision cannot do without it. In The Great Gatsby, as in “The Ice Palace,” the Myth of the Open Frontier is defeated within the narrative space (the fictional space) only to be resurrected within the narrational space (the space generated by the act of storytelling). Indeed, it is significant that through Nick’s allusions to the book, to his narrative function, the conditions within which the text of his narration is produced, etc., the narrational space is not only made explicit but becomes more extended and invasive as Gatsby’s death approaches. As early as chapter four, Nick refers to his act of writing, and even to the space of writing. The narrative fragment is presented as a space duplicating an original manuscript that extends over the empty spaces of a timetable. The result is a double spatialization of time and of narrative, through which the act of storytelling self-consciously assumes the task of generating spaces that tend to incarnate the quality of unlimited openness. The ideal, inexhaustible openness—the essence of the American Myth—is thus re-defined by Fitzgerald as an aesthetic, textual object. But at this stage also the novelist re-examines the Frontier Myth within the same gender-based limitations as at the beginning of the narrative (the limitations enacted by the tendency in American fiction that Fitzgerald belongs to), restricting aesthetic creativity (and so the possibility of re-inventing the Myth as an aesthetic, textual object) to a male figure (what Baym refers to as the “Adamic writer”).64

26In chapter six, a narrational space invades the narrative one and breaches it (the scene is that of a journalist interviewing Gatsby about the rumors around him). If Nick can interrupt the scene despite his absence from it, it is because that scene as we have access to it is a narrative, fictional space. Nick’s interruption aims at establishing the “truth” about Gatsby (providing an answer on behalf of the protagonist, although it is an answer addressed to the reader, not to the journalist). Thus, the narrational space usurps from the protagonist his narrative space (the space of his story), as if to announce the aesthetic sublimation through which the American myth would be saved or resurrected. Towards the end of this narrational breach, Nick Carraway opens a new fictional space, related to Gatsby’s story but unrelated to Gatsby’s consciousness and vision, as he re-invents the story of Dan Cody (a central character in Gatsby’s presumed past life) by merging imaginative details inspired from a photograph of the character with the detail of his addiction to alcohol:

  • 65  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, op.cit., 97.

“I remember the portrait up in Gatsby’s bedroom [...] the pioneer debauchee, who during one phase of American life brought back to the eastern seaboard the savage violence of the frontier brothel and saloon.”65

  • 66 Idem.

27Thus, the narrational space not only invades the narrative one but also defeats it through a demystification of the frontier experience which becomes a disaster if it is not a one-way journey; consequently the cultural values articulating the symbolic facet of the protagonist are called into question. It seems as if in Fitzgerald’s vision, the Myth can survive only when it is conceived as a perpetual flight with no point of return (a conception that fits the mood of crisis that distinguished the “lost generation”). Nick comments on the narrative space he creates and with which he crosses the original one as a “short halt, while Gatsby so to speak, caught his breath”66; if the spatial narrative text is presented as belonging to the temporal order (as a pause in the middle of the scene where Gatsby is interviewed by the journalist), it is only to dissolve that pause (the temporal) in the narrative space since that original scene is never resumed.

  • 67 Ibid., 98. My emphasis, (to draw attention to the misleading repetition of the same pronoun as this (...)

28The indication of time is even repeated to create a transition into another axis of the narrative space (the relationship between Nick and Gatsby; “It was a halt, too, in my association with his affairs”67). Here, Nick refers to a different, ‘realpause (a period when he lost touch with Gatsby), but because he presents this lapse of time as if it were part of the first one, the narrator destroys the temporal significance of the second “halt” (it is dissolved in the already spatialized first “halt”). Again, as the narrational act is made to usurp the space of the original narrative world and to dissolve its temporal axis, Fitzgerald seems to resurrect the Myth (by defeating the temporal); he dissociates it from the protagonist-symbol, and re-invents it as an aesthetic space (the verbal space generated by the act of narration becomes the new version of the cultural Myth). Fitzgerald attributes to that space the essential quality of the Myth, infinite openness, when his narrator, as reminding us that his narration is an act of re-telling (reporting what Gatsby had told him), fills the narrational space with “something” and “somewhere”; with unpronounced words, with the “uncommunicable”:

  • 68 Ibid., 107.

Through all he said [...] I was reminded of something—an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted [...] But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.68

  • 69  Cf. Carl D. Malmgren. In chapter 3 (“Making Room for the Reader. The Experiment with Paraspace”), (...)
  • 70  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 143.
  • 71 Ibid., 148-152.
  • 72 Ibid., 166-167.
  • 73 Ibid., 171.
  • 74 Idem.

