Surrealism, Mental Liberation, and the Mad Train (6/8)

In Surrealism and Psychoanalysis, Cramer and Gant present the surrealist theory that dreams are expressions of the self-conscious and therefore have value. Schools of thought, however, differed on whether they held meaning or if meaning was even necessary for value to be inherent. All Surrealists saw the unconscious, uncontrolled, disordered mind as liberated; the ungoverned mind was a pristine creative source. Max Ernst was especially interested in mental instability; clinical insanity appeared to be a liberation.

Trauma can introduce confusion into the dreamscape, and I think that is so clearly contextualized by WWI. Depicting disturbing dreams, searching for answers in them... all of this makes sense as cultures collectively processed their experiences. Asking what informs this narrative constructed by the mind leads to one of two answers: either the dream attempts to resolve waking memories or the dream is distinct from any other reality.

I focused on transition 002 and in it, "The Mad Train" specifically. There was a group of passengers in cars: a society. There is a driving force that carries them forward with momentum: a culture, a government? The landscapes they pass become distorted with the speed of the "mad" train (which has malfunctioned), turning into ominous, dream-like sites. As Poulaille describes it, "[e]verything becomes entangled, flows and crashes silently into something else, ushes, as if unde a powerful urge, to an absurd and useless combat" (95). The breaks are broken. The engineers expect collision and the end to their (I might be reaching here) "society." In the end, the nightmare images settle into a normal space. The train slows and nevers wrecks against another train's opposite force. I felt the idea of a "mad" train could be a metaphor for nationalism, collective war-time momentum, and the driving, idealogical machines that failed their creators with spectacularly in the onset of WWI. The notes of nightmare and the idea of insanity, along with the description style and fragmentation in the short story, evoke surrealism in several ways that I'm still unpacking.

Tourism and Cohn

As I read through The Sun Also Rises, I found myself interested in Cohn. My initial assessment of him was one of limited perception, someone who lives in fantasy and can’t see out of that (while the others live in disillusionment or boredom or a state of indeterminacy, as Tyler suggested in his post). The apex of Cohn’s story arc (and the climax of the book I would argue) is the fight scene in the bar wherein the building tension between Cohn and Michael (a contest centered on Brett’s time and attention) is released and our narrator Jake gets punched for concealing Brett’s shifting intimacy with other characters. This stems from Cohn’s obsession with Brett and his inability to accept that she’s moved on to another lover— a frustration that can’t be resolved with physical violence either. Again, Cohn really differs from the others in the group: he contrasts with Jake’s listlessness and indifference, and Michael’s drunken anger and frustration. Cohn gives us an image of someone who experiences emotion that isn’t alcohol induced-- emotion that is all consuming, that is uncontrollable (as in the fight scene), and that dictates his movement through the world. Cohn’s perception of this world is skewed. He cannot see or accept Brett for how she is (which arguably Brett herself has trouble seeing and accepting herself, as in the final resolution chapter), nor can he deal (healthily) with that reality when he sees it.

I bring all this up because he is cast as the most transatlantic character. Jake pays particular attention to Cohn’s Jewishness throughout the text, especially in the first few chapters, which maybe brings up questions of his family’s homeland and origins for a post-war audience (?). And Cohn is directly connected to the theme of travel and tourism. Cohn transatlantic imagination is established in the first two chapters as he reads Hudson’s “The Purple Land” and tries to convince Jake to visit South America with him. The book “recounts splendid imaginary amorous adventures of a perfect English gentleman in an intensely romantic land.” Jake reflects that Cohn “took every word of “The Purple Land” as [literal]” (17) and by Cohn’s own admission he confesses that the imaginary space of this transatlantic text is what convinces him of traveling (18). In their conversation, Jake connects and refutes the idea of travel with escaping one’s own mind through distraction: “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that” (19).

Obviously, this scene prefaces a travel narrative in which people are trying to escape themselves through different means. Indeed, it is the trip Cohn takes to San Sebastian with Brett (during which he falls in love) which builds up narrative/character tension. In foreign lands, then, is the potential for something new, for some development and progression. But the narrative doesn’t really progress as the group visits Spain, or at least the characters don’t progress with the narrative. Nothing really happens as they travel, even though Cohn falls in love and punches some people. The group continues to go to bars and have homosocial interactions that sometimes go well and sometimes don’t. Jake sees the world and reports it to us, but it is in the same place with the same problems as when he began (and he is the same person). There is a tension, then, between movement and stasis that isn’t resolved one way or the other. Arguably this is founded on the idea of (transatlantic) tourism, the visiting of foreign locales.

