"Horizontal Fear"

Dr. O’Connor sees himself embodying different national, religious, and gender identities. This embodiment is discussed with Nora in a conversation about “everything [the doctor] know[s] about the night” (79). His character and meandering yet compelling dialogue with Nora imports different gender identities (79-80, 96), national archetypes/stereotypes (90), religious identities (91), and languages (92-94) and combines them in the uncertainties that night symbolizes. Dr. O’Connor says,

“Do things look in the ten and twelve of noon as they look in the dark? Is the hand, the face, the foot, the same face and hand and foot seen by the sun? For now the hand lies in a shadow; its beauties and its deformities are in a smoke—there is a sickle of doubt across the check bone thrown by the hat’s brim, so that there is half a face to be peered back into speculation” (85).

Night represents uncertainty, and uncertainty produces speculation. For the doctor, this appears in the ways glossed above, turned inward, in terms of speculative identity. For Nora, speculations are turned outward, toward Robin. Nora’s pain is emphasized even more, as the doctor implies it, because of the way that otherness is understood among women. “She who stands looking down upon her who lies sleeping knowns the horizontal fear, the fear unbearable. For man goes only perpendicularly against his fate. He was neither formed to know that other nor compiled of its conspiracy” (87). The doctor seems to imply that, unlike men, women were formed to know “that other.” What might Barnes be getting across by having Dr. O’Connor describe this unbearable “horizontal fear”?

As an aside, the perpendicularity assigned to men here reminds me a bit of Vorticism, with its use of sharp, rigid lines and masculine overtones.

Nora's Salon and American Identity

One of the passages I was drawn to from Nightwood was the description of Nora’s salon and Nora herself. Barnes writers that “The strangest ‘salon’ in America was Nora’s” and that at any time you would see “poets, radicals, beggars, artists, and people in love; for Catholics, Protestants, Brahmins, dabblers in black magic and medicine; all these could be seen sitting about her oak table before the huge fire, Nora listening, her hand on her hound, the firelight throwing her shadow and his high against the wall” (50). Even among this group of eclectic characters, “she alone stood out” (50). We are then told in what way Nora stands out: “She was known instantly as a Westerner. Looking at her, foreigners remembered stories they had heard of covered wagons; animals going down to drink; children’s heads, just as far as the eyes, looking in fright out of small windows, where in the dark another race crouched in ambush…” (50-51).

This passage points to two distinct narratives of U.S. identity that I think Barnes is interested in exploring in this transatlantic novel. Nora’s house (the land) is meant to parallel the multiculturalism of the United States and its “place at the table” as a globalized space where different cultures, religions, and people come together. Yet in this space, Nora stands out as distinctly American; she is described as signifying U.S. history, including the explorations of the West, native violence, and the abundant wildlife of the frontier. In this way, American identity is singled out from the American landscape creating an interesting national tension; is America American, or is it Multicultural? Nora’s American identity looms over her international “salon,” just as she looms over the lives of Robin, Felix, and Dr. Matthews in her transatlantic travel.

Robin in Nightwood (8/8)

While reading Nightwood, I was interested in the idea of Robin's memory wasting away as she dives deeper into the world around her. Robin's behavior kind of reminds me of the people in The Sun Also Rises, but it shows the effects of that behavior on the people around. I am not confident enough to say that Nightwood is also engaging with the party scene that Hemingway depicts, but I cannot help but notice some similarities. For example, Robin presents herself as a fun and energetic woman, but in the house she becomes a darker version of herself--especially after giving birth to Guido.

The part of the novel that made it more difficult to understand is that it is told from an outsider's perspective, so I am unable to really see into Robin's mind. The story feels a little voyeuristic as I am given all the details of the situation, but I am not let in to listen to the thoughts of any specific characters. Robin claims to not remember--maybe it is true--, but it could also be Robin's attempt to cope with something. 

Unlike The Sun Also Rises, the party scenes are not very prominent in this novel. Maybe "memorable" is a better word. Every time I reflect on this story, I remember the scenes locked in a house. The party scene for Barnes' characters is more like the hotel room for Jake.