29The narrational space itself becomes a void to be filled by the reader by re-crossing the space of the narrative. The mythical spatiality of the Frontier is thus to be re-invented as a para space69, a space created in the act of reading and interpretation, though it becomes here problematic because it has to be created on the basis of an increasing void in the text. Meanwhile, the act of narration that creates this void begins a process of flight: into a memory of the past, through unnecessary flash backs70 in which he resumes the past story of Gatsby and Daisy, or completes the scene of the conversation between Tom and Wilson that took place after Myrtle’s death71; when he even regresses into the memories of his own youth; into dream where the East becomes Nick’s “wrong house”.72 The flight translates the failure even of the aesthetic sublimation to save the American Myth: the narrational act fails to resurrect it (“Most of the big shore places were closed now73”). It even fails to dissociate itself from the original symbol of the Myth (the narrative discourse of the novel ends with an attempt to resume its original theme: Gatsby). Nick’s nostalgic reminiscence is an obvious acknowledgement of the loss, not only of the symbol of the Myth, but also of the Myth itself, from the moment a symbol was needed to represent it: “Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams.”74

30Fitzgerald seems to face and accept the paradoxical task of the American Modern novelist: a thematization of America is not possible without an honest exploration of the Frontier Myth, the grandeur of which (being “the last and greatest of all human dreams”) lies precisely in its temporary, accidental nature, and consequently its irrevocable loss:

  • 75 Idem.

for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.75

  • 76  The last description of Jay Gatsby is in fact a comment on Fitzgerald’s own dilemma; “compelled in (...)

31Fitzgerald’s dissatisfaction with the literary re-invention of the American Myth in The Great Gatsby can, thus, be accounted for by the writer’s failure to dissociate the Myth from the spatiality of America; from the “actual,” lost moment of the discovery of the continent. Fitzgerald’s sense of failure is, in fact, an expression of his “literary” dilemma: trying to impose the aesthetics of realism76 on the literary vision of the American novel that was from the start articulated from without the realistic tradition.

32Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Fitzgerald’s “The Ice Palace” and The Great Gatsby represent, in their revision and re-articulations of the American Frontier Myth, two main phases in the evolution of the American novel’s cultural and aesthetic identity.

33While Hawthorne’s novel displays a romantic longing for reconciliation between the historical and the mythical Frontier through the redemptive, unifying force of aesthetic vision, Fitzgerald’s sense of loss and defeat with which he handles the Myth, despite his ability to re-invent it as an aesthetic space opened up in narrativity, illustrates a phase of cultural and aesthetic crisis that the American Modern novel had to face. Its wish to join continental realism, to adapt the aesthetics of realism to its preoccupation with defining America and the American self, could only create a paradox and a sense of loss of the kind expressed by Fitzgerald and his generation of American writers. A blurring of the limit between the historical and the mythical, between the literal and the symbolic, the actual and the visionary, is in the essence of the American theme, as Hawthorne developed it. If the Myth of the Frontier is a cultural spirit animating the American artistic work, its values (openness, mobility that defies rigid contours) could remain meaningful only within the spatiality of textual, (narrative and stylistic), creation. This assumption marked the aesthetics of the American novel, even when it could not find it satisfactory (as was Fitzgerald’s case). The American novel’s resolution to assume Hawthorne’s announcement of the Frontier as an aesthetic space explains the persistence of its metafictional dimension throughout its different phases, a dimension that, for Fitzgerald, was not enough to celebrate the Myth, but that became, in the Postmodern novel, the only space in which the Frontier could still be meaningful.

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Bibliographie

BACHELARD Gaston, La poétique de l’espace, Paris : Presses Universitaires de France, 1957.

BAYM Nina, “Melodramas of Beset Manhood. How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors”, in The New Feminist Criticism, Elaine Showalter (ed.), New York: Pantheon Books, 1985, 63-80.

DELEUZE Gilles, Dialogues, Paris: Flammarion, 1996.

FIEDLER Leslie, Love and Death in the American Novel. Cleveland, Ohio: The World Pub. Company, 1960.

FITZGERALD Scott, The Great Gatsby, Middlesex: Penguin Books, (1926) 1950.
___, “The Ice Palace”, In Modern Short Stories, Jim Hunter (ed.), London: Faber & Faber, 1964.

