Spaces of Party and Rot

While reading The Sun Also Rises, I felt myself drawn to thinking about the locations and spaces that all the characters frequently moved in and out of. For one, most of the time they are in cafes or clubs drinking; rarely does a scene take place outside of these spaces, and when they do, it is often while they are in between one café/club and another. Outside of these scene-framing settings, the characters also travel throughout the Transatlantic, coming and going from New York, Paris, Vienna, Spain, and Scotland (I might have missed a few as well).

What struck me about this spatial aspect of the novel is that it felt almost escapist; that is, there was a constant desire from characters to move from one thing to the next or to drown oneself in party spaces to displace themselves and avoid dealing with the realities of their situations. The exhaustive movements from place to place destabilized a sense of centeredness. This spatial motif seems to speak to the state of things post-WWI; when the destabilization of life, culture, and society has left things in a state of disequilibrium. This disequilibrium becomes manifest in the multiple spaces of the novel, but also in the characters themselves. This is perhaps most apparent in Brett and Cohn, who can’t seem to find satisfaction staying in one place, space, or state; instead, it is always an in-process movement to the next thing which might make them feel something.

I ultimately leave The Sun Also Rises, which climaxes with a 7-day party, with a rather somber and melancholic feeling. For a novel whose characters are almost always immersed in a state of party and intoxication, their reality is more of a fragmented existence of moving around trying to just feel any sense of centeredness or happiness in a world of rot (to borrow Brett’s catchphrase) camouflaged with confetti post-WWI.