Like many musicals from the great age of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hart, Pal Joey is not a masterpiece because of the plot but because of the songs. The best way to enjoy it might be to listen to the original cast recording of the show's 1950 revival, a nearly perfect album full of hot, slick numbers like "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", "You Mustn't Kick It Around" and "Plant Ya Now, Dig Ya Later". Forget Rent and Phantom of the Opera; if you're looking for good showtunes, this is the stuff.
I've read and enjoyed many John O'Hara novels and short stories, but I've never been able to find a single one of the numerous New Yorker "Pal Joey" pieces that inspired this play. The stories were once collected in book form to coincide with the release of the awful 1957 film version of Pal Joey, which is one of the worst things Frank Sinatra ever did (he completely failed to inhabit the character, and the film cut most of the best songs). This book went quickly out of print, and while a few used copies can be found, I get the feeling from the looks of these descriptions that they'd arrive with crackly yellow pages and a weird smell, so I never bought one.
I also could have gone to a library and dug up the original New Yorkers, but I never did, and this is where the situation was stuck for many years, until I suddenly got the Complete New Yorker eight-DVD set for Hanukkah. I felt a great thrill of anticipation as I fired up Disk 7 (1937-1947) and entered "John O'Hara" into the author box.
First thing I noticed: John O'Hara wrote a lot of New Yorker stories. A real lot. I click and click, one story after another (I quickly gave up trying to read them all; it's a lifetime's worth) but there's no nightclub crooner named Joey to be found. Then I reach Oct 22, 1938, a modest issue with a cover illustration of a fox hunt observed by two carloads of tourists. And there it is on page 23, sitting quietly across a full-page cartoon featuring a tuxedo'd gentleman seated next to a hooker in a courtroom who asks "Just visiting the city?" The title is Pal Joey.
I dig in and immediately start enjoying the fast pace. O'Hara is a master of slang and dialogue, always expressing himself best when letting his characters do the talking. Here, Joey is the talker, and a glance at the first Pal Joey story quickly explains the odd title phrase, which I've always wondered about. It turns out the stories are all written in the form of letters from one roving young jazz singer to another, and they're addressed to "Pal Ted" from "Pal Joey".
I'm also amused to see that O'Hara is using the quaint technique of showing us all his character's spelling errors, which combined with all the slang makes the stories come off something like Flowers For Algernon filtered through Damon Runyon. The vocabulary is fascinating; a girl Joey's pursuing is a "mouse", a business idea is an "angle", and, more than a half century before MTV began taking us into the homes of Missy Elliot and DMX, a home is a "crib".
Due to the Complete New Yorker's crappy excuse for a search engine (they really should have hired me to design this DVD package; I would have done a better job and probably charged less), I am not completely sure that the twelve Pal Joey pieces I found represent all the pieces O'Hara ever published in the magazine. But these are the only ones I could find. It's interesting that the series ends abruptly in 1940, which is the year the Broadway play opened.
Let's take it from the top:
Oct 22, 1938: Pal Joey
"DEAR PAL TED: Well at last I am getting around to knocking off a line or two to let you know how much I apprsiate it you sending me that wire on opening nite." It's a self-contained piece, and it's easy to imagine that O'Hara intended to be done with this Joey character after this one appearance. Joey fills Ted in on his travels from Michigan to Ohio, where he meets a new mouse with a rich father and also finds a new nightclub to work in. "Well you might say I ran the opening nite. I m.c.'d and they had a couple kids from a local dancing school doing tap, one of them not bad altho no serious competition for Ginger Rogers." Joey proudly encloses $30 towards a $50 loan from Ted, which he guesses Ted didn't expect: "I guess you kissed that fifty goodbye but that isn't the way I do things."
Nov 26, 1938: Ex-Pal
The developing plot takes a disturbing early turn when Joey accuses his Pal Ted of violating an important confidence. Joey told Ted to look up a certain girl, and Ted did, but then Ted told the girl what Joey said about her, and it got all over town and now Joey's in big trouble. "The way I get it you meet this mouse and right off you shoot off your face about I wrote you and told you to look her up and she gets the wrong impression because as I understand it she thinks you think all you have to do is mention my name and you are in." Ted's indiscretion costs Joey his new job, and at the end of this piece Joey is heading for New York City.
April 1, 1939: How I Am Now In Chi
I still haven't located the storyline from the play, but we seem to be getting closer. All the action in Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey takes place in Chicago, so I am glad Joey didn't spend too long in New York. The story of how Joey is now in Chi starts in Michigan again, in fact, and it involves the same mouse from the October and November installments who he is still fooling around with. But her high society friends and relatives close ranks against the slick newcomer, and Joey ends up being personally escorted to the local train station where he is put on a train to Chi-town somewhat against his will, though he manages to get some free chewing-gum and magazines out of the deal. This is the best Joey piece so far, and contains many amusing observations about high society customs. "Then around the end of January they were having this ball in honor of the President (Roosevelt) to get up a fund that they would give for this infantile paralasys. Very white of them as they sit around all year and say what a heel he is, and on his birthday they give him this ball ..."