Spaces of Party and Rot

While reading The Sun Also Rises, I felt myself drawn to thinking about the locations and spaces that all the characters frequently moved in and out of. For one, most of the time they are in cafes or clubs drinking; rarely does a scene take place outside of these spaces, and when they do, it is often while they are in between one café/club and another. Outside of these scene-framing settings, the characters also travel throughout the Transatlantic, coming and going from New York, Paris, Vienna, Spain, and Scotland (I might have missed a few as well).

What struck me about this spatial aspect of the novel is that it felt almost escapist; that is, there was a constant desire from characters to move from one thing to the next or to drown oneself in party spaces to displace themselves and avoid dealing with the realities of their situations. The exhaustive movements from place to place destabilized a sense of centeredness. This spatial motif seems to speak to the state of things post-WWI; when the destabilization of life, culture, and society has left things in a state of disequilibrium. This disequilibrium becomes manifest in the multiple spaces of the novel, but also in the characters themselves. This is perhaps most apparent in Brett and Cohn, who can’t seem to find satisfaction staying in one place, space, or state; instead, it is always an in-process movement to the next thing which might make them feel something.

I ultimately leave The Sun Also Rises, which climaxes with a 7-day party, with a rather somber and melancholic feeling. For a novel whose characters are almost always immersed in a state of party and intoxication, their reality is more of a fragmented existence of moving around trying to just feel any sense of centeredness or happiness in a world of rot (to borrow Brett’s catchphrase) camouflaged with confetti post-WWI.

Moveable Feast

The selections from Earnest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast were enjoyable to read. I enjoyed his descriptions of the love shared between he and his wife, Hadley. He describes various moments from their everyday life together, like the day they bet on horses and won. Another time he talks about how they went skiing while she was pregnant, and she thankfully did not fall. He recalls countless other moments like these. I personally found these stories to bear more romance and representation of love than some of the more eloquent love poems I've read. Because romantic love is a timeless and universal subject, I feel it must be written about with a certain originality or uniqueness to entertain and relate to some readers, especially in a more modern period. The elements of their romantic love in this book cause me to think of love's ability to transcend time periods, distance, etc. The feeling that Hemingway captures is something writers from every century can hopefully relate to in some way. When I think about Transatlantic modernism, I think of temporality mainly. Then I consider the relationship people have to land, and the crossing of the ocean, and a variety of other things. For me, it seems as if Hemingway has succeeded in speaking to these things I've just mentioned by the mere inclusion of his moments with Hadley. Their relationship has changed over time, and the realites of poverty heavily influenced the trajectory of their lives together, but their loved seemed to have more of the influence on the quality of their life, or at least Hemingway's. Their relationship to the land (Paris, Austria) changed because of their financial situation. They left Paris for a few reasons, but one of the primary reasons seems to be because they had a baby and the Paris winters were becoming too rough. I feel that their relationship, a representative of love here, supercedes the dull and hard parts of life - e.g. poverty, distance, travel. In that way, I think it can be seen as a sort of marker of transatlantic modernism, in the same way time and the urgency of it marks the term. To continue on this idea I'm trying to outline, we can look at the affair Hemingway alludes to at the end of the selections. After talking about how the arrival of some rich people tainted the world in which they were living in the Shcruns, he talks about the other woman he falls in love with, regrettably. He writes, "all things truly wicked start from an innocence. So you live day by day and enjoy what you have and do not worry. You lie and hate it and it destroys you and everyday is more dangerous, but you live day to day as in a war" (210). The fact that he's comparing a new love to war can speak to the sheer momentum of love and it's ability to transcend time and space, it is a presence which can hardly be defined. And still, at the end, he returns to his wife and upon seeing her at the train station, is as in love as he'd ever been with her. In both relationships, love overpowered circumstances. My point is not that he only loved Hadley and that was the strongest force of this story - but rather, love ruled most decisions. It transcended poverty (in the ways it can), the distance between continents, and the intangible boundaries of monagamy or traditional marriage. 

Reading the Moveable Feast (5/8)

"The tank wagons were painted brown and saffron color and in the moonlight when they worked the rue Cardinal Lemoine their wheeled, horse-drawn cylinders looked like Braque paintings." 

