T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes follow me. If that name doesn’t immediately bring an image to mind, it’s on a billboard in The Great Gatsby. Here’s how F. Scott describes them
“The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens.”
I first read Gatsby in a high school English class and as part of our final project, I convinced my friends to make a short film version of it. While we were shooting our movie, we found a huge, old, hand-painted sign of a pair of eyes wearing eyeglasses in a friend’s house. His grandparents had run an optometrist’s shop and the family had thrown the sign into a corner of their storage room.
We edited our movie in my basement over a weekend, daisy-chaining three VCRs together and when we needed to make a tough transition or imbue a preceding scene with capital-I Importance, we’d cut to our Eckleburg eyes. Our movie was glorious.
Over the years, I’ve thought about Eckleburg a lot — both in terms of what his faceless eyes represented in the novel (as well as in Life) and also as just a giant pair of eyes because it turns out that they’re everywhere.
One of my earliest neighborhoods in Barcelona was around Plaça Tetuan and as I was crossing a tricky intersection one day, I thought of Eckleburg and looked up, up, up to the top of the highest building at the crossing and there he was.
(The logical explanation was that I’d subconsciously seen the sign before, possibly while day-dreaming on the bus, but it’s much more fun to think of T. J. always being just out of sight.)
The original cover of the novel is iconic, famous and controversial. No less an
ass icon than Ernest Hemingway thought it was crass. Pot : kettle : Hemingway.
There’s always been backlash against movie tie-in versions of books, but the new Gatsby cover has elicited a write-up in the paper of record. Personally, I’m against putting a poster on a book because the posters are almost always tacky and aren’t as thoughtfully designed as the book art.
The trailer for the newest filmed adaptation of Gatsby features a shot of Baz Luhrmann’s take on T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes (@1:01). Will his be as good as the one me and my buddies spent over a month putting together? Doubtful.
Ma version du Gran Gatsby en français decided to change the cover (bad form!) but at least they kept with the spirit of the story. The dedication is the best, though, as it reads “À mon old sport.” In Franglish. Genius.