Familial Terms in Hughes

There’s a family theme that runs across the selection of Langston Hughes poems we read for today. Hughes in the least uses familial language as a vehicle for exploring broader social relationships between African Americans, American Indians, and white Americans, rich and poor, and opulent and neglected environments. Hughes starts “Boogie: 1 A.M.” using a paternal address, “Good evening, daddy!” While a capital “D” in daddy might suggest an actual family relationship with the addressee, the use of a paternal address here appears tied to an intimate knowledge between speaker and addressee: “I know you’ve heard / the boogie-woogie rumble / of a dream deferred.” In using “daddy” here, Hughes knowns the experience of his addressee: “I know you’ve heard” which to me suggests a sense of familial intimacy. Like when I botch an explanation of something to a friend, then quickly following it up with “you know what I mean.” Hughes uses a similar sense of tacit knowledge in the line “I know you’ve heard.” Contrastingly, that assurance is questioned in “Dream Boogie”: “[A]in’t you heard”.

“Mother to Son” inverts the address of “Boogie: 1 A.M.” and “Dream Boogie,” from (metaphoric or literal) child to parent, to parent to child.

In “I, Too,” the speaker characterizes themselves as “the darker brother,” furthermore emphasizing kinship, if an implied and understated one, specifically in terms of family relation, and not other types of societal bonds.

In contrast to these familial terms across Hughes’ poems, the poem that most starkly highlights the ideological makeup of the United States is more individualized, even as it rhetorically and formally puts these individualized voices in conversation: “I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, / I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars/ I am the red man driven from the land, / I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— /And finding only the same old stupid plan / Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.” These various I’s are amalgamated into “ME” further down, and then in the finally into “we, the people” (unlike with the Constitution, using a lowercase P), in a way that parallels/contrasts/compliments/undercuts the familial terms and themes of the other poems.


America, Past, Present, and Future

“America” by Claude McKay (1921) and “Let America be America Again” by Langston Hughes (1995) both discuss America as a work-in-progress through creating juxtaposition and tension by using the past to look forward to the future. The last four lines of McKay’s poem reads “Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, / And see her might and granite wonders there, / Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand, / Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.” In these lines, the speaker positions themselves by looking toward the future as “priceless treasures sinking in the sand,” both inscribing the line with futurity while also emphasizing treasure, which can only be viewed as treasure because it is valued through a past process that has associated it with said value. Treasure, which McKay associates with America, is linked to both the past and future because it is something that has been ascribed with value in the past that can then be sought after in the future, even if buried in sand.

Hughes similarly uses imagery that integrates both the past and future in its signification. He writes “Let America be America again. / Let it be the dream it used to be. / Let it be the pioneer on the plain / Seeking a home where he himself is free.” In these lines, Hughes laments “Let America be America again,” implying a process that needs to take place in the future to reestablish a value that may have existed in the past (I say may, becomes Hughes makes it clear that the “dream” of America was never a reality for many). In these lines Hughes also conjures the image of the pioneer, another image which is both associated with the past of America but also the inherent concept of the pioneer as an explorer of the future.

These images in both poems create internal tensions between the past and the future, encouraging a reevaluation of how these two poles might help us make sense of present America. I think there’s a potential connection here to the reading on modernism and primitivism in regard to how these terms envision the past and future, and how all of these terms may be collapsed into a single definition rather than demarcated as separate entities.

Mckay and the Ambiguity of Home

I was drawn to two poems of Mckay’s for this week: “Subway Wind” and “To One Coming North.” In both, there is a longing for home, for “native” lands. When thought of together, though, there is an ambivalence that comes with the desire for home.

“Subway Wind” uses the image of a subway tunnel and the wind that rushes through it, as a vehicle for thinking about the “captive” state of people who live in the city yet “moan… for fields and seas” of more natural places. Here these places are seaports and islands, the tropics. Mckay connects these foreign locales with freedom, wildlife, ease, and an openness; ideas that runs counter to the crammed “packed” and stultifying subways that are emblematic of life in the city. The poem turns on the word “moan” wherein the narrator begins desiring something other than the intestines of the city scape in which they are stuck. The moan, an image of painful desire, unleashes an imaginative journey that illustrates the desire to escape to “native” lands at the heart of the home (a desire that doesn’t materialize).  This poem is a pretty clean rejection of urban, technological centers of life in the north and an embrace of more natural tropical settings.

