I am not sure how I feel about Summers-Brenmer’s essay, so I will leave it on the back burner for now.

I do want to look at Hughes’s poetry in light of Henry Louis Gates Jr. essay “Talking Black: Critical Signs of the Time.” At the beginning of that essay, Gates relates an anecdote of Alexander Crummell, where Crummell overheard soon to be vice president John Calhoun say “the the effect–‘that if he could find a Negro who knew the Greek syntax, he would then believe that the Negro was a human…”(2425)

Gates uses this to show how he would go on to master the master’s language, but that maybe it didn’t matter because “Calhoun, we suspect, was not impressed” (2426), but Gates uses this to argue that African-american intellectuals and readers should not be afraid of theory, stating “We must redefine theory itself from within our own black cultures, refusing to grant the racist premise that theory is something that white people”– and I believe this is also seen in Hughes’s poetry.

And I also believe that rather than (or maybe along with) Brenmer’s contention that Bebop is used as “…poetry specific to a time” that it is also used in this way that Gates wants to use theory: this is Hughes showing the master that he can master poetry and Latin and be just as erudite using Harlem as Eliot is in using England.

As I was surprised when Brenmer makes no connection between Eliot (Dante) and Hughes when she looks at Hughes line:

I never knew/ that many Negros/were on Earth/ did you?/ I never knew

Which seems to echoes Eliot eluding to Dante:

” so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.”

And it seems to be that Hughes is taking up the charge that Gates argues for. He can be just as clever as the canonical white men with his allusions and erudition. As Gates wants a critical language that is grounded in/ that springs from a Black vernacular, Hughes here is giving a poetry in such a way. Isn’t the first poem voicing this dichotomy? Juxtaposed to the literary African-americans writing about the black experience is the illiterate African-american relating that experience through song.

And this seems to be the center of “Theme for English B” where the language is displayed as a communal property, and not just the white man’s: “so will the page be colored that I write?/ Being me, it will not be white” because the language that the Black student learns in class will always be the hegemonic language of the white man, but if the Black student is mastering the language, then won’t the language be “colored”?

But is this the crux? Eliot is white from Boston living in London, reading Dante, so his language, his poetry, will be “white” and Hughes is in Harlem, living in the city, surrounded by the Blues and Jazz so his language will always be colored by these experiences. Although, maybe it is too simplistic to say that the only real difference here is actual, physical location.


I studied “The Waste Land” when doing my masters. A group of us grad students got the department to let us team teach (with an overseeing mentor) an upper level English course, so we decided that we would have modernism be our subject. I saw this as an opportunity to “learn” “The Waste Land.” The summer before the Fall term that we would be teaching, I got an independent study course with the modernist expert in the department, and he had me reading many Eliot biographies, and I, on my own to prepare to teach, went out and started to “decipher” this epic pulp poem.

I learned that Ezra Pound said “Eliot’s Waste Land is, I think, the justification of the ‘movement’ of our modern experiment since 1900.”

I learned the major themes of the poem: the barrenness of a postwar world in which human sexuality and the natural world has been perverted from its normal course and has become infertile. I read I. A. Richard’s praise of Eliot describing the shared postwar “sense of desolation, of uncertainty, of futility, of the groundlessness of aspirations, of the vanity of the endeavor, and a thirst for a life-giving water which seems suddenly to have failed.”

I learned how Pound’s motto of ‘Make it New’ and of radically changing poetry was not done in order to destroy poetry but to save it– and to give literature back the authority that it was losing in the face of an industrialized age of mass cultured that was reading sentimental tripe. This was the reason that Eliot goes back to classical literature, why he mixes ‘low art’ with ‘high art.’ It is because, as Eliot said, the world is divided between Dante and Shakespeare, that he wants to keep the classic, true literature alive. I learned how Eliot inherited from the French symbolist the use of esoteric private meanings and symbols (much in the same manner that WB Yeats does), but that for Eliot, these are “A heap of broken images,” and to help us, the hypocrite lecteur!–mon semblable, –mon frere, Eliot has provided us with notes on his private meaning and broken symbols.

Then I did my close reading of the poem. Line by line, I learned that April is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, rebirth, and a reference to James Frazier’s Golden Bough. April is cruel because what rebirth brings is memories of the past that was better. This rebirth mixes memory with desire– is this a desire to return to the past or a desire for death in order for rebirth.