GENETTE Gérard, Figures I, Paris: Seuil, 1966.

HAWTHORNE Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1962.

JONES Ann Rosalind, “Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of l’Écriture féminine”, in The New Feminist Criticism, Elaine Showalter (ed.), New York: Pantheon Books, 1985, 361-377.

MALMGREN, Carl D, Fictional Space in the Modernist and Post-Modernist American Novel, London & Toronto, Associated University Presses, 1985.

POIRIER Richard, A World ElseWhere. The Place of Style in American Literature, Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

SPENCER Sharon, Space, Time and Structure in the Modern Novel, Chicago, Illinois: The Swallow Press Inc., 1971.

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Notes

1  Carl Darryl Malmgren, Fictional Space in the Modernist and Post-Modernist American Novel, London & Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985.

2 What I refer to as the Modern literature and episteme are respectively the literary (and artistic) movement and the epistemological vision that began to emerge at the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the twentieth century, partly in response to the scientific revolution emanating from the advent of psychoanalysis and Einstein’s theory of relativity. For a detailed discussion of the premises of Modernism and the influence of Nietzsche, Freud, and Einstein on the founding of a Modern episteme see Margaret Davies, “La Notion de Modernité”, in Cahiers du 20ème Siècle 5, 1975, 9-30.

3  See Gérard Genette,  Figures I , Paris : Seuil, 1966, 101, 102.

4  Sharon Spencer, Space, Time and Structure in the Modern Novel, Chicago, Illinois: the Swallow Press Inc, 1971. In her exploration of the various spatial structures—closed and open—developed in some Modernist and Postmodernist novels, Spencer discusses their use of perspective as multi-sided and as implying a fusion of time in space (after Einstein’s theory).

5  Richard Poirier, A World ElseWhere. The Place of Style in American Literature, Madison WI:University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

6  See for instance the account of Hawthorne’s description of his narrative (and of the romance as the “neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land [24]”) provided by Carl Darryl Malmgren in Fictional Space, 24-25. Referring to the explanation of Hawthorne’s use of  spatial terms as indicating  the writer’s “desire to ‘materialize’ a metaphor”, Malmgren deduces that the creation of the narrative is the invention of a verbal space of aesthetic freedom, 26.

7  Major critics such as Richard Chase, The American Novel and its Tradition, New York: Doubelday & Co, 1957, Daniel Hoffman, Form and Fable in American Fiction, New York: W.W. Norton & Co; 1961, Charles Fiedelson, Symbolism and American Literature, Chicago: the University of Chicago press, 1953, have already studied the tendency of the American novel to develop along the aesthetic lines of the Romance and its option for the anti-realistic aesthetics (that is, its indifference to the paradigm of the continental tradition of Realism). The perspective adopted in this work goes along with such a critical approach.

8  For Gilles Deleuze, “La littérature Américaine opère d’après des lignes géographiques: la fuite vers l’Ouest […] le sens des frontières comme quelque chose à franchir.”  Quoted in “De la Superiorité de la littérature Anglaise-Américaine,” Dialogues, Paris: Flammarion, 1996, 48.

9  Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1962.

10 Ibid., 86.

11 Idem.

12 Ibid., 104.

13 Idem.

14  The implied argument here is that American Romanticism developed within a cultural and political spirit that had little to do with the British romantic tradition. The celebration of the natural landscape in 19th century American literature was inseparable from the glorification of the expanding young nation, and of the pioneer experience as a value (e.g. Emerson’s “Nature,” Whitman’s Song of Myself, and Thoreau’s Walden).

15  See how in its American version, the romantic vision of the self and its relationship with nature is often articulated within the rhetoric of a spatial conquest and appropriation. For instance: Emily Dickinson in her poem “I robbed the woods/ The trusting Woods” (poem 41 in The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson (ed.), London: Faber & Faber, 1975, 1977, 1982, 24) celebrates the romantic response to nature through the rhetoric of appropriation of landscape, while Henry David Thoreau in his poem “Sympathy” (1840). In Literature in America: a century of expansion, D. Hausdorff (ed.), London: Macmillan, 1971, describes the romantic experience of exploring the inner self through an imagery in which the self is spatialized (image of the kingdom) and becomes the object of military conquest.

16  Hawthorne, 105.

17  The notion of “raw” space here is not meant to be taken for granted; within the fictional, literary text what may be presented as “raw”, that is natural (untouched by culture) is already a constructed (aesthetically invented) notion. Hence the paradox and even the Romantic irony in which Hawthorne’s text (like any literary text) is implicated.

