“Yin to my yang, Joel to my Ethan, Damon to my Affleck”

PARIS: So, I have been racking my brains for weeks trying to figure out exactly who should be my vice presidential candidate, you know? Who would be Yin to my Yang, Joel to my Ethan, Damon to my Affleck, and then suddenly, it hits me – the perfect person … You.

Yin and Yang

An ancient Chinese philosophical concept of harmonising opposites, where Yin is passive and feminine, and Yang is active and masculine, but each force is equal, interdependent, and complementary. Note that Paris designates herself as the active Yang principle!

Joel and Ethan

Joel Coen (born 1954) and Ethan Coen (born 1957), filmmakers. The films of the Coen Brothers span many genres and styles, which they frequently subvert or parody. Their most acclaimed works include Raising Arizona (1987), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).

Damon and Afflleck

Matthew “Matt” Damon (born 1970), and Ben Affleck (born Benjamin Affleck-Boldt in 1972), actors and filmmakers. They wrote the screenplay for the 1997 film Good Will Hunting, directed by Gus Van Sant, in which they also starred. They won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. They later played parody versions of themselves in the film in the 2001 comedy film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, directed by Kevin Smith. [Picture shows Affleck and Damon in Good Will Hunting].

Paris only now chooses Rory as her running mate, with the election mere days away. Shouldn’t she have chosen a vice-presidential candidate ages ago?

Nihilistic Theories

RORY: But if I’m doing my [Philosophy] homework, doesn’t that defeat the point of going to see you play?

DEAN: You can’t glance up in between nihilistic theories?

Nihilism is a philosophy that rejects fundamental aspects of human existence, such as truth, knowledge, morality, values, or meaning. Different nihilist positions hold variously that human values are baseless, that life is meaningless, and that knowledge is impossible. It often takes on a despairing tone.

Another reminder that Dean isn’t as stupid as the writers often make him look, he at least knows the word nihilism. It does seem a little disparaging towards Rory’s studies though, with the subtle implication that her homework is meaningless. He may be feeling a little despairing himself by this stage.

The Fountainhead

RORY: Really? Try it. The Fountainhead is classic.
JESS: Yeah, but Ayn Rand is a political nut.
RORY: Yeah, but nobody could write a forty page monologue the way that she could.

The Fountainhead, 1943 novel by Russian-American author Ayn Rand, and her first literary success. The novel is about a ruggedly individualistic architect named Howard Roark, who battles against conventional standards and refuses to compromise his ideals. Rand said that Roark was the embodiment of her ideal man, and the novel reflects her views that the individual is more valuable than the collective.

Twelve publishers rejected the manuscript before Bobbs-Merrill took a chance on it, and contemporary reviews were mixed. However, it gained a following by word of mouth, and eventually became a bestseller. It has had a lasting influence, especially among architects, business people, conservatives, and libertarians. It was adapted into film in 1949, and turned into a stage play in 2014.

We here learn that Rory attempted to read The Fountainhead when she was ten, without success, but tried again when she was fifteen and liked it. Jess is taken aback by her recommending a text beloved of right-wing libertarians and “political nuts”, but Rory says she enjoys it as a piece of literature. The Fountainhead is absolutely full of characters having lengthy monologues where they clearly explain their philosophies, plans, and ideals.

The character of Howard Roark (allegedly based on architect Frank Lloyd-Wright) is a brooding man of few words, rather like Jess. Could Rory be recommending the book to Jess for that reason, to let him know that she likes a book where the protagonist is like Jess? A literary flirtation, like Jess annotating her copy of Howl?

Jess’ later career has a few things in common with Roark – neither of them graduate because they can’t be fettered by a conventional curriculum, both believe themselves to be misunderstood, both would prefer to take any paying job rather than compromise their creative integrity, and both become successful in their chosen fields.

More eye-raising is the character of Dominique, Roark’s love interest, and said to be his perfect match. Their first sexual encounter is so rough that Dominique describes it as a “rape”, and yet comes back for more, again and again. It’s a risque (or even plain risky) thing for a teenage girl to recommend to a boy she likes, and if this is a flirtation-by-literature, Rory seems to have suggested that Jess make things physical, even without her explicit consent.

Memoirs of A Dutiful Daughter

This is the book Rory is reading on the couch when Lorelai gets home from the fashion show.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is a 1958 memoir by French author, existentialist philosopher, and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, previously mentioned. It’s a beautifully-written, intimate portrait of her life growing up in a privileged, sheltered, upper middle class French family, rebelling as an adolescent against their conventions, and striking out on her own with intellectual ambition and a ceaselessly questioning, philosophical mind.

