Expert answer:Tulsa Community College The Grand Illusion and God

  

Solved by verified expert:Pick one of the two movies last viewed–The Grand Illusion or Godfather 1–and a two page (600 word) essay on it, linking it to one or more of the readings that seem most relevant (your choice). You may handle this following discussion in class, or you may want to pursue a specific question, such as: What turns Micheal Corleone into the monster he eventually becomes? And what does this mean, given the larger cultural-political issues of the Godfather (post-war capitalism, the shifts in American culture, etc.). Again, this is your choice. Here is a list of some of the key themes we treated in The Grand Illusion and Godfather 1, to help you decide how to handle this. 1. The nature of an aristocratic caste or estate system versus modern democracy and “equality of conditions.” 2. What is the “grand illusion” of Renoir’s movie–is it the differences that divide human beings (national, ethnic, class, sexual), or is it the idea that we can dispense with these differences in a pacifist society of universal humanity? (Or both?) 3. How do the various differences dividing human beings play out in The Grand Illusion–national and class, first of all, any others, such as ethnic or gender?4. How is the issue of “universal humanity” complicated by the fact that nation-states (like France and Germany) seem to correspond to the rise of democracy, while a humanity transcending national divisions is evinced precisely by the aristocratic (global?) elites (Rauffenstein and Boeldieu). 5. Three issues or conflicts are intimated in the opening scene of The Godfather:a. The problem of America as an immigrant country–assimilation, integration, acceptance, and recognition (or the failure of these);b. The problem of two social orders, traditional and modern, a family-based system held together by honor, respect, and loyalty versus a cold-calculating market system in which personal relations are subordinated to the bottom line, in the context of the American dream, paradise failed;c. The shift of American culture from a more traditionally oriented one to post-War capitalism in the sense signified by Las Vegas. 6. These three may perhaps be summed up and epitomized by the rude awakening of Bonasero, who found paradise in America for his family and himself (keeping his distance from Don Corleone’s business) until his daughter was assaulted. Then he realized in the most brutal way the limits of assimilation and his lack of status and recognition as a Sicilian immigrant. All these are meant to be helpful tips–you can use them as you see fit. I have not upload all the readings that he post but theses the general topics,3rd Week The Grand Illusion (1937) Tocqueville, Aristocracy and DemocracyThe Godfather I (1972) Marx, Kinship and Capitalism
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Democracy and Desire
in The Great Gatsby
Stephen L. Gardner
Department of Philosophy and Religion
The University of Tulsa
In Passions in Economy, Politics, and the Media in discussion with Christian Theology,
Wolfgang Palaver and Petra Steinmair Pösel (eds.), LIT Verlag, Vienna 2005. 273-294.
Near the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the Dionysian energies of American
democracy, the protagonist circles clock-like as he floats in his swimming pool, murdered. The
killing has all the hallmarks of a sacrifice, symbolically and in fact. The narrator himself calls it a
holocaust; Jay Gatsby’s blood leeches slowly into the water. The symbolism of Christian
sacrifice is express and repeated, and there are other Biblical symbols as well. Jay Gatsby is a
“son of God” come to earth “to be about his Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and
meretricious beauty.” (99) He is immolated by George Wilson, who, knowing not what he does,
proceeds from Michaelis the Greek, an angel of the valley of ashes. Innocent of the crime for
which Wilson kills him, Gatsby atones for the sins of others, Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Nick, and
Meyer Wolfsheim, not to mention that “vast, vulgar” mob over whom he presides at his parties.
And so he is an offering to the all-seeing optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, the god of democracy–
of visibility and image–who keeps watch over the valley of ashes from his faded billboard.
Fittingly, Gatsby compensates the god of celebrity and advertising for the death of Myrtle, his
faithful worshiper. Order is restored, at least to the marriage of Tom and Daisy, and the sacred
bond of civilization is renewed.