“To One Coming North,” on the other hand, is more ambiguous in its theorizing/desiring of home.  The central image here is that of snowfall—it is, like the wind in the previous poem, what signals the foreign, the alien, the unhealthy, for the narrator. The snow is pleasant at first but then the “wind-worried void… chilly, raw” sets in and the narrator “long[s] for home.” Unlike the subway winds which are omnipresent in the cycles of the city, the snow is seasonal: as it arrives it alienate the narrator and inspires a desire for “flowering lanes… and spaces dry.” Yet as it disappears and warm weather comes back around, the narrator sees the beauty in the “Northland” as it is “wreathed in golden smiles/ By the miraculous sun turned glad and warm.”

While I see ambiguous ideas of home with each narrator, one key difference is the inherent subway winds (not seasonal, a permanent fixture of the city) and the transient snow. In “Subway Wind” the natural environment (or the evidence of) is always alienating. In “To One Coming North” the idea of home comes and goes with the seasons. The next question is the psychological impact of each of these experiences. Both poems show conflicted narrators and feelings of unbelonging and discontentedness for the narrators, yet in distinctly different ways.

Sounds of a Poem (Blog 8/8)

McKay and Hughes both have poems with distinct sounds. In McKay’s poem, the wind is trying to escape to freedom, and I can hear the sounds of the children along with squeals and screams that would add to another level of sound. The poem is building quietly, and then the poem crescendos in line 7.  Then as if slowly driving through the country, the sound of the wind moans, and then it turns sleepy and slow….drawing out its sound in the end with “the Trades float above them fresh and free” (16). 

Hughes’s poem Dream Boogie, starts out slow, but quickly builds to an exciting level “I’m happy! /Take it away!/Hey, pop!/Re-bop!/Mop!/Y-e-a-h!” (16-21). This poem seems more straightforward with a rush of excitement at the end. It has a low and slow build and then it quickly builds and then it is over.

North says that “a black voice informs much of what we identify as “American” in modernist literature and carefully shows that modernism owes much of its shape and quality to its engagement with black dialect” (11) and this is reflected in the Dream Boogie poem. I agree with this tone of literature and the volume that it gives to the poem by making it unique. 

Drumming to Hughes, McKay (8/8)

Both McKay and Hughes mimic rhythmic elements in their respective pieces and in doing so mirror the turbulent syncopation and rhythmically linear patterns of 1920s jazz. With this framework, I’ll address two representative poems that parallel with aspects of early jazz/blues drumming and label them accordingly:  

Choked Cymbals in “Subway Wind”:  

The popular drum tonality of a ‘choked cymbal’ is created by catching (with one’s hand) a cymbal directly after striking it, effectively ‘choking’ its vibration and thus preventing the note from ringing out. In McKay’s “Subway Wind,” the first three lines play with alliteration and consonance in similar ways–the sharp sounds of “great gaunt gut” ensure the reader quickly chops the sounds at the phonetic dental position, bringing it to an abrupt stop, the ‘tuh’ sound mirroring the catch of something akin to a small 8” splash cymbal. The plosive movements of the repeating ‘G’ sound function similarly. Now, one can envision a drummer ending the smooth flow of McKay’s first half of the line with three heavy down beats, a cymbal catch on each. After the silky flow of ”From down, down through the city’s” the reader is smacked with the striking, “Great! Gaunt! Gut!” (McKay 1). McKay, then, brings a razor-edged end to these lines with the last two words both linguistically and rhetorically mirroring a jazz trap set with the words, “breath cut” (McKay 3). As the reader’s breath is quite literally cut through the phonetic construction and shortness of “cut,” McKay’s poem employs a blunt stop such as a drummer would, giving a cesura for the reader to embody a clear ending before riding back into the longer vowels and more drawn-out syllables of his next verse.  

Brushstrokes in “Boogie: 1. A.M.” 

