Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering.
Nick’s disconnected experience at the party continues here, actually graduates into full disembodiment. Now he feels both in the moment and outside of it, watching as a curious stranger on the street. He’s repulsed by the moment he’s living, if not by the life he’s living or rather of life as a whole: ‘I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.’
Note that this text is from the painstaking restoration that Matthew Bruccoli completed in 1991, working from Fitzgerald’s hand-marked galleys to correct many longstanding errors from the original 1925 publication. One of the key errors was ‘I saw him too’ rather than ‘I was him too’ – the correct reading emphasizes Nick’s projection of self onto the street bystander.
This whole page is filled with tight bits of prose. I like the way Nick tries to leave but the ‘wild strident argument’ pulls him back into his chair ‘as if with ropes.’ Also imprinted on my brain is how Myrtle’s warm breath pours the story of her first encounter with Tom, the urgent mantra she repeats on the road to her first affair, ‘You can’t live forever, you can’t live forever.’