May 13, 1939: Bow Wow
Score! This is the story that shows up in the first act of the play, and it's also a solid piece. Joey meets a sweet-looking mouse peering into a pet shop window, and to make an impression on the young woman he pretends to be a dog-lover. "Then she said why didnt I buy this puppy and I said for the same reason why I didnt buy a Dusenburg, money. Well the effect it had on her was wonderful. I could see tears in her eyes ... I began telling her about Skippy the airdale that I didn't have when I was a kid and pretty soon got to believing it myself, all about how my heart was broken when poor little Skippy was crushed beneath the wheels of a 10 ton truck." In the mus ical, of course, this is the point where Joey starts singing 'I Could Write A Book', and I can almost hear the orchestra cueing up. In lieu of music, the text version provides added detail such as the girl's name (Betty Hardiman) and how long it took Joey to score with her (at least a month).
Oct 7, 1939:Avast and Belay
Nazi Germany has invaded Poland, and Joey is getting patriotic. He urges Ted (who appears to be considerably more successful than Joey at this point) to consider a scheme wherein they both join the Navy and start a Navy jazz band. "Charley said a band like this no doubt would be booked for liberty bond engagements when they start selling liberty bonds to the people. I tho't of an angle there and asked Charley, 'Suppose we are booked into a town to sell these liberty bonds for the government do we get our percent of the gross' but Charley said not with Mr. Whiskers at the gate, nobody cuts in on Mr. Whiskers."
November 25, 1939: Joey on Herta
The DVD copy of this issue (digitized from paper, and stored in PDF facsimile format) contains two charming electronic coffee stains right on the sixth Pal Joey piece. For real. Anyway, our hero has now become a mentor and manager to a young female vocalist, but has no taste for the excruciating details of the music promotion business. "So I entered into the situation and informed them that i would take care of the clothes dept. and out of my own pocket advanced her $9.50 so she could pour herself into a $39.50 no. that showed everything but her scar where she had the appendisetis if she ever had it (some spelling I admit)."
December 23, 1939: Joey on the Cake Line
Joey's down on his luck at Christmastime. "Well Merry Christmas, as the saying goes. Guess I will have to go to bed for 24 hrs so I dont have to stop hating my fellow men."
February 3, 1940: The Erloff
I'm not sure I fully get this piece, and I'm also starting to despair of ever finding the second storyline from the musical, in which an older, married society lady meets Joey at the club, falls in love with him, sings "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", agrees to fund him in starting his own nightclub, Chez Joey, and then pulls out of the deal when he fails to keep up his side of the gigolo act. I haven't run into this lady yet, and I know there aren't many stories left. This is a typically funny one, but I really don't get the title joke, in which a rich old man refers to everything as "the erloff". Is there a meaning in there somewhere? I always need jokes explained to me, especially jokes from 1940. Anyway, I like the way Joey describes nightclub ambience, as when he describes a singer he does not enjoy: "The old dame got up again and began horse-whipping The Lamp is Low."
March 2, 1940: Even The Greeks
This is a pleasant anecdote about a greek coffee shop in wintertime Chi ("I mean weather that is so cold that the other day this pan handler came up to me and braced me and said I look as if I had a warm heart and I gave him a two-bit piece because if it wasn't for him would not of known if i was alive or frozen to death"). The coffee shop story is also heartwarming, though Joey is not the lead character in the tale and there's less Joey here than usual. Also: three pieces left and still no sign of the elegant society lady.
March 30, 1940: Joey and the Calcutta Club
Another anecdote. O'Hara's getting lazy with these pieces. But the tall tale is a good one, involving a pretty woman with a British accent and a good sob story. Joey picks her up (he thinks) but she ends up scamming him out of some pocket cash. The next day he learns she's played the same game with several other men around the club. They then decide to partner up with her when a new target arrives in town. "You have to admire a girl like that from Buffalo, N.Y. where she is from. That is how English she is."
May 4, 1940: Joey and Mavis
I can't tell for sure, but maybe this is the society dame story I've been waiting for. Except it's quite different from the version in the musical. Her name is Mavis (she's Vera in the play), and she's not married but rather a wealthy widow. And she doesn't fund his dream nightclub, Chez Joey, but instead simply talks of hiring him for a new nightclub she might open. I'm not even sure if this piece is the origin of the musical's female lead, but she's the only rich broad who comes into the club with an entourage while he's performing, so I think this is as close as we'll get. "I do not know how I happen to miss Mavis but I did not see her until I had to go in again and polish off some more dittys and they had a table ringside, and I went over and asked them if they had any request nos. and Mavis asked for two requests but did not have both of them only the Beguin no. The other was an oldy like My Buddy which they were singing during the civil war. I know it but forgot the lyics. She looked around 32 or 33, inclined to take on a little weight but I also like them zoftick as some goose in the band says."
