Friday, May 20, 2011

Reading: Prophetic Prose

Last night I finished a very pleasant few days reading E. L. Doctorow’s collection, Lives of the Poets: A Novella and Six Stories. All six of the stories were well worth reading, but it was the title novella, Lives of the Poets, that I found to be particularly compelling. The first-person narrator of the piece is a writer. He has been successful enough to own a large house “in the woods” as well as a summer house. In addition, he keeps a studio in lower Manhattan. This studio is his sanctum sanctorum, from which his wife of nearly two decades is banned. The narrator muses on many things, but primarily on interpersonal relationships amongst the artsy-fartsy set of which he is a prominent member. We learn that our author is in love with a woman-not-his-wife, but with whom he also cannot quite connect. It seems that none of the persons whose love-lives are sketched in his thoughts can connect. In addition, American society-at-large is plunging into nihilistic decadence all around him.

Consider as exemplary of the entire work this passage excerpted from near the very end of the novella:

How do I feel? I don’t care anymore. Maybe like that poet in Yeats who lies down to die on the king’s doorstep because he’s been kicked out of the ruling circle. Yeah, that’s what this place is, that’s what I’m doing here, and if I die, let the curse be on their heads. What else can this mean except that I’ve been deprived of my ancient right to matter? Yes, you mothers, I ... a mere man of words, will sit once more in the councils of state or a dire desolation will erupt from the sky, drift like a fire-filled fog over the World Trade Center, glut the streets of SoHo with its sulfurous effulgence, shriek through every cracked window, stop the singing voice of every living soul, and make of your diversified investment portfolio a useless thing.

Now consider that this book was published in 1984.


Fiocle said...

Prophetic or a curse, it makes me wonder again at the power of words. Well spotted!

Rodak said...

Good point. It could be seen as a curse. But, in any case, it has proved to be prophetic.

Ron King said...

It seems to me the natural outcome of an identity crisis of the narcissistic personality which appears to be the general adaptation to our individualistic value system. It can also be identified as the curse of self-absorption.
Very thought provoking.

Rodak said...

What caught my attention was his prediction of fire from the sky by the WTC, and the collapse of Wall Street. An eerie conjunction, given events in the first decade of this century.

Ron King said...

I totally missed that. Didn't make the connection. LOst is space. I was talking to a woman several years ago and we were discussing quantum entanglement in the sense that we are all connected in some unseen way. She told me that one day she was stuck in traffic and was praying the rosary and could not stop saying the last part, "Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death..." She never got to Amen until she got home and watched the news of the Twin Towers. Artistic people seem more open to such experiences or if not artistic then highly sensitive people.
Please delete my stupid psycho crap:)

Rodak said...

The post's title was supposed to flag the prediction of the WTC event and Wall Street collapse.

I'm leaving your psychological insights, because they are not inappropriate to the author's intended thematic structure. He was writing about that, not to make apocalyptic predictions.