The question of sacrifice stands at the heart of The Great Gatsby. At first blush, the novel
lends itself to René Girard’s theory of the ancient origins of myth in collective violence and
blood sacrifice. Girard, though, has not just one but two theories of sacrifice, the second (and
chronologically the first) being that of romantic self-immolation, the self-defeating and
ultimately self-destructive character of modern “romantic” desire. These theories of sacrifice
ancient and modern afford a point of departure for an analysis of this justifiably classic, but as I
argue flawed “romance” of the Jazz Age. Elements of each are easily identifiable in the novel.
Taken separately, though, these modes of sacrifice, collective and individual, do not do justice to
this distinctly modernist novel, original both in theme and technique. Its originality (I suggest)
turns on the link it insinuates between the romantic pursuit of radical freedom and the new
economy of consumerism, suggesting an order of sacrifice in which the collective and the
voluntary are combined. The emancipation of democratic desire Fitzgerald describes in the Jazz
Age is not just a glamorous backdrop in Gatsby. It transforms human relations and even signifies
a new type of human being who sees himself through the images and commodities of popular
culture.1 The vaunted “infinity” of romantic passion, setting in motion the self-destruction of
Europe in the twentieth century, received new life in American consumerism; its nihilism is
made “productive” in the moral economy of democratic desire. To be sure, the novel’s revelation
of this is limited, intimated rather than spelled out. It suggests this link partly through its
modernism, an aesthetics of the immaterial image reflecting the ethos of advertising (and selfadvertisement) at the core of modern popular culture. An instance of the cult of image itself, it
reveals as much by exemplifying that ethos as by analyzing it novelistically.” In this new order,
popular culture supplants religion as the order of human relations, into which art and aesthetics
enter through the agency of commodities, replacing the older sacraments of social mediation
afforded by tradition. The romantic cult of art is not just a concomitant of the consumer
economy, but its epitomic instance. Not surprisingly, the novel has become an element in the
moral economy of desire it describes, despite its unflattering portrait of the Jazz Age.
According to Girard, a scapegoat or sacrificial victim serves to unify a social group by
drawing upon himself a communal violence that otherwise would destroy it. Cathartically
absorbing social violence like a lightening rod, he acquires a sacred, salvific quality, producing a
miraculous effect, harmony amongst his enemies. Scapegoats who in life were objects of
universal scorn in death become gods and guardians of the community. Gatsby’s death, too,
sacralizes him as a symbol of the American Dream (“The Great Gatsby”), in the most popular
receptions of the novel and in the eyes of its narrator, Nick Carraway. Elevated by aesthetics to
sublimity, Gatsby justifies the Jazz Age excesses that climaxed in his destruction. His death, too,
produces a reconciliation of sorts between Daisy and Tom Buchanan. Gatsby presides over a
democracy of desires that sacrificed him because his boundless aspirations validate them and the
American Dream in its most unqualified ambitions. Thus the standard reading of Gatsby–as
sacrificial victim who, for all that can be said against him, testifies to irrepressible democratic
optimism, its refusal to tolerate limits, its faith that anything is possible. He is “living” proof of
the rights of imagination over reality, the refusal to grant nature any claims against the will.
Girard’s classical theory of sacrifice seems a promising strategy to deconstuct this myth by
exposing its hidden violence in social passion. Scapegoating is not only alive and well but even
more energetic in modern democracy, expedited by the mass media, the market, and freedom
itself, and free of the religious controls on authentic sacrifice. The implication is that those who
idolize Gatsby (we democrats and American Dreamers) are themselves the chief agents and
Ronald Berman in The Great Gatsby and Modern Times examines Gatsby in light
of its historic context, consumerism and popular culture.