July 13, 1940: A New Career
Is this the last Joey story ever? I don't know for sure, but it's the last one I found amongst hundreds more O'Hara New Yorker pieces. It's a funny little piece in which Joey overhears some compelling music, plunks it out on a piano, and decides he now has a future as a songwriter. Here's his farewell to the increasingly successful Ted, who now has a secretary, and to us:
"I know there is no larceny in you Ted boy so what I am going to do is go to a music store and get one of those recording machines and play the tune and cut a wax of it. I will cut a couple and send one to you so that if you lose it or anything I will still have one and anyway that will show that it was my idea. Then when I send it to you you play it over and see if you think it has possibilities and if so maybe you can get Johnny Mercer or somebody to write some lyrics for it. I will guarantee to let you play it first over the air and who knows but perhaps that is not a new career for me, that of song writer. I have a lot of ideas along this line and only need a little encouragement. My tune can be played as either a rumba or conga, fox trot or waltz. If I could get a good Ascap rating this year I would quit this business in a minute and stop worrying about Harry the explorer. So look in the mail any day now for a record. Be sure and tell your secretary that anything from me is to go to you without opening it.
1) His grandfather was Robert Benchley, a great humor writer from the sophisticated Algonquin circle of the 1920's and 30's. Peter Benchley wasn't funny like his grandfather, even though his book made a lot more money than any of Robert's ever did. The easiest way to get familiar with the distinctive satirical stylings of Robert Benchley is to watch the actor Campbell Scott's superb rendition of Benchley's amazing "Treasurer's Report" stage comedy bit in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.
2. I read Jaws as a kid -- one of the first grownup books I ever read, in fact -- and I enjoyed it. One thing that stuck out in my then pre-adolescent mind and still does today: the film left out the book's only steamy sex scene, in which the police chief's wife has a quickie affair with the marine biologist. Yes, that's right, Roy Schieder's wife slept with Richard Dreyfuss -- in the book. Why do you think George Costanza wanted to be a marine biologist? I don't usually second guess Steven Spielberg, but I think this sex scene was part of the subtext behind the police chief's rivalry with the scientist, and I think Spielberg made a mistake in not filming that scene.
3. As a kid in the seventies, I thought it was very cool that Jaws took place on Long Island, where I lived. I was never scared of sharks when we went to Jones Beach -- exciting things like getting bit by a shark never happened to kids like me. Now that I am a father, though, I see it differently. I remember yelling at my 14-year-old son to get closer to shore this summer, and I believe he informed me that there were no sharks on Long Island, to which I loudly responded "Have you ever heard of a freaking film called Jaws?!"
Goodbye to Peter Benchley, author of one really good book.
Hemingway lived a cinematic life, but Anthony Hopkins is an old guy and obviously won't attempt to reach into the author's picturesque adventures in Europe and around the world in his booming 20's and 30's. It sounds like a talky film, which doesn't jibe with my understanding of the Hemingway essence. In lit-film heaven, Orson Welles circa "Citizen Kane" would nail this role. Anthony Hopkins? I don't know -- it's a stretch. The last famous face Hopkins tried to inhabit was Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's "Nixon", and I don't think he pulled off the transformation.
Hopkins as Hemingway. I'm not too hopeful -- what about you?
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the British author of cultishly-popular humorous novels, short stories and plays (Jeeves and Bertie Wooster are probably his most famous fictional creations, and he worked on musicals with composers like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern) became unexpectedly controversial at the height of his popularity.
He was residing in France in 1940 when the Nazis over-ran the country. As a British citizen, he was interred as an enemy alien. The Nazis knew they had a prize catch, however, for Wodehouse was famous throughout the world, and they were anxious to use him for propaganda purposes. They transferred him to a prison in Berlin and made him an offer: he would be treated decently if he would just make a few pro-German radio broadcasts. He agreed to do so -- to save his skin, he would later say -- he would also claim that they were harmless broadcasts in which he simply joked about his imprisonment.
I've been pondering the film Tom and Viv, a very convincing 1994 art film about young T. S. Eliot and his troubled marriage. A shy but ambitious American visiting England, Eliot fell in love with Vivian Haigh-Wood, a tempestuous woman whose upper-class British style and ribald sense of humor fascinated him. They married impulsively, then discovered they did not get along at all. The bad marriage lasted for many years, and in fact seems to have inspired many parts of Eliot's poetry. Sexual and interpersonal anxiety is central to most of his work; it is fascinating to realize that in real life T. S. Eliot did dare to eat a peach, and perhaps too impulsively at that.
In the film, Eliot is played by Willem Defoe, and I think he does a great job. I don't usually like Defoe -- I thought he was badly miscast as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (Willem Defoe does not look Jewish), and in Wild At Heart I thought he was just plain weird. But he was born to play T. S. Eliot, sallow skin, cautious diction and all.
Miranda Richardson is just as good as Vivian, who you feel both sorry for and angry at in this film. The movie is also an interesting tableau of Jazz Age London; we see Vivian Eliot having a meaningless affair with Bertrand Russell, then getting into a catfight with a group of women including the haughty Virginia Woolf.
Overall, I thought this was one of the best literary biographies I'd ever seen on film. I'd like to know what you thought of it -- have you seen it?