Rory often reads Lorelai’s books (they both have an interest in female biography and memoir), and this feels like one Lorelai would have been drawn to. She and de Beauvoir both had the same urge to escape a wealthy, claustrophobic background (Lorelai had Rory as part of her escape, while de Beauvoir had Sartre), and Lorelai spoke of always wishing she could use the word existentialist in a sentence.

The title of the memoir is ironic, but Rory really is a very dutiful daughter to Lorelai. Later on, she too will rebel against her mother.

Seneca

RORY: That’s because Stoicism was not about giving up things, of money and luxuries and stuff.
PROFESSOR: That’s right. By the time he was in his early forties, Seneca had earned enough money to acquire villas, farms, he ate well, he loved expensive furniture, but he didn’t consider that a non-philosophical way to live.

Seneca the Younger, born Lucius Annaeus Seneca, usually just known as Senca (c4BC-65AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and playwright. A tutor and later adviser to the Emperor Nero, he was forced to take his own life for allegedly taking part in a conspiracy to assassinate Nero; Seneca was most likely innocent.

Senca was a prolific writer on Stoicism, a popular philosophy for upper-class Romans of his era. He wrote about the need to control the destructive emotions, to confront one’s own mortality, and be willing to practice poverty and use wealth wisely. His plays however, are all tragedies, and filled with intense emotions. Even while he was alive, Seneca was accused of hypocrisy because he was essentially a wealthy and powerful man advocating the simple life.

Highly popular in his day, Seneca’s enduring reputation is most likely because he was greatly admired by the early Christian church, which led to him becoming a favourite in the medieval era and during the Renaissance. Today he is seen as an important part of Western thought.

Note that Rory is very quick to grab onto the idea that wealth and luxury don’t preclude one from living an intelligent, rational, philosophically rich life.

Existentialists

[Lorelai is reading accomodation notices on a bulletin board]
STUDENT: You looking for a place to live?
LORELAI: Uhh, maybe.
STUDENT: Well there’s a lot of choices. Something for everybody.
LORELAI: Yeah, yeah. Unless you’re one of those existentialists who can’t really figure out what they want.

Existentialism is a philosophical tradition associated with 19th and 20th century European philosophers, valuing the individual, freedom, and personal authenticity. The existentialist attitude is often seen as one of confusion, disorientation and dread in the face of a meaningless or absurd world. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, earlier discussed, spoke of the “agony of decision”, hence Lorelai’s comment. She later says she always wanted to use the word existentialist in a sentence.

In real life, students would not be at Harvard University during mid-August, and already in their regular routines of classes and parties. The semester began in late August in 2001, and the first week would have been orientation activities.

Emma Goldman

LUKE: I hate malls … They underpay employees and overprice merchandise, they contribute to urban sprawl, they encourage materialism, and the parking’s a horror. You drive in, you pay a buck, and even if you’re only there for five …
LORELAI: Okay, Emma Goldman, I’ll tell you what. I’ll go for you.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was a Russian-born American anarchist, political activist, and writer. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in the early twentieth century, and was strongly influenced by Freidrich Nietzsche, among others. She believed that capitalism was incompatible with human liberty, and in her youth, sanctioned violence and even murder as a legitimate part of the revolutionary struggle.

Nietzsche and Dawson

LOUISE: Those who simply wait for information to find them, spend a lot of time sitting by the phone. Those who go out and find it themselves, have something to say when it rings.
RORY: Nietzsche?
LOUISE: Dawson.

Rory is referring to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), a German philosopher whose work has been profoundly influential on Western philosophy. Since the 1960s his work has been a major focus in existentialism, postmodernism, art, literature, psychology, politics, and popular culture.

Louise is referring to Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek), the central character on the teen drama series Dawson’s Creek, which aired on television between 1998 and 2003. I cannot verify if Louise’s quote is genuinely from the show, but it sounds like the sort of thing Dawson might have said.

This is a rather unsubtle example of how much more intellectual Rory is compared to Louise.

Jean-Paul Sartre

LORELAI: He [Jim Carrey] is funny but I didn’t mean funny, funny. I’m being philosophical.
SOOKIE: Oh. Very serious face. Jean-Paul Sartre.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a French philosopher, writer, and critic. Highly influential, he was a leading figure in 20th century Marxism, existentialism, and phenomenology, and was famous as the lover of fellow philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. His best known work is Being and Nothingness (1943). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, but declined to accept it.