there and back again

Thoughts on Eliot.
August 11, 2008, 4:34 pm
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I have not yet read all of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, so if I sound as if I’m speaking of things I don’t understand, I probably am.  Apologies.  Let’s call these “thoughts so far.”

I didn’t read “The Waste Land” until this spring.  I have known and loved “Prufrock” since I was pretty small—my dad used to quote from that piece fairly often.  “Let us go then you and I,/When the evening is spread out across the sky/Like a patient etherized upon a table.”  I don’t think there are many ten year olds who could have quoted you that line, but I could, thanks to my dad’s totally bizarre reading suggestions for me.  I would probably defend “Prufrock” until my death.  It’s been quoted to death, it’s trite at this point, and beloved mainly by pretentious folk who major in English and quote the line about coffee spoons to each other and smirk.  Yeah, all of that’s true.  

But that poem is beautiful nonetheless.  I don’t think much about growing old, I don’t think much about the crisis of middle aged men, or of Edwardian England, but I cry when I read that poem because despite what some might see as its impenetrability, it lays out the tangled bed of emotions in the mind of a single individual and asks you if you’ve ever felt just this way.  

To say that I love “Prufrock” is easy.  I cannot much say that I love Eliot.  “The Waste Land” was hard going and simply removed.  I smiled at familiar lines, finally in their rightful context, and wondered at the allusions and metaphors but ultimately I finished the poem and said, “Well, that’s it then.”  No crying or moment of instant recognition.  It was simply an interesting and nice poem.  I didn’t much care for the rather grotesque sexual imagery.  I can deal with poems that portray female sexuality as something fearful and rather violent (I actually wrote one this year which I’ve still got mixed feelings about.) but the images in “The Waste Land” just made me feel disgusting.  I haven’t read “The Hollow Man,” I haven’t read “Four Quartets.”  I will eventually but I wasn’t going to rush to read them, until just a little while ago.  I stumbled across a line from “Four Quartets.”  I like poetry that lays things out for me.  I think that poetry should strive for bareness, not opaqueness, I value simplicity over frills, and I’m a little too fond of clever word play (Please note this poem from McSweeney’s which I haven’t yet stopped loving.).  I don’t think these are elements that can be said to characterize Eliot’s poetry.  And yet.  And yet.

You are the music while the music lasts.

I may have to get around to reading “Four Quartets” sooner than I had intended.  I didn’t think he had it in him. 


The truly unpopular opinions.
August 6, 2008, 3:47 pm
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I had two important realizations today.  Firstly.  If I live for another fifteen years without ever seeing another Monet, I would be quite happy.  I am sick to death of Monet.  His paintings don’t have any movement for me, any life—they’re just a pleasing arrangement of colors and shapes.  Earlier in my course here at Cambridge, all of us went to London for the day and many of us ended up at the Tate Modern.  Most people who went to the Tate came back raving about the large Water-Lilies painting that was on display.  I sat in front of this particular painting for about five minutes and almost fell asleep.  I don’t want to see any more art that lulls me into a stupor!  I want art that’s attempting to do something or provoke something.  No more Monet.

Secondly!  I am sick to death of reading about the phenomenon of the muse.  These lovely women (usually women, not always) who exist simply to provoke men to greater artistic, philosophical, literary heights.  Usually I think these women are regarded as fairly revolutionary.  Involved in the male dominated world, interacting with famous movers and shakers.  That’s all very nice, but from now on, I only want to learn about women who did things.  No more poetic and tragically beautiful empty vessels.  I want to learn about women with opinions, who were mean maybe, or rude, and definitely deeply uninterested in allowing anyone to project anything onto them.  This was the exact reason why I started to cool off on Haruki Murakami, former love of my literary life.  Write a real woman, dude.  A woman who has goals and journeys of her own and doesn’t conveniently disappear after providing our everyman hero with a night of poignant and rather passive sex.  No more beautiful, deep, charmingly quirky, willing to change your life, dances in the rain barefoot, wellspring of inspiration type women.  Guess what?  If you can project whatever you want onto her, if everyone can look at that woman and see what they truly love—she’s not real.

Also!  If you wanted another reason to hate Garden State, other than the fact that it’s a shallow, emotional manipulative piece of shit, Natalie Portman’s character is the classic quirky yet acceptably beautiful girl who dances funny and changes your life.  You know who thinks lying all the time is charming?  Crazy people!  The brilliant people over at The Onion’s A.V. Club have got this shit figured right out.

Oh sweet sleep is coming.
June 13, 2008, 10:50 pm
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I tend to think of myself as a pretty smart person.  I am not bragging, particularly, and the snobbish tendencies I possess are mostly related to books, movies, music, etc.  But when it comes to common sense, to following directions and critical thinking, I like to think I’m ahead of the curve.  

So why did I spend the last two days sweating buckets and holding back tears in an effort to assemble a desk and a chest of drawers?  I really thought that I had the whole moving thing figured out.  I didn’t go to IKEA to buy my stuff, for that place is evil.  Everything is so stylish and cute, but that smug feeling of good taste disappears when you attempt to assemble a bunk bed using only pictograms.  So I went to good old Target.  And yet, I suffered.  Frankly, I had faith in Target, but it’s gone now.  I loved how nice Target seemed, how simply stylish and yet unpretentious.  I even really liked in when Target bought all the ad space in that one issue of The New Yorker and gave it over to cool graphic designers.  I didn’t flinch when Target enthusiasts called the store “Tar-zhay.”  Well, fuck that.  No more!

Now, I look like I’ve been in the wars and I’ve got sore muscles in places I was pretty sure contained only fat, skin, and bones.  But my room in Baltimore is set up, damnit.  And I’m too tired to write anymore.  Sorry for being boring.  Tomorrow I’m off to laze about in the park and see Vampire Weekend along with the entire hipster population of the eastern seaboard.


Target, you cruel ungrateful bastard. 

A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect.
June 2, 2008, 11:50 am
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When I came home from school this past Christmas, I spent a considerable amount of time hunting for my copy of James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks and the Wonderful O, as illustrated by Ronald Searle.  I haven’t yet found it, which makes me fear deeply that it might have been accidently given away in one of family’s great book purges (to make way for new books, not because my parents are crazy book-haters or anything).  

I didn’t read The Thirteen Clocks as a small child, nor was it read to me; I think my dad gave it to me when I was around twelve or thirteen maybe.  He thought I would appreciate the witty and sarcastic verse.  I didn’t really matter how old I was.  I loved that book.  It was fantastic.  The rhymes were incredible; they were both beautifully clever and so terrible they were funny again.  The first story contained the memorable line: “Light a light or strike a lantern! Something I have hold of has no head.”  I found the book both creepy and funny, sinister yet moving.  

The best children’s books are always, in some way or another, scary.  Frankly, even as someone who can’t stand scary movies, I feel that all children’s book should terrify children.  Whether the fear comes from creepy yet lovely illustrations or seriously bizarre story lines doesn’t matter.  This is not to say that I want children to be totally traumatized by the books they read, but the books that children remember fondly when they are older and wiser are the books that somehow scared the shit out of them.  Children themselves are pretty twisted anyway; they should be put in their places with really demented literature that makes them want to be writers and also makes them want to hide under their covers until they’re fifteen.


Roald Dahl clearly understood that children need to be totally terrified.