On and on, I learned that the Eliot struggles to make a new poem out of inherited language of tradition, and this is mirrored in the poem’s language, pastiche, and unevenness. After all this reading about the poem, and then all the reading of the poem, I was more or less where I had started, not gaining much “meaning” at all.

By the time I was done annotating and deciphering the first section and was about to move on the part II. A Game of Chess, I realized that I had enough notes for the entire hour of lecturing allotted to me, and I had a moment where I thought why? Why was I struggling to learn this in order to teach it to college seniors? Especially since I didn’t have much in terms of “answers” or insights into the meanings– I would just be adding more notes to the poem that lead nowhere, much like what Eliot already did.

I asked the class why they think we should read the poem, and after listening to what you would expect about being better humans, the human spirit, cultured, learned, etc… I gave my answer, which was simply:

“It makes my toes tingle.”

The music of the words itself, the play with the language, the mixing of images (some of which I could finally recognize without a footnote), and the joy of letting the words linger in my head: “Unreal City/ Under the brown fog of a winter dawn/ A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many/ I had not thought death had undone so many/ Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled/ And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.”

After the class was over and my teaching of the poem was a disaster (mostly because my professor had spent the entire summer teaching a class on only “The Waste Land”) I came across a collected works of Eliot with an introduction by Mary Karr, who strengthen my view of reading the poem simply because it makes my toes tingle: “Read it for joy, Shut up your head’s claptrap and open yourself to fall in love with it. Treat it like a first date, which should begin with ignorance but also with hope. Only if you fall in love do you make a study of the beloved…” (T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land and Other Writings xxv).

Now that I have fallen in love, I have begun to make a study of the beloved.

Dada reminds me of Buddhism, as Tzara says. the rest is sauce. But language gets in the way here, as it does in Buddhism, as it does in postmodernism, as it does with ethics. Once we put something into words it is as if we make a system of it, and Like Kierkegaard and DaDa contend, “I am against systems, the most acceptable system is on principle to have none.”

It is because we can only know the world through words (or more generally any kind of sign system) which is why the DaDA manifesto is so inspiring and makes me want to drop out of school and go line on New York City streets and be an artist of the absurd because, “I detest greasy objectivity, and harmony, the science that finds everything in order.. . . Science says we are the servants of nature”

But then I read Eliot and I am reminded that I want to study literature instead.

These DaDa ideals don’t seem too much of a stretch from the Imagist idea of wanting (like the Haiku) to have poetry that paints a picture with words, a picture of the thing itself using words without decoration, without any kind of flair, but rather to use words to simply describe the object, objectively, which is noble, but then we are back to the problem with words, which are always already in slippage and can never simply just describe an object. In terms of DaDa, the use of simplistic language might be appealing, but I would guess that DaDa would think that the Imagist use of language was too “rational”—and sp, of course, they would cut up the words, put them in a hat, and pick the words out at random to make a new poem.

To go back to Eliot, I believe that in light of “Journey of the Magi” that “Prufrock” can be read as a Christian poem about a man vacillating about telling society the religious message he has. For me though, personally, I keep going back to the poem because for me, on a simpler level, the poem has always been about the vacillation itself. I remember first reading this poem and being so confused, and in a way, this poem led me to be an English major.

Now, as I read the poem, I relate to it. It seems a real existential dilemma: how do I make sense of life as I grow old ( I grow old/ I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled… and Do I dare to eat a peach), of a life I have ‘measured out in coffee spoons’? For Kierkegaard, every choice we make is a leap (because every choice is ultimately just as “rational” as any other choice we make); therefore, for Kierkegaard, the leap is in making a choice, and there is always anxiety in all choices because we can never know how things would have turned out if we made the opposite choice, and this seems to be Prufrock’s anxiety in the poem; this is the reason he can’t even feel as if he is the star of his own life since he is “not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.”

I believe this is why I am constantly drawn to this poem—because, especially as an English major, sometimes I wonder if I haven’t lingered in the chambers of the sea too long, and I am worried that human voices are going to wake me and drown me, but this again brings me back to the DaDa-ist, who remind me not to take life too seriously, and that literature is what matters because “the rest is sauce.”

What I love about the truly great writers, like W.B. Yeats, is the way they can write about what they are not going to do while doing it. These great writers, for instance, will write pages about writer’s block. I see Yeats doing that here.