beneficiaries of his demise, collectively represented in the figure of the narrator, Nick
Carraway.2
This is not Girard’s only theory of sacrifice, however; he also theorizes a peculiarly
modern, internalized form, in romantic passion or the desire for absolute freedom, more directly
applicable to the character of Gatsby. Here desire dooms itself to failure, defeat, even death or
madness, because it is based upon a model who is a rival. The definingly modern object of desire
is freedom, but it is always first discovered in someone else. Desire for freedom is mimetic
desire par excellence. It is defined by another individual, the object of a jealousy metaphysical in
its intensity, as if he were the incarnation of spontaneity. His desires become the measure of
authentic being, and, by the same token, he becomes an insuperable obstacle. Romantic passion
collides with reality, for Girard, not because its sublime infinity is tragically superior to it, as it
likes to think, but because its desire is by definition impossible, parasitical on what obstructs it. It
hides an inter-personal relation, a relation of imitation that it cannot admit without annihilating
itself. Were the obstruction miraculously to disappear, the desire would lose its appeal; were the
desire to be achieved, it would prove to be quite different in the event than “metaphysical desire”
imagined it to be, far less exalted in reality. Of course, the desire might collide fatally with
reality before either of these eventualities occurs, and that is the case with Gatsby.
Gatsby presents us with a laboratory specimen of Girard’s “metaphysical desire,” a
jealous obsession with others as if they possessed an elusive mystique of being. Daisy is the
quintessence of desirability, its “Platonic” Idea so to say. She is a living instance of desire in love
with itself, a beauty that exists only in being desired not possessed, exemplifying the proposition
that the object of desire is the image as such. Yet possession is demanded to demonstrate the
reality of “Gatsby”; she must authenticate his self-creation. Behind that, there lies his obsession
with the fantastically wealthy and with money itself, as a supernatural power to transfigure life
and undo the past.3 Gatsby is an American edition of the romantic notion of “life as literature,”
whose quixotic imperative and nihilistic end is the effectual truth of the modern pursuit of
absolute freedom. But then we are left with a question or two the novel does not seem to answer
unambiguously. Which is it–is Gatsby a sacrifice to the collective passions of Jazz Age
democracy, or a victim of his own insane (not to say adolescent) delusions? Or is he both?
***
No doubt, then, intimations of sacrifice in the ancient, collective mode may be discerned
in the novel. In fact it is so transparent that it may lead us to suspect an aesthetic ruse, as if the
As Thomas Cousineau suggests in “The Great Gatsby: Romance or Holocaust?”;
see below.
As Jeffrey Hart argues in Smiling Through Cultural Catastrophe, 227 ff.; see
below.
author were using it to lend credit to the elevation of his hero in death.
This sense of sacrifice is virtually express towards the end of the novel. That evidently is
how Nick Carraway the narrator sees it.
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and
then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that
kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . (180-1)
So it is tempting to see Gatsby mainly as a victim, at the very least caught in the cross-fire of
others’ passions. Gatsby is usefully vulnerable for the ends of social utility thanks to his marginal
status as an outsider. In some respects, Nick exemplifies Girardian theory almost too perfectly.
Not only is he in effect beneficiary and agent of Gatsby’s sacrifice. Once the sacrificial
mechanism has run its course, Nick is also the guardian of its secret. Nor is that all. “Old Nick”
(as one might be tempted to see him) is also the instrument of Gatsby’s apotheosis in death, the
poet of his tragic “greatness.” He performs the religious operation of turning Gatsby into a deity,
all the better to disguise his own responsibility for his demise.