18   Hawthorne, 109.

19   “Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal”, Chapter 1, “The Prison- Door”, 76.

20   Hawthorne, 118.

21 Ibid., 120.  

22 Ibid., 107.

23 Ibid., 120.

24  See Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1960, 485-519. Fiedler interprets Hester Prynne as a Faustian character violating a social code in the pursuit of “experience” and “happiness.” In the present work, however, The Faustian pact as related to the theme of art in The Scarlet Letter, is seen (on the basis of textual evidence) as embodied by Pearl.

25  “But the brook in the course of its little lifetime among the forest trees […] seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious […] But unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled […] So pearl […] chose to break off all acquaintance with this ripening brook. She set herself, therefore, to gathering violets […] and some scarlet columbines”, in chapter “A Forest Walk”, 204-5.

26  Hawthorne, 108.

27  Cf.  Nina Baym, “Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors”, in The New Feminist Criticism, Elaine Showalter (ed.), New York: Pantheon Books, 1985, 63-80. In this insightful essay, Baym discusses the tendency in the theories of American fiction to establish a pattern of action that excludes the female from the construction of an “essential Americanness” and associates the female either with the social space as an obstacle to the ideal mobility and progress of the male American protagonist (Baym uses the Myth of America in a sense close to what I refer to here as the Myth of the Frontier), or with the wilderness as object of (sexual) possession. In either case, Baym argues, this “misogynistic” pattern excluded women writers (as it links the female with the oppressive social space or with the wilderness as object of sexual possession): “such portrayal of women is likely to be uncongenial, if not basically incomprehensible, to a woman. It is not likely that women will write books in which women play this part.” Though Baym admits that Hawthorne deviates from such a pattern, she insists on the tendency of the main interpretations of The Scarlet Letter which minimize the significance of Hester in order to make the novel fit into the dominant trend in critical theory (she refers in particular to Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel).

28  Some contemporary studies have developed the notion of “écriture féminine” (feminine writing) to describe an aesthetic practice (promoted mainly by women writers, but not necessarily limited to them) that promotes a conception of writing as a form of subversion and transgression of established rules (the patriarchal order, among others). This notion has been given a particular direction by the feminist critics (‘écriture féminine’ as practised by women, consciously feminist writers, who start from the specificity of the female body and female sexuality in order to subvert the long-established patriarchal paradigm in language and literature. See for instance Ann Rosalind Jones, “Writing the Body. Toward an Understanding of l’Écriture féminine”, in TheNew Feminist Criticism, Elaine Showalter (ed.), 361-377. I use the term here in a broader sense that makes it applicable to Hawthorne’s novel.    

29  The relation between the cultural and the aesthetic involves a substantial amount of confusion.  It is not only in the sense specified in the anthropological field that I am using the notion of culture (Edgar Morin, for instance defines culture as an informational body made up of knowledge, rules, and norms specific to a society and transmitted from generation to generation: « la culture est un patrimoine informationel constitué des savoirs, savoir-faire, règles, normes propres à une société. La culture s’apprend, se réapprend, se transmet, se reproduit de génération en génération. Elle n’est pas inscrite dans les gènes, mais au contraire dans l’esprit-cerveau des êtres humains. » La Méthode, v. 2, Paris : Seuil, 1977, 245). I am relying in my use of the “cultural” on the assumption that culture is a process of “in-formation” (production and creation of forms): the German word for culture —Bildung—allows for an underlying of an implicit affinity between the aesthetic and the cultural conceived of in this particular meaning and implied in the notion of — die Einbildung— that is, imagination. See T. W. Adorno, Théorie esthétique, Paris: Klinksieck, 1989, 74-75, 116.

30  Hawthorne, 120.

31  F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace,” Modern Short Stories, Jim Hunter (ed.); London: Faber & Faber, 1964.

32  Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace”, 154.

33 Idem.

34  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 63.

35 Ibid., 83.

36  Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace”, 158.

37 Ibid., 156.

38 Idem. My emphasis.

39 Ibid., 154.

40 Ibid., 156.

41 Ibid., 154.

42 Ibid., 159.

43 Idem.

44 Ibid., 161.

45 Ibid., 160.

46 Ibid., 163.

47 Ibid., 175, 177.

48 Ibid., 168.

49  This can be illustrated by many significant points in the story: the circularity of the car motion in which Clark, not Sally Carrol, leads the simulated Frontier movement and mobility (the movement ends at the point of departure), the intervention of another female figure, Margery Lee who, in Sally Carrol’s imagination, is associated with a similar failure to assume the mobility of the pioneer (crossing space), and ultimately the Ice Palace experience which presents the Frontier as a form of alienation and painful entrapment when explored by a female figure.    

