This essay reads F. Scott Fitzgerald’s representation of gestures and tics in relation to a modern ethnographic construction of the body as a cultural signifier. The first half of the essay constellates moments from several texts in order to trace Fitzgerald’s interest in the semiotic embeddedness, local particularity, and discursive function of gestures. The second half focuses on moments that unsettle the distinction between gesture and tic, such as when, in The Great Gatsby (1925), Jay Gatsby drums the devil’s tattoo with his foot on the floor of a room in the Plaza Hotel. This event, the essay shows, is conditioned by a historically specific set of discourses related to nervousness, jazz, and cultural particularity. At the same time, it serves as a compressed allegory of procedures of behavior and interpretation, with ramifications for questions of descriptive methodology that have shaped the ethnography/literary-studies interface for several decades and that are central to recent discussions about the roles of depth and surface in critical practice.
"Gatsby's Tattoo: Gesture, Tic, and Description,"
Criticism: Vol. 56:
4, Article 2.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol56/iss4/2