A view akin to this appears in Thomas Cousineau’s insightful reading of the novel. For
Cousineau, the central character is Nick the narrator, and as he convincingly shows, Nick’s
moralism is really a mask for his illicit desires. Nick vicariously and cravenly satisfies his desires
through those of Gatsby. Nick the moralist is really a romanticist, an aesthete; he desires through
the desires of others, at one remove. And he disguises the lack of his own ambition or of the
courage of it as moral superiority (suggesting a secret alliance between democratic moralism and
desire). Through Gatsby, he gratifies his own craving for Daisy and resentment of Tom, and
Gatsby pays the price. Nick’s “you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” puts the seal on
Gatsby’s destruction as a substitute for his own illicit passions. Cousineau notes the mimetic
nature of Gatsby’s ambitions (his attraction to Daisy because she is desired by others and
possessed by Tom). What is salient for him, though, is that his destruction is a sacrifice for Nick,
who desires with impunity because Gatsby unwittingly substitutes for him. Likewise, Gatsby
takes the fall for the irresponsibility of Daisy and Tom. Sacrifice is the secret stratagem of illicit
desire, substituting another to pay for one’s own sins. So Cousineau debunks the self-serving
moralism of many readers and critics of the novel, which demonizes Daisy and Tom, holds up
Nick as a model of Midwestern virtue, looks on Jordan, Myrtle, and George Wilson with varying
degrees of suspicion, pity, or contempt, and turns Gatsby into a tragic hero at worst.
Cousineau’s reading shows the vicarious nature of democratic desire as it seeks
surrogates or substitutes, safely indulging itself. And it implies a tacit alliance of democratic
moralism (not to be confused with virtue, decency, justice, or charity) and the aesthetic
imagination. Aesthetics affords democratic desire a means or a mask whereby it can indulge
itself and still assume the posture of the moralist. In democracy moralism becomes a form of
self-indulgence, a craving whose charm is impossible to resist, its foundation the absolute
entitlement of desire. Like Nick, aesthetics acts its procurer.
Nonetheless, the mode of sacrifice Girard uses to explain primitive myth does not fully
apply, even if its elements are not absent either. Girard uses sacrifice to explain the primitive
origins of religion. The setting of the novel, however, is modern, democratic, and American;
primitive sacrifice is out of the question. No one in or out the novel is going to believe literally in
the divinity of Gatsby; he is an ironic god at best. Gatsby’s “divinity” is an aesthetic myth, not a
religious one. Nor is there any communal desperation in his sacrifice, and instead of being
communally deified, he is instantly forgotten (except by us the readers). The story ends
pathetically; Nick buries Gatz in the detritus of his origins. The story’s scapegoat, moreover, is
Tom Buchanan, not Jay Gatsby. The novel, or at least the point of view of the narrator, revolves
around the polarity afforded by Tom (much as does Gatsby himself). In the universe of
democracy, Old Wealth plays the scapegoat more plausibly than the disenfranchised, being
universally envied. The character of Tom is tailored to this requirement, with his absurd racialist
postures and a physical manner and brutality not usually observed among the well-heeled. Even
so, targets like these usually remain beyond reach; substitutes must be found.
What of the connection between Gatsby’s romanticism and his fate? Cousineau does not
pursue it (nor does he necessarily deny it): “Quite apart from his romantic dreams, Gatsby has
been chosen to play in the novel that bears his name a preeminently sacrificial role as the figure
who will create unanimity among the members of the group that has both elevated him and
excluded him.” (37) He is a scapegoat, Cousineau concludes, because he is an outsider,
powerless to exact revenge against those who might harm him. (36) If his dreams get him into
trouble, according to Cousineau it seems because he cannot compel others to act out the script he
has composed for them.
But the fatality of Gatsby’s passions goes deeper than that; they are not simply defeated
by uncooperative partners or circumstances. They are impossible and self-destructive in their
nature. Gatsby carries romantic passion to its absurd consequence, denying the conditions of
existence, the rights of reality as such. “Can’t change the past?” exclaims Gatsby famously,
“Why of course you can!” As Jeffrey Hart argues, the reach of Gatsby’s ambition is so great that
it amounts to a “gnostic” attempt to abrogate space, time, and the past, symbolized in the idolatry
of money.4 But the denial of nature, history, reality itself cannot but be nihilistic. Gatsby plays
the victim not just because he is marginal, an outsider, or an easy mark. He elects that role
Hart cannot quite bring himself to renounce this heresy, however, and still
manages to extract from the story a vindication of the romantic imagination (239). He lets
Gatsby die but saves Nick, as Cousineau also suggests (22).
himself–he plays it voluntarily. Not that he plans his own destruction; to the contrary, he seems
unwilling to face the fatal implications of his passion. That is his freedom, though. His delusions
are self-willed, his risks liberally undertaken. His own “boundless” freedom leads him down the
path of perdition. For the first time in history, the sacrificial mechanisms necessary to maintain
social order are to a large extent willing.