Last week I asked about your favorite poems, and I really enjoyed the stream of responses which included, in the order in which they were posted: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot, "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr, "The Height of the Ridiculous" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Matthew 6:25 - 34, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" by Walt Whitman, "The City in Which I Love You" by Li-Young Lee, "Poem In October" by Dylan Thomas, "Constantly Risking Absurdity" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg, "l(a" by e.e. cummings, the entire "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman, "Herbsttag" by Rainer Maria Rilke, "Death Fugue" by Paul Celan, "Cloud" by Vladimir Mayakovsky, "The Waste-Land" by T. S. Eliot, "What a Piece of Work is Man" (from "Hamlet") by William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare, "The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats, "Kaddish" by Allen Ginsberg, "Power" by Gregory Corso, poems by Jane Kenyon, Anne Sexton, Christina Rossetti, Carl Sandburg, "Wild Swans at Coole" by Yeats, "The Drunken Boat" by Rimbaud, "Sonete Postrero" by Carlos Pellicer, "Sonnet" and "Masa" by Cesar Vallejo, "in Just-/spring" by e. e. cummings, "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe, "When i consider how my light is spent" by John Milton, "The Purist" by Ogden Nash, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost, Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare, "As The Mist Leaves No Scar" and "The Reason I Write" by Leonard Cohen, "So I said I am Ezra" by Archie Ammons, "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams and "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams" by Kenneth Koch, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas, "In Society" by Allen Ginsberg, "Acquainted with the Night" by Robert Frost, "13 Ways of looking at a blackbird" and "The poem that took the place of a mountain" by Wallace Stevens, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" by Randall Jarrell, "Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas, "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost and "Love is a Dog from Hell" by Charles Bukowski.
The first one mentioned (by none other than my LitKicks co-editor Jamelah) happens to be my own favorite. T. S. Eliot began writing his poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in 1910, when he was a 22 year old philosophy graduate student. Five years later it was published in Poetry Magazine, and it became his first famous work.
Here, Dyson addresses the question of what it is that the level-headed narrator sees in his friend, the shady millionaire Jay Gatsby. Carraway, who takes pride in facing realities -- claiming that he is "five years too old to lie to [him]self and call it honor" -- is nonetheless driven to abandon his "conscious moral instinct," which would lead him to see through Gatsby's thin veneer of respectability. The latter's claims that he is the son of "some wealthy people from the Middle West," and that he was "educated at Oxford," are obviously fraudulent. Yet, while the narrator remarks that he "knew why Jordan Baker believed Gatsby was lying," he cannot bring himself to hold the title character in contempt. This is because Carraway is too captivated by Gatsby's "romantic promise," seeing him as a secular saint, or messiah figure. Indeed, Gatsby is regarded as a "Son of God" by the narrator, who seeks deliverance from the harsh realities to which he has grown accustomed. Similar faith is placed in the romantic heroes in Jack Kerouac's On The Road and J.D. Salinger's Seymour: An Introduction. In On The Road, Sal Paradise sees his buddy, Dean Moriarty, as the "saint of the lot" by virtue of his knowing "IT." Likewise, in Seymour, the title character is recognized as a saint, with visions of a Christ-like "Fat Lady". As with the idea of romantic promise, IT and the Fat Lady are both abstract notions -- or, to use Dean's phrase, "imponderables" -- which neither the narrators nor their romantic heroes seem capable of defining in specific terms. This is, perhaps, because the significance of these imponderables lies in the very fact that they are not of the "real world." Rather, they seem to exist outside their respective presents, in ambiguous realms governed by "the past and the imagination". As such, they are seen as romantic and holy truths, unfettered by realistic constraints. It follows that the "saints" who embody these truths appear as innocents: sheltered and out of touch with the "inexorably unromantic real world[s]" they inhabit.
Gatsby's facade of innocence is supported by his lavish, yet secluded lifestyle on West Egg, Long Island. As its name suggests, West Egg resembles a protective "shell," in which the romantic hero appears shielded from the falseness and depravity of the 1920s. Indeed, even the Jazz Age revelers who attend his parties have no contact with Gatsby himself. Because nothing is known about him, he appears remote and flawless. This is the case, at least, until he falls for Daisy Buchanan. Daisy and her husband, Tom, serve as embodiments of modernist moral decay: the former, with her tinkling, artificial laugh, and the latter, with his overt racism and brutality. Despite wishing that the world would stand "at a sort of moral attention forever", Carraway has resigned himself to the company of these "careless people". Nonetheless, he yearns to recapture a pre-modernist sensibility, which he perceives as morally superior to that of his own time. For this reason, he permits himself to buy into the stories that depict Gatsby as mythic figure from America's idealized past. Perpetuated by both Gatsby and his guests -- the ones he never sees -- these stories are far more fantastic and, indeed, far more innocent than the man they profess to characterize.
Like Gatsby, Dean Moriarty is a man, seemingly without a past of his own, who becomes associated with the mythic constructs of an earlier age of innocence. Indeed, Sal's depiction of him -- as a displaced, fatherless cowboy from the American West -- hearkens to the pre-modernist figure of Tom Outland in Willa Cather's The Professor's House. Each of these characters transcends the limits of white, mainstream society. Tom ultimately finds himself in communion with the souls of deceased Native Americans. Dean, similarly, achieves a mystical awakening, or epiphany -- indeed, he "gets IT" - while "digging" a performance by a black jazz musician.
