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TSE  April 2003

TSE April 2003

Subject:

Re: Up in smoke: a long post

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Thu, 3 Apr 2003 13:36:02 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (142 lines)

I think this post is very important and thoughtful.  I also think that the list
has fallen into a disturbing false dichotomy:  either one is scholarly and
bases one's views exclusively in sources and textual analysis or one is
simply intuitive and recognizes that a poem is whatever one finds in it.

Jennifer's post is absolutely right in noting sources and text-based facts.
It does matter who says the epigraph, for example.

But Steve's post is absolutely right that a significant turn takes place in
the central section bounded by asterisks and that there is much sexual
unease in the poem.

I would be quite willing to back up my claim of "absolutely right" in another
post.  But my point here is that the most important value I see in a list like
this is the exchange of insights.  It is not in posturing and calling names.

So the fact that I do not agree with Steve's reading and I do not agree with
Jennifer either does not mean I cannot find interesting things in them.  One
of the most valuable perceptions I have had from Steve in the past, for
example, is that there is no necessity to see the "hyacinth girl" as female.
I still read it that way, but the text does not require it, and much of the
Eliot correspondence would justify reading it differently.

There is no one "correct" reading of any poem.  But it is true that a poem
is not just anything at all one muses about while reading it.  "Prufrock"
may or may not be about homosexual doubt, for example, but it clearly is
not about, say, a longing to return to America and raise cows.  The words
matter.

I agree, for example, that a poem is not (usually) a coded message,
although some have been used for that (consider the code of "Follow the
Drinking Gourd"), but it is also not ANY experience at all.

And I think Jennifer is right that those experiences are mediated by, say,
the Dante source or the voice speaking.  Those are part of the poem---as
is the loneliness and the smoke/fog.

I do object vehemently, by the way, to the notion of a dog-fog.  Eliot loved
cats and it is clearly a cat.  Dogs don't act that way.
Cheers,
Nancy















Date sent:              Thu, 3 Apr 2003 18:52:45 +0100
Send reply to:          "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From:                   George Carless <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:                Re: Up in smoke: a long post
To:                     [log in to unmask]

I never see to much use in posts that deride other posts as "deranged
fantasies".  We're all trying our best, and some of us are better informed
(or have less rusty critical faculties) than others.   Perhaps it makes
you feel superior to point out the deficiencies in some of our analysis
without doing much to correct us, but from where I'm sitting it merely
seems rather arrogant and pompous.

> First, 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' does not carry a
> dedication. The 1917 book, 'Prufrock and Other Observations' carries a

A rather pedantic point, I think, although I would agree that I was
mistaken to suggest that the dedication to the book should be considered
an element, per se, of the poem.

> dedication. Second, the epigraph is spoken neither by J Alfred Prufrock
> (presumably if it were it would not be an epigraph) nor by TS Eliot:
> instead it is spoken by Guido da Montefeltro, a rather different
> character (that is if one can call Prufrock a character at all, which I
> for one would not); and part of its richness comes from its disparity
> from the poem to which it is attached. A sense of this is captured in
> the above (not careful) use of the word  'explanation' .

I hardly see that "who it's spoken by" has too much bearing on the matter
-- verbatim quotation is rife throughout Eliot's work, as too is allusion
-- does this mean that we should disregard any such material as irrelevant
to the meaning of the poem?

> > men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows", that is, to pursue his
> desires for homosexual encounters.
>
>
> This is just fiction (and not good fiction either). Has everyone lost

While I don't agree with the homosexual reading either, I still don't see
much merit in your dismissing it out of hand.  Criticism requires more
than just stating your feelings - it requires justifying them by way of
the work itself.  The poem *is* clearly related to sex, and particularly
to a sordid kind of sex.  If the "lonely men in shirtsleeves" are *merely*
"lonely men in shirtsleeves", as you suggest, and serve no purpose other
than an aesthetic one -- i.e. have no further place in the context of the
poem -- then I'd consider them rather supurfluous and, well, lacking in
poignancy.  I think there's a fine line to be walked between looking for
*too much* in a poem, and looking for too little: either side of that path
is a precipice.

> My other point is that it is quite clear that, unlike Guido in
> Inferno--not, you will note, in the epigraph at all (and very unlike the
> usual dramatic monologue form)--, the speaker of 'The Love Song of J
> Alfred Prufrock' makes no confession at all. Perhaps that is why some
> critics are so tempted to wrest his confession from him (tantalisingly
> promised, never delivered), or rather, to make it up. Compare Hamlet:

Well enough - but then, that speaker is one paralysed by the idea of *any*
kind of decision, of any activity whatsoever.  I don't think that this is
a deliberate thing, nor that Prufrock is a strong character: the
repetitions of "there will be time" suggest somebody who is
procrastinating.  And if there is no explicit confession, then I would say
that there certainly is an implicit sense of failure -- in the final few
stanzas it's fairly clear that a decision -- towards inaction -- has been
made.

> The chief merit of such a list as this (and the one it largely
> possessed when I joined it in 1996) lies in the exchange of scholarly
> information and critical ideas and principles. When  discussions descend
> into a brawl over such nonsensical posts as 'Prufrock's Smoke', we all
> have something (and not something small) to regret. For we all, I think,
> have something (not something small) to lose.

It seems to me that this has, for the most part, been an interesting
discussion - but one in which only those who would prefer *not* to even
consider alternatives, to even discuss the topic at hand, have led to
disharmony: those people who have loudly declaimed any possible view but
there own, without even the good grace to explain their own view or point
out the flaws in the views of others.  I'm all for trying to reach the
'correct' view of the poetry, and am no more fond of arbitrary
'interpretations' than many of you; but it seems to me that derision and
elitism are contrary both to the intentions of this list and to the
process of enjoing and understanding the work at hand.

--George

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