50  To Sally Carrol, the terrifying aspect of the Ice Palace lies in the fact that it spatializes the haunting memory of the bitter defeat, the wound of the South; “ice was a ghost”. “The Ice Palace”, 176.

51  Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace”, 179.

52 Ibid., 177.

53  See The Scarlet Letter, 121.

54  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 95.

55  See Nina Baym, op.cit., 72 and 75.

56  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 90.

57   Ibid., 92.

58   Ibid., 94.

59   Ibid., 128.

60   Ibid., 129.

61   Ibid., 136.

62   Ibid., 153-154.

63  In my interpretation, the dimension of tragic failure that The Great Gatsby includes in its exploration of the American Frontier Myth is partly accounted for by the novelist’s attempt to find a perfect correspondence between the Myth and the material reality of America, since the Myth is substantial to any thematization of America, while such thematization is meant, by Fitzgerald, to be carried out within the aesthetics of realism. However, the history of American fiction proves that the Gothic tradition (since Brown) has been more capable of formulating and expressing the spirit of the Frontier as it animates the writers’ imagination. The American Myth and the theme of America itself could not be approached within the ratioanalizing aesthetics of the Realistic tradition; this explains Gatsby’s (in fact, it is Nick’s) final discovery that the rational attempt to equate the Myth with the material spatiality of modern America can only lead to the idea of defeat.

64  Nina Baym, op.cit., 77. She argues that the gendering of the Myth of America as male is intrinsically linked to the “myth of artistic creation” equally presented as a male experience (the affinity between the “Adamic hero in the story” and “the Adamic creator of the story”). Beyond Baym’s quite pertinent analysis of the use of gender in American masterpieces in ways that leave no room for the female experience to be associated with “the matter of American experience”, I insist on the link itself — between exploring the American Myth and the thematization of writing and of artistic creativity—which attests to the substantial difference of the American novel from the European.

65  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, op.cit., 97.

66 Idem.

67 Ibid., 98. My emphasis, (to draw attention to the misleading repetition of the same pronoun as this second “it” refers to another pause or rupture).

68 Ibid., 107.

69  Cf. Carl D. Malmgren. In chapter 3 (“Making Room for the Reader. The Experiment with Paraspace”), he discusses the difference between such paraspace as created in the modernist novel (in which “the fictional experience is still meaningful; the author is, however, unwilling or unable to specify just what that meaning might be. Thus there is generated within the modernist text a significant […] interpretive space whose management and description falls to the reader”, 112) and the one produced by the “paramodernist writers” (those who share the modernist aesthetic but modify or extend its technique) and who tend to disrupt the fictional space (as they dispense with conventional story, multiply the gaps and blanks) and install a substantial fragmentation, rendering, thus, the paraspace (the reader’s contribution through interpretation and gap-filling) “problematic if not fraudulent.” Fitzgerald’s articulation of the fictional space and his invitation of a paraspace fit more in the latter description of the paramodernist text.

70  Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 143.

71 Ibid., 148-152.

72 Ibid., 166-167.

73 Ibid., 171.

74 Idem.

75 Idem.

76  The last description of Jay Gatsby is in fact a comment on Fitzgerald’s own dilemma; “compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder”, 171.

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Salwa Karoui-Elounelli, « Where heroes have to tread: spatialization in american fiction »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. V - n°1 | 2007, 196-215.

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Salwa Karoui-Elounelli, « Where heroes have to tread: spatialization in american fiction »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. V - n°1 | 2007, mis en ligne le 21 octobre 2009, consulté le 15 avril 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2027 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.2027

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Auteur

Salwa Karoui-Elounelli

(Sousse, Tunisia)
Salwa Karoui-Elounelli est Maître Assistante à la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de l’Université de Sousse en Tunisie. Elle a rédigé une thèse de doctorat en littérature américaine postmoderne, sur « la pratique de la parodie dans la fiction de John Hawkes » (1998). Depuis, elle enseigne le roman et la poésie anglais et américains du dix-neuvième siècle à l’ère postmoderne. Elle a publié des articles dans Recherches Universitaires, revue de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de Sfax.

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