At this point, Dean speaks of having "no time now," implying that his epiphany has taken him outside his present reality. His statement poses a direct challenge to the despair that Quentin Compson faces upon losing his grasp of time -- and, in turn, his hold on reality - in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. From Quentin's perspective, the loss of time is a case of reducto absurdum. Dean experiences it as a reduction as well for, in approaching it, he becomes increasingly inarticulate. Ultimately, he is rendered an "imbecile." However, he is not an idiot, like Benjy in The Sound and the Fury, but, rather, a "holy fool". Thus, the reduction Dean undergoes is not a descent into absurdity. Instead, it is a path to ultimate spiritual fulfillment. This is why, in the eyes of Sal, Dean achieves his holiest moments by becoming completely incoherent to those around him, including, even, the narrator. Like his hero, Sal desires to escape the trappings of his time, the wantonly commercial and morally static 1950s. However, as noted by the critic Arnold Krupat, he is "far behind Dean on the road to IT and holiness." It is while on this road, of course, that Dean is "in his element," traveling outside of time, with no final destination.
Seymour Glass also travels outside of time. He turns his back on fifties' bourgeois society by refusing to relinquish his boyhood role as a commentator on the "It's a Wise Child" radio show. Depicted, by his brother Buddy, as a King Arthur's round table for the prepubescent set, this program is used to represent Seymour's lasting sense of innocence. It is an innocence which, in Buddy's eyes, lends Seymour the stature of a mystical sage. Unlike Dean's brand of mysticism, which reduces him to a fool, Seymour's raises him into the level of a high priest. He delivers verbose, "spontaneous" homilies, which translate the Christian Gospels into showbiz rhetoric -- with the figure of Christ represented as "the Fat Lady" -- and which combine these teachings with Zen Buddhist concepts of spiritual transcendence. Through this strange juxtaposition of religious faiths, he succeeds, according to Buddy, in exposing the limitations and hypocrisies of his age. The latter has faith, moreover, that Seymour will ultimately transcend these worldly barriers altogether and come to rest on "Holy Ground". "Is he never wrong?" Buddy asks, seeing himself and others, by comparison, as unenlightened and sinful.
In fact, Seymour and the other romantic heroes are not as sinless and innocent as they appear. Rather, each shows himself to be susceptible to worldly corruption. This presents problems for the one who has, in effect, canonized him. Faced with the prospect of disowning his hero, each narrator instead chooses to remain faithful to him. In attempting to shield him against detractors, the narrator infuses his religious fervor into the Judeo-Christian role of a "brother's keeper." This response is in keeping with what Krupat calls "the great principle of Beat faith...that life is a constant religious experience."
When confronted with the knowledge that Gatsby has not spent his entire life locked away in his gaudy shrine on West Egg -- that he has instead made his wealth through illicit dealings with the most notorious racketeer of the time, "the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919" -- Carraway shows his loyalty by not betraying this secret to Tom Buchanan. The narrator's silence stands in contrast to the later accusations, which he directs at Tom, concerning the death of Myrtle Wilson. By this point in the novel, To m has discovered Gatsby's secret for himself and has exposed the romantic hero in front of Daisy, causing her interest in him to vanish forever. Significantly, Carraway sees the contemptuous reactions of Daisy and Tom as more reprehensible than the deeds which provoke them. In this way, Carraway shows a marked prejudice towards Gatsby, whose flaws he wishes to cover up, versus the Buchanans, whom he desires to see exposed. Carraway, then, is not an objective, detached narrator -- "one of the few honest people he has ever met" -- who sees things entirely as they are. Rather, as noted by Jordan Baker, he is a "bad driver". This means that his vision is as blurred as that of the other characters in the novel. Carraway's "misseeing" leads him to chase after Gatsby's green light as though its brilliance were not, in fact, worldly and orgiastic in nature, but, rather, sublime.
Sal, likewise, chooses to remain silent when his beloved Dean is derided by their friends in Denver as more deadbeat than beatific. Dean's loss of holiness is linked to his having left the road and entered the real world, in which he is expected to assume mainstream responsibilities as a husband and father. Unlike the characters in The Great Gatsby, Dean is seen as an excellent driver. Indeed, as previously noted, the road is where Dean reigns supreme -- where he, in effect, gets IT, and is understood as holy. By contrast, in the real world, he is labeled a shiftless "goof": the worst thing he can possibly be, according to Norman Mailer in his essay, "The White Negro." In his narration, however, Sal tempers this accusation with the adjective "holy," thereby showing his ongoing faith in Dean, despite the latter's obvious flaws.
Seymour's flaws, like Dean's, manifest themselves with regard to women. He momentarily abandons his childlike lifestyle by marrying a worldly young lady, well-versed in Freudian theories "and all that crap." According to Buddy, she and her mother "misinterpret" Seymour's spiritual sagacity as psychobabble, and force him to be analyzed. It is the analyst, Buddy defensively maintains, who drives Seymour to the ultimate form of transcendence: suicide. Seymour's wife and his analyst, conversely, maintain that his final act is only further evidence of his already disturbed nature. Regardless of his motivations, however, Seymour ends his life far afield from the "Holy Ground" that Buddy hoped he would one day reach.
