But the experience I had while reading “The Great Gatsby” as an adult was very different. I would argue that this reading was deeper, more emphatically felt. While most young people admire Gatsby’s youthful love for Daisy — for the possibility associated with her economic and social class, and for who he was with Daisy, too, in that shining moment in time — there is much subtext that becomes clearer with age, subtext Fitzgerald must have been acutely aware of when he wrote “The Great Gatsby.”
One of the first great lessons of my adulthood was this: I change. As I grow, my dreams change, as do my ideas about who I can be and what I want during the short time I am alive. Gatsby has not learned this. It is a lesson he has closed himself to.
Strictly speaking, “outer space” refers to the vast expanses between celestial objects, the near-perfect vacuum of space once thought to be filled with aether, the fifth element. In practice, though, we imagine outer space in much the same way that we do the ocean, so that far-flung material bodies (dusty asteroids, murky trenches) are implied within the whole. Outer space is a metonym for the great “out there.”
But I can’t swim in outer space. It’s out of sight and out of mind. Even the best images—heroically gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Voyager space probes, and the Mars rovers—bespeak something uncanny, something unearthly. When I consider the bare fact of two trillion galaxies (as when Whitman “heard the learn’d astronomer”), I experience a jarring dissonance between what I know and what I feel to be true.
Is it really all out there? If so, can it be written?
What is the relationship between thinking, acting and historical consciousness? How do we preserve a spirited intellectual autonomy that yet includes enough sense of the past to contextualize and resist those power-grabbers who would bamboozle the public with their own fun house versions of truth? Hannah Arendt, the philosopher and political theorist, was always acutely concerned with questions of how to make thought and knowledge matter in the struggle against injustice, never more so than in the last two decades of her life, when the rich medley of the material collected in “Thinking Without a Banister” was created.
Is it me, or do demons who fling furniture, shatter glass and make walls bleed seem kind of ho-hum these days? If you’ve braved one too many supposedly spooky novels only to find the pages haunted by nothing but stale genre devices like these, you might approach “The Ghost Notebooks” with a certain “been there, read that” trepidation. But luckily, Ben Dolnick’s ambitions go beyond run-of-the-mill thrills and chills.
“Asymmetry” poses questions about the limits of imagination and empathy—can we understand each other across lines of race, gender, nationality, and power? The fluttering way in which Halliday pursues her themes and preoccupations seems too idiosyncratic and beautiful to summarize, although there are serious, “Gone Girl”–grade spoilers that a reviewer must worry about revealing.