I enjoyed reading the anthology/screen version of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for all the sentimental reasons that are normally associated with print. I loved looking at the old paper of the pages, and even when turning the page via scrolling I understood McGann’s idea of a new page as an opening. Also, in terms of medium and message being intertwined, I felt that the romantic nature of reading this poem in the anthology was very much dependent on the content of the poem, on its narrator’s wanderings through “half-deserted streets” and its generally gorgeous expression of ennui.
I have to say that as I was reading this poem I immediately thought of the National—one of my favorite bands and absolute pros at channeling urban, intellectual disillusion through gloomy, rhythmic indie rock—and their album Boxer in particular. The similarities felt so striking that I searched to see if anyone had already made the connection and found a blog post on the LA Review of Books website that beat me to the punch (for those interested, https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/love-song-matthew-d-berninger/). If I’m looking at the timeline correctly, Eliot was living in Paris at the time of writing this poem, and that sort of spell of being a Midwesterner in some mystifying metropolis is common throughout the two works. The opening lines of “Prufrock,” setting up a night out marked by a strange kind of solemnity, are in lockstep with being “half-awake in a fake empire”; “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit” and the refrain of “there will be time” echoes the sweet, tired sentiment of “Turn the light out, say goodnight, no thinking for a little while / let’s not try to figure out everything at once.” The lines “My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin … Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” underscore the same kind of well-to-do self-consciousness as “Underline everything, I’m a professional in my beloved white shirt,” and “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker” is just every National kicker ever.
McGann’s points that literature is figurative and always doing many things simultaneously and that computers can’t make the kinds of associational leaps that humans can were what I had in mind as I read. It was kind of comforting that the screen version we were provided consisted of scans of pages with their original type rather than, say, some adaptation on a webpage. The reading experience definitely took me back to listening to Boxer in the big, stately rooms of Butler Library on a summer evening in New York City.