Each of the other romantic heroes likewise fails to sustain and fulfill the spiritual promise which his narrator perceives in him. Ultimately, however, this failure is blamed not on the hero himself, but on his society. Faithful to the end, each narrator depicts his hero as a victim of external, worldly forces, which far exceed his own demonstrated capacity for corruption.
In his book, The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder, Richard Lehan writes that Gatsby's death is blamed on "the careless people," specifically Daisy and Tom, who exist on a plane of "moral abandonment," reminiscent of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland". In line 134 of this epic poem, faceless, paralyzed figures cry out despairingly, "Whatever shall we do?" Similarly, the characters in Gatsby, excluding the romantic hero, have no sense of what to do with themselves, either physically or spiritually. Indeed, they have no sense of direction; this is what makes them such bad drivers, on a physical level, as well as bad people, devoid of conscience.
A lack of direction, or vision, can also be blamed for what happens to Dean at the end of On The Road. He gets abandoned on a New York street corner because of the spiritual short-sightedness of Remi Boncoeur, Sal's French-American friend. Like Louie Marsellus in The Professor's House, Remi is a figure of cosmopolitan worldliness, seemingly at odds with the all-American innocence embodied by Tom Outland and, of course, by Dean. Failing to see Dean as a saint -- a holy fool -- Remi instead dismisses him as just another of Sal's "idiot friends."
If Dean, Gatsby, and Seymour are presented as victims, however, they are not seen as having suffered in vain. Rather, they are treated as martyrs by their respective narrators. At the end of each narrative, the hero's name is evoked and repeated, presumably as a means of keeping his vision alive, in the hope that it will one day bring enlightenment to the world.
For the time being, however -- in the harsh light of reality -- such vision may seem no more enlightening and beatific than that emerging from "the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg." It may, in fact, appear false, and those who champion it may seem guilty of blind faith. If this is the case, then "Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found" is not God, as Krupat indicates. Instead, he is merely a bum: one of the many casualties of the "road," which does not point the way towards enlightenment. At least, this is what Amiri Baraka, and other critics of 20th century romanticism, would probably have us believe. Nonetheless, it can be expected that the appeal of romantic visionaries -- the Deans, Gatsbys, and Seymours -- will remain alive and potent so long as there are those, like the narrators, who accept realities, but who are always on the look-out for salvation from them.
According to Eliot, rather than losing an authentic interpretation, we actually gain it through distance. We may then apply such a temporal relativism to "The Waste Land" itself, saying that in our perception of Eliot's poem, we have a temporal advantage over the poet, as his time is historical to us today. Remaining on the relationship of past and present, now in Eliot's point in time (1921-22), we may elucidate his ordering device for relating disparate subjective modern experiences to a more coherent (albeit ugly) past. In this way, subjective and objective perceptions--past and present information, different classes, places, and times--act as mutual supports, a piling up of equivalent and contrasting metaphors and allegories of the modernist poet's predicament. However, such a future-oriented approach breaks down into ambiguity and multiple interpretations. In the first place, the interpretations differ in whether the critic wishes to expand upon "The Waste Land", if he or she decides to take a personal responsibility for post-modernity's own impotence and sterility, or decides, more academically, simply to decipher a now-historical modernity alone.
Finally, in introducing "The Waste Land", we must comment upon its structure, and its themes. The structure has been likened to a constellation of stars, spatial as opposed to linear, but this can be misleading, not to mention two-dimensional. Despite what some say, interpreting "The Waste Land" does leave a sense of at least partial linear movement. As to the themes of "The Waste Land", there is a lack of thematic clarity, but this, in my view, is Eliot's intention, and at least leaves room for redemption, if it doesn't guarantee it. The lack of clarity may be due to the said ambiguous linear movement and also to the absence of an immediate narrative in the poem's main body, though some clarity may be found in the poem's references to external texts.
When the caged Sibyl is asked her desire, she replies "I want to die," which evokes not just a world-weariness and absence of redeeming joy, but also invokes the eastern radical anti-materialistic philosophy of nirvana, in which one achieves a complete freedom. The self, we discover, is in fact imprisoned by its own very existence, and can become free only through its willed destruction. We come to see that it was the Sibyl's desire for a worldly immortality (an immortal self) which condemned her to eternal decay.
The dedication to Ezra Pound then harks back to the Troubadour poets of twelfth-century Provence, who "represent the origins of great European traditions of high poetic art which go hand in hand with a refined but invigorated sexuality." This allusion to refinement will appear again in "What the Thunder Said", and this necessity for willed self-control (and a controlled desire) is one major element needed for redemption.