Hemingway's writing and writing process is something I found myself focusing on. Throughout A Moveable Feast, he sprinkles metaphors, similes, and descriptions into its passages of assertive, economic prose; the impact these have as a result not only situates the reader firmly in Hemingway's world/setting, but also presents this reconstructed setting as a singular reality. Braque, evoked above, was an artist whose style evolved before as well as after WWI; his paintings feature angles at odds and subjective perspectives. A Moveable Feast uses visuals that reflect its modernist identity. Braque's art is invited into the memoir and either discovered in post-war France or indicative of the Lost Generation's (an "easy, dirty label" to Hemingway) unique space.

Also, comparing Hemingway's perception of relationships in his memoir with those in The Sun Also Rises helped me understand where inspiration ended and fiction began. As an author, his insight into dynamics between people informed his characters. Jake, Brett, and Robert Cohn are very real, because they represent different trauma responses that Hemingway was acquainted with in his social circles and personal life.

Hemingway on Stein (5/8)

While writing The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway makes sure to include Gertrude Stein in his epigraph talking about the "Lost Generation." Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast, describes Stein as always "want[ing] to know the gay part of how the world was going; never the real, never the bad" (25). It is a state of denial that she is in--I can't say that I blame her, though. Hemingway points out his youth in comparison and that it gave him something comic to say no matter the situation. I wonder how it affected him to think in such terms around Stein. 

The conversation with Stein also has a degree of surprise for me when she discusses other literary works. It is something I would like to think about with others. She calls Huxley "dead" and says of his works that "It is inflated trash" (26). Hemingway is drawn to these darker, more apocolyptic texts. Stein suggests something interesting and "marvelous in its own way" (27) by Marie Belloc Lowndes. From a brief Google search, Lowndes is a writer of excitement and psychological interest. Lowndes was a very prolific writer; I think she specialized in thrillers. There is a bizarre way that these two stories seem to reflect the readers' minds. Stein reads things for excitement and entertainment (along with enrichment), but Hemingway seems to be focused on dark and wicked potentials.

One passage that he wrote struck me as distinctly similar to Stein's work in Camera Work was on page 28 of A Moveable Feast as he discusses how Stein spoke about Ezra Pound. He writes, "That he was a great poet and a gentle and generous man and could have accomodated himself in a normal-size chair was not considered" (28). It is a story of Pound's accidental breaking of a chair, but it so readily brings to my mind the way Stein wrote about Picasso and Matisse. I can't put my finger on the exact reason, though. It is just something that I can't stop noticing when I look back at it.

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot (2/8)

to us—and, thus, offer some hope for an alternative to our own dead world.

When T.S. Eliot writes “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down” (427). I think this is a transatlantic flash to when the bridge was rebuilt in 1831 and the pieces were sent overseas to Lake Havasu City, in Arizona to be reconstructed. This was the third time out of five that the bridge has been rebuilt/restructured. Also “some have put forward the claim that the nursery rhyme refers to the burying—perhaps even alive (!)—of children at the base foundation of the bridge. This is based on the myth that a bridge would collapse unless a body of a human sacrifice was buried in its foundation as a ‘watchman’”. (American Song Writer) Which also plays to the point that children were lost in the war and will never return.

I feel that in the last four lines of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, there is a paradigm shift that moves the ending to a sense is isolation in which the earth returns to its original status, but society is broken. When T.S. Eliot’s poem says “These fragments I have shored against my ruins / Why then Ile ht you. Hieronvno’s mad again/Datta.   Dayadhvan.   Damyata. /Shantih    shantih    shantih   (430-433). I get the sense that the fragments that were once on the European coast have traveled on waves to the American coast. The fragments must travel in unusual ways, like in The Spanish Play by Thomas Kyd where both must go to extremes to cope with reality. There is a shift in what life will be like now. The last two lines almost sound hypnotic, like the waves that wash ashore, and I feel that items that once entered the ocean as sharp emotional pieces have now organically changed to a smooth surface, representing the depleted feeling of having survived a journey. 

High & Low

American audiences look fonder on European writers than European writers look at American audiences. I’m familiar with the stereotypical view held by some Europeans—that American writing was crude, uncultured, unrefined. Although I am unsure of many details about when/how that view arose, its effects seem apparent in the contents of The Dial and The Criterion. The only “American” in The Criterion issue that we read for today is T.S. Eliot. But since he becomes naturalized as an Englishman, his identification with the States is minimal. He’s an expatriate after all. One of the only mentions of the States in The Criterion is when Larbaud mentions the censorship of Ulysses that occurs here. In The Dial Americans audiences (and editors) look eastward affectionately, importing the writings of Yeats, Picasso, Loy, to name a few.