I focus on this poem, (one that, if I remember correctly, he was revising on his death bed) because I think it brings the idea of Modernism as a time of experimentation together with showing how Yeats is modern besides calling himself the “last Romantic.” Yeats doesn’t seem to be a modernist because of his style which employs, mostly, conventional stanzas and consistent rhymes (usually); rather, as M.L. Rosenthal points out in his introduction to Yeats’s selected poems, “Yeats’s originality and daring lie in the force of what is wrought from these conventional formal qualities, and in the paradoxical insights the poems unfold” (xxii).

In this poem, Yeats starts off the poem by saying he is not going to do all the things he is about to do. He start off by saying how he has nothing to write about. He complains that now as an old man all the old themes he wrote about have lost their luster. Yeats says he is going to move away from using symbolism and mythology (like he uses in poems such as “Easter 1916” or “September 1913” which are very politically charged poems, or something like “Leda and the Swan” or “The Second Coming” which uses a great deal of imagery, symbolism, and Yeats’s own mythology), and instead write about his heart, “I must be satisfied with my heart” (line 4).

Then in stanza two, Yeats goes right back to using all those old themes, after he just said he couldn’t use them anymore. He goes on to “enumerate old themes” that he has used throughout his life, from Orisin (which is also a reference to Yeats’s interest in Plotinus’s philosophy) to Yeats’s plays and poem about Cathleen Ni Hulihan and Cuchulian. All these themes he has written about, “Players and painted stage took all [his] love,” but they are no longer fit themes for an old man because, “…when all is said/ It was the dream itself enchanted [him].”

The poem builds to the emotional, climatic ending. Now that Yeats claims he can no longer write about these mythological, archetypal themes, he is going to go back to the raw materials of his heart–Now that he is old, he is going to write about his heart and all those raw, ugly emotions that are buried deep inside the self: “Now that my ladder’s gone/ I must lie down where all the ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

Now that he is old and those old themes are gone, he is going to write about his heart and the raw emotions within it. Yeats, after all, believed that great poetry can only come from great pain. I believe it is these themes and images (foul rag and bone shop of the heart) that makes Yeats a modernist. It is in what he is saying that one can see his modernist experimentation. Also, looking at some of the other canonical modernist writers, like Pound and Eliot, in Yeats there is the same opacity to his verse. These writers all have very lyrical, musical, nice sounding words put together, but one needs a glossary of terms and a reading list to be able to fully understand what the words are saying. As Rosenthal states, “Yeats sometimes made the assumption, flattering both to himself and to his reader, that because he had something intensely felt to say it must somehow be understood” (xx).

Nonetheless, as Rosenthal’s statement illustrates, it is in this intense need to share something with his audience that Yeats is able to write such beautiful words, and I think that is why he is more popular than Pound and Eliot.

I still want to get to the melancholy, heartbreak, present-at-hand, and all that death stuff, but as the title of this blog attest to, my thoughts are fragmented. I was reading Atunes’s What Can I do When Everything is on Fire? But after five chapters of the same repetitive prose, it got a little old.

Then the other day before work I had forgotten to bring the book so I started to read J.M. Coetzee instead, and fell in love with the book after reading the following line:


I think this speaks to the previous post about the melancholy that is a longing for something that has passed and also a melancholy that you might not want the thing you desire anymore, but I forgot all my other books, which means that today I plan to finish about 100 pages of Coetzee that I have left. The book fascinates me; Coetzee does a marvelous job of interweaving the three distinct narratives, which each inform one another.

I definitely want to explore the connection between the T.S. Eliot passage from A Coctail Party:

That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost The desires for all that was most desirable, Before you are contented with what you can desire; Before you know what is left to be desired; And you go on wishing that you could desire What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand. How could you understand what it is to feel old?

and the Coetzee quote and see how all this interrelates. Soon, I just want to get some plain, good ‘ol fashioned reading done. A reading just to read—well, kind of; I am after all, going to be writing about all of this stuff soon.

Ok, so this is just a quick note to self that will be elaborated on later:

So a friend posted this excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “A Cocktail Party”

That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost The desires for all that was most desirable, Before you are contented with what you can desire; Before you know what is left to be desired; And you go on wishing that you could desire What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand. How could you understand what it is to feel old?

This is what I briefly glanced at the other day looking for the information for my Lacan post the other day… I came across a discussion of “missing” (for lack of a better word), which is basically saying what this poem is saying. That my desire, my nostalgia, my melancholy for some “thing’ stems from the melancholy of not missing it anymore, of getting over it… And then I read this quote… serendipity…

I will get to this when I have had some sleep and can read the passage again carefully.