In the beginning of "The Burial of the Dead" we hear a "voice of propriety" that wishes to halt all new movement, change, or development. This sterile propriety wishes to remain in the darkness, the twilight consciousness of winter, to avoid the suffering and oncoming rending pains of approaching new birth. Stylistically speaking, this desire is unsuccessful as the poem quickly continues on, morphing into another voice, which alludes to a meeting with Countess Marie Larisch. Death by drowning is evoked (l. 8), which symbolizes the ancient narratives of sacrificial death, always necessary before renewal. However, in the present tense of metonymic details, and real time happenings, such renewal, though alluded to, seems entirely absent: "I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter." (l. 18)
The next section (l. 19-43) momentarily retreats to the original voice, but quickly ruptures into "you know only / a heap of broken images..." which makes clear both the modernist's practical predicament, and the formal structure of "The Waste Land" itself. Such montage-imagism, a "heap of broken images" represents the incoherence of modernist social structures, and the mind it creates in its citizens. Spring, traditionally a seasonal process of rebirth and sexual and spiritual potency, is now perceived as painful. The lost love and desire of Tristan in lines 30-34, followed by the similar but more subjective and direct failure in the hyacinth garden, ending in "Waste and empty is the sea", suggests here that such a renewal will not occur in the modern Waste Land. Other interpretations go further, to suggest that such a renewal will never occur. However, we must keep in mind that such a renewal depends upon a very real individual participation--a self-sacrifice that modern man avoids.
With Madame Sosostris (ll. 42-59) we discover how much ancient myth has been devalued and we are given the reason for modern misery and decay. Madame Sosostris does not portray useless myths, rather, she displays complete blindness towards myths in their real, quite fruitful meanings. Madame Sosostris is so telling because she does not possess the real meaning of such myths at all; she tells us to "fear death by water", which symbolizes how much such myths have been forgotten. Avoiding such a death of self is to avoid renewal and remain in a living death. Myth in the hands of Sosostris becomes empty superstition, devoid of any personal self-sacrifice. There are intimations of redemption, and this may be symptomatic of Eliot's reservations about overtly romantic optimism, blind hope, or easy, painless solutions.
Now, in lines 60-76 we see contemporary society, and it is not surprisingly deemed unreal. Clock-time, and a perpetual twilight of "brown fog" have overtaken seasonal changes of light and dark. It seems that man and woman have entered into a wasteland of twilight and are now unable to return to either darkness or light. Like the Sibyl, they are unable to die, and with the absence of deep feelings, they are barely alive, due to mere avoidance and a lack of true sacrifical meaning (honesty). Society has found itself to be "neither living nor dead". This, in terms of Eliot's historical position, may be the witching hour of civilization as it may still be today, or it may be an experience of the rending pains of new birth.
"A Game of Chess" begins with a style reminiscent of seventeenth and eighteenth century literature. By Eliot's time, a very experientially different urban twentieth century, such a convoluted, luxurious, smooth style seemed unworthy of praise. A psychological interpretation of this matter of literary taste would point us again towards the modern neurasthenic. Clock-time, and a quickening society, was coupled with growing populations in machinated, cluttered, unreal cities that cinematically flashed the senses with commodities and advertisements, all of which became fragments of a new man-made artifice: consumerism, and the beginnings of TV culture. This broadcast-consumerism along with a routinized, conveyor-belt approach to production, would help to send the mind into cognitive dissonanc e, anxiety. Indeed, such a modern dislocation of the senses from intensely felt experiences was, according to Eliot, rooted in this eighteenth century literary tradition, which initiated such a dissociation of emotions and their immediacy. Such a style is mirrored in lines 111-172.
So much have the senses been disassociated that the transformed Philomela's bird-song of romantic passion is now heard by "dirty-ears" as a mere "Jug Jug", or a call for raw, physical sex--intimacy without feeling. We hear disembodied voices (ll. 111 -137) close to nervous breakdown, but even then, they remain unaware of their plight. They avoid the rain, a water-symbol of salvation and redemption that, unbeknownst to them, is urgently required. On top of everything else about "The Waste Land", is the fact that such a plight is unfelt, and therefore inescapable, at least for those who do not bring such anxieties to the sunlight. We might then see these first two sections as the initial stages of a cathartic process.
In the beginning of "The Fire Sermon", the season skips back to late autumn, or early winter:
"The river's tent is broken; the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed."
We are reminded of The Fisher King, maimed and impotent, his land approaching its consequent decay. The seemingly timeless state of affairs here by the river blurs into modernity with the mention of horns and motors (l. 197) and there is a sense of approaching watershed. But the core of this section (ll. 187-204) is the allusion to Verlaine's Parsifal and how the Knight, questing for the Grail that will renew spirituality, is tempted by sensual music, which is reminiscent of the temptations of Christ in the desert before his death and resurrection. What follows is a reminder that such a tempting sensuality has fallen down to basic impotent desire--"Jug Jug" and the rape of Philomela.
The Unreal City still under a brown fog, flashes again into consciousness, but this time it is in full winter that we find it, though it has barely changed.
