Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Obsessions with Expatriates: My True Story

All my life I've been a pretty avid reader. I learned to read at a very young age and I feel like I've been trudging through the muddy waters ever since. With Aplomb!

The first novel I remember reading was The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (which was actually a novella...but give me a break, I was only 6). It's definitely a short journey well worth taking, I've reread it several times in several different sections of my life and took new understanding away from it every time. I became obsessed with Hemingway, which doesn't give the dude all that much credit, I was also obsessed with The Loch Ness monster.

I used to think about him, look at photos of him. I would pretend like I had read a very involved history of his relationships. Imagine him and Fitzgerald with Fitzgerald's small daughter Scottie in tow at a smokey bar, late in the night. They'd be arguing about the evils of their country and swearing over a toast to never return.

I love looking at this photo, I would study everyone's faces and think about what they were talking about, who was taking their photo, who they might have been meeting later that evening. Was Ezra Pound coming out to dine later that day? Were they going to go to the countryside with James Joyce and his long time partner and later wife, Nora?

Hemingway died in Utah in 1961, he committed suicide. Later I found that his father, sister, brother and later his granddaughter all committed suicide as well. What a strange sad thing.

I read all of their works, the ex-expatriates. I developed odd attachments with James Joyce's underrated poetry, some written for his insane daughter. A Painful Case is my favorite prose written by him, although I'm not sure why. My delight in this short peice certainly wouldn't compare to some people's lifetime obsession with Finnegan's Wake.
The one thing I could never wrap my dumb little head around was how his poetry could be so romantic and colorful, while his prose was so insanely detailed and interwoven. The dichotomy between Joyce's two forms of expression made me go back and back for more.

Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were the best educated of the bunch and were essentially the same person to me for a very long time. I ignored both of them mainly because of that and that they were not as galant and romantic as the others...

Later I read Eliot's The Waste Land and blew my freaking mind right out of my every loving skull. He references Dante, The Golden Bough, The grail story, and The Fisher King brashly and irreverently. He uses Sanskrit and alludes to many Christian and Eastern religious practices. The man meant to make poetry full of impersonal thought and seethingly precise detail, but by the end I think he ended up showing more personality than he previously had desired.
Eliot reminds me that April is the cruelest month, and that if you read through this poem, you will know the answers to everything. ;)
The Hollow Men

A penny for the Old Guy


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer -

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


diane said...

Reading has had a big influence on me too, although I don't think I'm as well bred as you are. I would debate religion with other kids in 2nd grade, leaving me friendless and "strange". So I would bury my nose into books like the Wizard of Oz.
When my children were little, I made sure to tell them to only talk about light subjects in school; they were all very popular. It may sound trite, but I think it saved them a lot of grief.

Ms. Moon said...

Reading has saved my life all of my life.
And that Eliot- what a writer. Damn. Thank you for reminding me how much I love him.

MoxieMamaKC said...

I truly adore that poem...While I enjoyed alot of typical kiddie lit when I was young, I remember the first time I read Jane Eyre (I was about 10) and it blew my mind. Here's to the classics!

otherworldlyone said...

Reading is fun. Go Eliot.

ladytruth said...

I have a similar fascination with a group called "Die Sestigers" here in South Africa. That rougly translates to writers in the sixties that made a huge impact on Afrikaans literature. These guys were well educated, travelled abroad a lot and lived the live I could only dream of. I have an old picture of them sitting at a table outside a coffee shop in Paris and I wondered the exact same thing you did :) Funny how people aren't really that different from each other in a sense?

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I love that you love the expats. I used to want to be one so badly but I never got the courage up to leave the USA.

Sam said...

This is a post after my own heart. I've been enjoying Eliot's poetry since high school. I did read "The Old Man and the Sea" many times, but I think I should go back to it now.

kara said...

i've always felt about poetry the way i feel about modern art...it seems very much like a child could do it. so i can never tell what's good and what isn't. it's all one big wall of campbell's soup cans in different colors, you know?

i know, i'm a philistine. someone give me a turkey leg to gnaw on.

Petit fleur said...

Great post! There is so much, I have to read it again.

Prosy said...

I always liked the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock better than the Wasteland. I've always loved reading, but when I was 6 I was much more into the Boxcar children than Hemingway, I'm ashamed to admit.

Hannah Miet said...

I f'in love Hem. I just ordered his collected short stories. I figure it may help to get me out of my creative rut.

And I love Old Man, but nothing beats A Moveable Feast for my expat-wannabe soul.

And T.S. Eliot, my dear, you have my official stamp of good taste. That poem kills me.