***
Even so, the novel presents passion on a simple collision course with reality, as if its
obstacles were merely external, not ingredient to passion itself, making an impression as
ludicrous as it is tragic, because it is so obviously quixotic. Nick is Gatsby’s Sancho Panza,
seeing through his delusions yet still tempted enough by them to serve them faithfully. The main
action is Gatsby’s five-year quest for the Holy Grail, an adolescent ambition miserably
immolated at the high noon of its achievement. That enterprise demands that he roll back the
clock and recapture his dream of a woman, his pre-War lover Daisy Fay, and so prove her
marriage to Tom Buchanan a fiction. Only by triumphing over Old Money in its own house–by
showing that the dream of desire belongs to him, not Tom–can he bring to accomplishment his
original project, conceived well before he encountered Daisy. That is the creation of Jay Gatsby
out of the ashes of James Gatz–his self-invention. This romantic ambition to father himself–to
make himself from nothing–is inspired by three main sources. These are, first, the American
culture of “self-help”; second, the “chivalrous” literature typified by Horatio Alger-type stories,
of the self-made man who, overcoming great poverty becomes “successful” (that is, wealthy)
beyond his wildest dreams–only to run into the rude obstruction of those who are born into this
condition. Somehow, though, he prevails, and saves a damsel from the clutches of Old Money.
And finally, Gatsby’s embarrassment at his origins, his desperate desire to be someone else, the
feeling of his own nullity. It is this that leads him to re-invent himself as “Gatsby,” the magical
new persona–the “rajah”–that he cultivated on Dan Cody’s yacht, the gold-rush millionaire. Thus
Gatsby acts out a boyhood dream driven by quixotic and characteristically American fantasies of
the democratic David defeating the blue-blooded bully Goliath, blocking his path to selfimprovement.5 Daisy serves to complete this self-image, to prove its truth. Even after his defeat,
Gatsby “wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving
Daisy.” (111) The despised world of Old Money affords him in Daisy the measure of his success.
When he encounters her as a young army officer in Louisville before the War, the jejune
dream of himself as hero is renewed. Daisy was not only rich and privileged but the most popular
girl in town–a role she learned to perfect, the universal object of desire, the incarnation of desire
Gatsby’s boyhood dreams are described by his father in the last part of the novel.
For the historic sources and background, see Berman.
itself, like the Hollywood starlet she emulates later on in the garden of Gatsby’s party. That is
her vocation in life; she floats impalpably in the air. She is, though, a passionless icon of passion.
Like Phaedrus the character of Plato’s dialogues on Eros, she is (so to say) a disembodied image
of divine beauty, a Platonic form that, alas, awakens desire but cannot gratify it or even really
return it. It inflames life but is itself dead. She remains sober while others are intoxicated by the
passion she arouses. It is no surprise that her later husband would seek satisfaction in the
corporeal element of women like Myrtle. The “Platonic” beauty of Daisy offers not so much
anything desirable in particular but an image of desirability “in itself.” The world of Ideas that
she inhabits is hardly Plato’s invisible realm. It is rather a world of “representations” affording
desire a focus imaginarius in intangible images–that is, the world of Hollywood and advertising,
cars and cosmetics. Thus the strange magic of her voice, so “full of money,” arousing passion
but beyond its reach. It is the heaven of fabulous wealth. In D …
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