Next, we are introduced to Tiresias, the poet's anti-self who sees all impersonally. It is through Tiresias that we have been conscious of the Waste Land. The poem is his. However, there is one parallel possible between Tiresias and Eliot. Both are unable to affect any direct change. In the hyacinth garden, Eliot experiences the very feeling--he becomes the experience. If the problem is that we are removed from real experiences and feelings, and the goal is to diagnose, then such impersonality must be contrasted with the healthy state of experiencing direct emotions, whether they are positive emotions or not. It is no surprise then that such a lover's scene as this (ll. 230-247) is the opposite of the lovers and scene of the hyacinth garden.
In "Death by Water" Madame Sosostris is overcome because there occurs what we had been told to fear--a death by water. There is a sense of peace in such annihilation, but the death does not end "The Waste Land". In what follows, we are also shown a Christ-like figure post-resurrection, the first explicit sign within the main body of the text that intimates an occurrence of resurrection, of redemption. Perhaps then, this same figure that has drowned, is returning again, purified and refined.
"What the Thunder Said" directly appeals to Eastern philosophy, more specifically, Hinduism. The word "after" repeated three times (ll. 322-25) seems to suggest that something has been overcome, perhaps what has just passed, a death by water. What follows is more death (ll 327-330). We could interpret this as a rather radical assertion that "The Waste Land" is no longer a description of decaying, but rather, it is a portrayal of a civilization already dead. Indeed, the desire for water and the uncertainty of the post-death stage reaches a critical climax at line 366 - hallucination, illusion, deranged perception takes over, and with the signalling "co co..." from the rooftop cock, illusion and hallucination departs the poem.
Rain gathers at last (ll. 396-400), and there is excited anticipation. The thunder speaks: DA, DA, DA. The syllable reminds us of Jesus' use of 'Abba' or Daddy to describe his intimate relationship with a Father God. But the Eastern interpretation is three-fold, developing into Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata, meaning, respectively, "give", "be compassionate", "self-control". In the first instance--Datta--Eliot brings us back to the hyacinth garden, suggesting that only by this surrender do we exist. The sorrowful realization here is that perhaps such a revelation has come too late for the speaker, that the paralysis experienced in the hyacinth garden was an inability to give love, to surrender one's self to another completely. Thus these lines seem to suggest love to be the proper means and motive of giving. In the second instance--Dayadhvam--Eliot links the absence of compassion to the problem of solipsism and egoism--"each in his prison / thinking of the key". Again we hear the suggestiveness of a moment's surrender, and how pride blocks participation in love and perhaps leads to displaced revenge. In the third instance--Damyata--we are urged to control ourselves, like manning a boat upon a calm ocean with the help of the wind, as the heart seems to respond happily to controlling hands.
Indeed, this is a rather different, far more positive interpretation than is usually given to this section of "The Waste Land". Eliot possibly leads us to believe that our private experiences are truly only our own, but, in terms of the Eastern philosophy which he evokes, such a perception is only true because we live in a world of samsara, the only escape from which is nirvana. But the prescriptions are ambiguous, and dogged by the past-present state of the modern Waste Land where people do not recognize such redemptive meaning. But speaking out more radically now, if we maintain an absence of salvation, we have to realize what we are really saying, and be responsible for the consequences of our words--proposing no salvation essentially condemns all futures to desolation.
In the final section, we meet the Fisher King again, and a crumbling society. There is an individual desire to order one's own land. At line 427, we are reminded of purgatory's refining flame, supported by "DA", where self-control, compassion, and giving up one's self (all in love) are healthy forms of passion, renewing desires, refined burning. This refinement overcomes the sterile avoidance of the voice of propriety (ll. 1 - 7; 19 - 20), the improper desires of emotionless sexuality (ll. 218 - 248) and emotionally detached existence in general (ll. 111 - 138). The swallow reference (l. 428) is reminiscent of Philomela, and of sadness, but with the hope of renewal, and intimations of spring again. We see that "The Waste Land" has been a process of personal maintenance--"These fragments I have shored against my ruin". The process has also been one of warning, that the references to the past are not an attempt to escape, nor mere romantic nostalgia. This leaves us one choice, to turn and embrace the future. The thunder speaks again and we end in a peace which lies outside understanding, a nirvana-like state of positive nothingness, and a sense of completion--"Shantih shantih shantih".
With the poem's ambiguous intimations of salvation leaves an interpretation that salvation will not just occur, nor will it be automatically achieved by a mere movement of time. Redemption is left up to the will of individuals to create it. Essentially, when critiquing "The Waste Land" we must bear this self-willing in mind. Many interpretations choose not to find salvation, others choose to be more positive. The poem leaves these two doors open.
Thus, one must maintain hope and the way towar ds salvation, especially in this post-modern point in time, where, if anything, the modern neurasthenic has reached paranoia levels, and permanent states of drudgery, induced by the sedentary, sedative, and dissociated visual-feeds from the popular culture. What the thunder said should not only be remembered as an ethic, but also lived as an individual life. This is the only way to escape the prison of the self, and renew our feelings, to reacquaint them with direct experience, to experience shantih, a peace beyond understanding.
We will give our lives completely every day.
FOR THIS IS THE ASSASINS' HOUR."
-Arthur Rimbaud, Drunken Morning
"The revolution was in his poetry from the beginning and to the end: as a preoccupation of a technical order, namely to translate the world into a new language."