I’m interested in the ways in which American writing and artwork was seen as low (or at least commercial, and how that disdain for commerciality may reflect some pre-capitalist, European notion of national character). Like, I get it. I love Chipotle, but I feel foolish when I go to Chipotle the day they send me an email that offers me free guac.

Anyway, I need to eat lunch. My main point is, this affectionate gaze is perennial and visible in magazines that embellish British musical acts after the Second World War, and especially in the 1960s. We still see that gaze in American eyes today.

I would guess this cultural admiration is filial and “original” (in a limited sense), but I’d like to think about the intersections between nationality—especially across the Atlantic, but not limited thereto—and concepts of high/low art. I especially find it interesting that the American lawyer, John Quinn, was involved (financially if I remember) in publishing The Waste Land and patronized Joyce for a time.

Finance is America’s high art—letters are Europe’s?

Mapping The Dial 1922 (2/8)

For the blog this week, I decided to throw together a quick map of some of the locations and references in the 1922 issue of The Dial. I marked the publication point of The Dial; locations where contributors published from (or where we can approximately assume they might have been contributing from based on a quick search through their wiki pages which, while not scholastically sound, I figured would suffice for this informal mapping); and locations referenced in the content of the 1922 issue. I’m sure I missed plenty of places, but this at least shows a general scope from a first pass through the issue.

I had been struck by the amount of locations that were brought into conversation in this issue and I thought it might be helpful for us to have a visual aid to see the scope of The Dial’s international reach. In many ways this collage of spaces mimics Eliot’s literary-historical patchwork that is The Waste Land; we also can see the traces of the mediums Eliot leveraged through references to Dada, modern art, music, and more in the editorial pieces towards the end of the issue highlighting the current state of culture.

I found The Dial’s use of The Waste Land more compelling than The Criterion because of the parallels in broad scope; while The Criterion played more with experimental form in its pieces which parallel The Waste Land’s experimental approach, I thought that The Dial situates the poem in a far more complex network that encourages a dialogue between reading Eliot’s poem and the rest of the issue (and in that sense, in dialogue with the broader socio-cultural climate of 1922).

Here is a google drive link:


Dante and Eliot - A Match Made in Purgatory (3/8)

AD 1302 – Dante Alighieri is exiled from Florence amidst political tumult, settling in Ravenna to construct his epic. Dante’s displacement among his statesmen catalyzes the formation of The Divine Comedy, as he inserts his contemporaries–even the pope–amongst textual fire and brimstone and himself as a special, panoramic-sighted, nearly omniscient narrator, identifying both social and ethical issues and placing its representatives in their respective spiritual spaces, relative to Dante’s biases (of course). Nonetheless, Dante’s readers were never able to read themselves basking in heaven, struggling in purgatory, or scorching in hell; The Divine Comedy would not be published for another 150 years.  

T.S Eliot was not escaping political conflict, but like Dante, his geographical movement, all-seeing transcript, and subsequent moral high ground seeps through this (much shorter) epic poem. While Eliot attempts to equalize himself with the reader, and therefore takes a stab at humility with lines like “You! Hypocrite lecteur!--mon semblable,--mon frere!” (Eliot 76), Eliot’s frequent integration of Dante’s epic suggests harmony with the dismissed poet; Eliot’s apparent dismissal of both low-culture and capacious sexuality seals this relationship, too. However, Eliot’s contemporaries need not wait 150 years to imagine themselves chasing the banners in hell, publication of The Waste Land in both the Criterion (England) and later the Dial (U.S) ensured, much like Dante and Eliot’s movement, the poem would act as a circulatory, transatlantic staple.  

So, with this moral and geographical framework in mind, I posit the following questions for this week’s discussion:  

1. How did the publication of The Waste Land both mirror and depart from The Divine Comedy? What does Eliot’s reliance on such a text/author suggest about his own movement?  

2. Considering both texts’ overtly spiritual schema, how did readers, and more specifically religious sects, on either side of the Atlantic respond differently to critiques of social/moral issues?    

3 With Eliot later renouncing his American citizenship (1927), how might reading of The Waste Land change some years after publication for U.S readers?  

4. What other allusions in Eliot’s piece might parallel moral shifts with physical movement? How do these speak to the modern situation?