The following is a comment left by a friend much smarter than I. I needed more space than what the comments allow in order to respond, and besides, no one is reading this anyway.

So for you, Alan, my response point by point in conjunction with what you commented:

1. Love is something that people experience.

Yes, love is something that people experince. What I want to explore is how we put that experience (if we can) into language. How do we share that experience? How do we talk about love? If love is something that people experience then it is subjective and will be different for everyone. What concerns me the most here is langauge. I believe that there is no consciousness without language; that we cannot know we are experiencing love unless we can put it into some kind of sign system. And once we put love into language, once we go to share that experience with others, it is ruined.

I keep thinking of  T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin

Once you go to put any experience you have into language, you become formulated, sprawling on a pin. Not only does language pin you down, but putting anything in language (because language is social) gives you how you are going to experience the event. If I call something love, then I am going to be influenced by everything that i associate with love. If I do not feel butterflies in my stomach, then I will think it is not love, etc…

2. For any given instance of love, there is someone who feels or experiences it — the lover — and there are individuals with whom these feelings or experiences are associated in the lover’s mind: the beloved.

I agree with you here, but I think that these feelings of desire are problamatic. For one, it is what the youtube Zizek clip I have up is talking about. The someone who feels– the lover– “experiences” love… But what does that mean? Love, it seems to me, has been concieved of a possesion. Think of Valentine’s day, “Be MINE.” I came across this quote the other day by Robert Frost, which I think sums up “love” in a traditional sense:

Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.

Lacan talks about desire in this way too. Desire is not that I desire something or someone, but that I want to fullfill what the other desires. The thought is a little more complicated here, and it is what I am reading now. Basically that deisre is really the other’s desire. This is where we get this sense of “completeness” in love. That I can fullfill what the other wants or vice versa. This leads nicely into the next point:

All of the individuals involved are constantly changing, so it is a given that the love must also change. We tend to distinguish between requited and unrequited love.

I agree that all the individuals are changing, but how many people contemplate this and know it? Identity itself is a “self-sameness.” This concept we have of identity (a concept we have because of language) means that people do not change. How many times do you hear a couple break up because one or the other person “changed” or is not the same person “I knew” etc…

Furthermore, by saying that the “love must change”, while I agree– what does that mean? How does love change? By putting it in those terms, it implies that love is a thing that is capable of change.

The only difference between requited and unrequited is that in one the other desires you as you desire them… But how does that help us understand love?

3. Love is a phenomenon of thought patterns that take place in the brain. It involves memory, higher-level thinking, but also the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems, and by extension the entire body.


Humans are almost universally-capable of experiencing this, and tend to do so regardless of culture or upbringing, making a strong case that there are aspects of love but are not cultural, but instinctive, hard-wired into the brain. Both requited and unrequited love are powerful experiences, but they are substantially different, even in biologically measurable ways.

I do not understand the actual science behind this, but I wonder if love were purely biological– then how do we still have all the abberant qualities you find in society (have you been to the DMV?). Wouldn’t ugly people and bad genes die off through evolution?

Science can tell us many things about our existence, but science does not have all the answers. We have come to think of science as infalliblem, but history has taught us that that is not the case. This is not to attack science the way some people do, but just to say that we cannot rely on science in such absolute, dogmatic ways. Science, is like any text, interrpretted by subjective opinions.

This is where I completely disagree with you when you say: “Humans are almost universally-capable of experiencing this, and tend to do so regardless of culture or upbringing”

Science could certainly distinguish between biological circumstances in the body when the body goes through certain things, but this does not tell me anything about how I experience love. And the way I experience love is completely influenced through culture and upbringing. I’m sure you can see this in grad school… How many people have put “love” on the back burner? Whereas others (especially here in Miami) are culturally indoctronated into thinking they have to “find love” (as if it is a tangible thing I can look under a rock and love), and get married.

When a girl who goes to college doesn’t find love, her experience of love will be different than a girl who is going off to grad school and doesn’t care about love as much.

I do not think that there is a single, pure experience that is not tainted by language, culture, upbringing, etc…

But I do believe in love… And I do believe in identity and some of these other things. I just don’t believe that these things have to be out under such restrictive categorizations where they are left “wringling on the wall.” Rather, as my professor says, I am working off a groundless ground.

I have some other thoughts in my head, so we’ll have to continue this.