Most often performed in a circular fashion, a drummer will push a tool called ‘the brush,’ which sometimes are metal strands–and often are nylon–a complete 360 degrees around the snare drum, giving a faster, closer push on the last half of the circle, reproducing the traditional jazz ride/swing beat. In this, the slower unstressed begins the beat, and the faster stress ends it. This technique presents a sort of ‘drag’ feel that plays just behind the pocket of a steady, 4/4 rhythm, providing a slower, less frenetic feel than traditional swing tunes but still pushing the song forward on its down beats nonetheless. For “Boogie: 1 .A.M,” Hughes splices every two lines in one full circle sweep. Each line begins on the ‘upbeat’ and is carried down by the latter half of the line. Indicatively, Hughes employs only two feet of iambic in each line. If the reader wished to align the poem to a metronome, they would have to wait on certain lines to finish his cadence due to their length. Hughes further makes use of the dash between ‘cat’ and ‘gut’ to separate the line “Of cat-gut lace” (Hughes 8) into two halves; the first half reflects a slow pull on the first iamb: “of cat” (the first 180 degrees of the snare) and the second pushes the latter two words to a quicker stop–” gut lace” (8), or the conclusion of the brush’s journey. This way, each two lines becomes a complete circle, giving the reader an opportunity to embody the “boogie-woogie rumble” (3) themselves.  

Advertisement and Propaganda in the Atlantic Monthly

I am thinking along several different threads here that, I’m hoping, I can weave together by using the New Mexico travel advertisements in the Atlantic Monthly. I was drawn to Humm’s article for her discussion of the visible versus absent photograph of Three Guinea’s and the ways in which this then connects to memory. Humm writes that  the “…absent photographs…act in dialectical tension with the five visible photographs. It is the absent photographs, or rather the narrator’s memory of these photographs, which in a major way shape the narrative of Three Guineas and its dense visual plentitude” (197). Humm’s exploration of the visible versus absent images depicted in Three Guineas could also apply to the travel advertisements in the Atlantic Monthly.

Before I turn to those advertisements, however, I also want to briefly touch of Prevost’s “The Psychology of Propaganda.” Prevost writes the following on the distinction between propaganda and advertisements: “Propaganda has been compared with advertising; yet this is an error, for advertising is concerned always with commercial gain. On the other hand, propaganda makes itself felt in lands far removed—lands which are necessarily neutral in time of conflict and from which nothing is to be gained” (Prevost 674). This distinction of advertising versus propaganda seems to me interdependent not independent.

There are two advertisements for Nex Mexican tourism that could be interpreted through Humm’s ideas on printed versus absent photographs, and on the slippery distinctions Prevost seems to articulate for advertisements and propaganda. The first depicts a Native American with pueblos and mountains in the background, and advertises seeing “[t]he little-known and fascinating Spanish-Indian country…with its age-old inhabited pueblos and isolated mountains.” The second ad has copy that reads “You’ll see Strange scenes Unchanged by Passing Centuries” if you vacation to New Mexico, with the image depicting a man and woman next to a car overlooking native Americans in a village. The ad describes features such as “weird ceremonial dance,” “modern accommodations,” “Conquistadors,” and New Mexico as the “Land of Enchantment.”

These advertisements, to me, feel propagandic of perpetuating the volatile history of genocide in the American west by advertising Native American history only through the lens of enchantment and tourism. These ads conflate commodity (tourism) with “lands far removed,” both physically in the deserts of New Mexico and temporally by emphasizing the lands as unchanged by centuries. The decision of what is made visible in the ads obfuscates what is absent; that is, the history of genocide that the U.S now markets as a tourist destination.

Jean Prevost and Virginia Woolf - Blog 7/8

This article by Jean Prevost and Virginia Woolf’s book, reviews of propaganda and the false media build-up that contributes to the people combining patriotism and war together. Prevost talks about “propaganda urges your approval - and promises nothing in return” (674). This is where Virginia Woolf’s viewpoint of false propaganda comes in too, but her viewpoint is directed at women’s reactions and their ability in war.

Prevost also mentions, “For the most part, man accepts the reputation by which he is known. Our character is ours, suggested, perhaps, chiefly by others - because of the force of circumstance upon the individual is constant and strong” (674). This is why propaganda works when men, especially young men are building and developing their reputations. They based their character on how others and their country will see them. 

While Virginia Woolf focuses more on the limits of women and their parts in the war, “broadly speaking, the main distinction between us who are outside society and you who are inside society must be that whereas you will make use of the means provided by your position—leagues, conferences, campaigns, great names, and all such public measures as your wealth and political influence place within your reach—we, remaining outside, will experiment not with public means in public but with private means in private” (103). Woolf’s focus is on the ability of women to influence war based on their social standings. Women’s influences are limited and she urges for a war free environment.