Thursday, 24 May 2007

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Tom & Joe, This is How You Read a Poem Tom and Joe decided to challenge Ann Althouse to a reading competition, to which I can only say: "Unwise, my friends, unwise." Ann Althouse is a lawyer. You guys are graduate students. Moreover, you two are playing on her turf. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, not a graduate student. Not that you could take her on yours, mind you. See, for example, her magisterial display of intertextual prowess, in which she pairs an episode of The Sopranos with the most literal poem in human history, W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming": You need to study the poem as you rewatch the episode. It's not enought to say "Things fall apart ... Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world," so there's going to be an all-out war between Tony and Phil. Or "somewhere in sands of the desert ... what rough beast ... Slouches towards Bethlehem," so all that talk about the Mideast and terrorism is going to have to be part of the series dénouement. There must be endless depths there. You're just getting started. Perhaps Tony will find his humanity (or is he the "rough beast"?). He gives an expensive watch to Carmela, which is typical for him, but what was that inscription? He tries to connect with the guys talking about his peyote visions, but he fails. He tells Phil he wants to talk to him "on a human level." Which also fails. He saves his son from drowning. ("blood-dimmed tide... innocence is drowned.") The water imagery from last week. He cradles the son he saves. Mother imagery from last week. He starts saying "poor you," the way his own mother Livia did. More mother references. Before saving his son from drowning, he eats the "Lincoln log" food Carmela made to try cheer up A.J. Imagery carried over from last week: mother, phallus, assassinated President. Consider yourself pre-schooled. Let me walk you dolts through this brilliance one brilliant sentence at a brilliant time: You need to study the poem as you rewatch the episode ... ... with a law degree in one hand, a glass of wine in the other. It's not enough to say "Things fall apart ... Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world," so there's going to be an all-out war between Tony and Phil. Because Tony and Phil are "the world," like in the poem you studiously studied, in which "things fall apart" and on which "anarchy is loosed." (Ann's absolutely right to ignore the "mere." It's a useless poetry word poets throw in when they need an extra beat.) Or "somewhere in sands of the desert ... what rough beast ... Slouches towards Bethlehem," so all that talk about the Mideast and terrorism is going to have to be part of the series dénouement. Deserts and Bethlehem are both in the Middle East. (So is the Spiritus Mundi, for that matter.) There must be endless depths there. Word. You're just getting started. No, Ann, you are. I but bask in your reflected glory. Perhaps...

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