11 August 2015

A Conversation about J. Alfred Prufrock



Fred and Walter are unacquainted.  Walter has sat down on a public bench in the evening, near a fountain in the local square.  He is writing in a notebook, and occasionally stops to flip through a magazine.  Fred sits down at the other end of the bench and lights a cigarette.  It is around 8pm.  After some time, they speak.


___________________


FRED
What do you make of the people who gather here tonight?  There are a decent number.

WALTER
Yes.  I think it is one of the last evenings like this of the summer.  Lots of children.

FRED
Do you wonder how people survive?

WALTER
Yes, I wonder.  Who are you?

[Silence.]

FRED
Your shirt, it has a pattern on it.  I would ask about it, but I don't care enough to ask.

WALTER
I love the smell of tobacco smoke.  When you sat down, I hoped the wind would waft it toward me.

FRED
Second hand smoke is the best, no?

WALTER
Yes.

FRED
Yes.

[Silence.]

FRED
I noticed you are copying out Prufrock.

WALTER
Yes it came back to me earlier.  It was very dear to me some years ago.

FRED
And then?

WALTER
And then I assumed I had grown out of it, the way one grows out of children's novels and such.

FRED
But you don't believe in these things, do you? "Growing out of"

WALTER
No, you're right.  I don't believe that there should be distinct culture for children and young people.  So why should I insist on abandoning literary objects associated with youth?

FRED
You abandoned Prufrock because Prufrock is an expression of indirection and anxiety, and you thought you had found hope and certainty.  Is that so?

WALTER
Yes.

FRED
And you did not find hope and certainty?

[Silence.]

FRED
There are many things of childhood which are not washed away by later experiences and discoveries.

WALTER
I am very tired.

FRED
I do not believe that you are tired.

WALTER
I am unhappy.

FRED
Everyone is unhappy.

WALTER
That is little consolation.

[Silence.]

WALTER
Did you judge me for copying out Prufrock?

FRED
I thought of you the way I think of the men with mental problems who sit in libraries or on trains, furiously filling up spiral notebooks.  Why copy out a memorized poem into a notebook?

WALTER
Because I wanted to read it, or savor it.

FRED
To savor.  Do you think the poem is wise?

WALTER
No, but ... at particular times, particular objects have greater resonance with a person.  It's perhaps like fitting flavors into a meal.  The chocolate goes well after this, but poorly after that.  And right now the flavor or tune of this poem fits my state of mind.  So I savor it.

[Silence.]

WALTER
"I do not think that they will sing to me."

FRED
Who is this "they"? The mermaids? And who are these mermaids?

WALTER
For Prufrock, I think they are his socialite women talking of Michelangelo.  For myself I think they are the fates, or the muses, or something.

FRED
The fates?  What would it be for the fates to sing to you?

WALTER
The fates tell one ones destiny, or so I imagine it.

FRED
And if they sang, it would be a known destiny, and a beautiful one?

WALTER
Yes.

[Silence.]

FRED
I did not judge you.

WALTER
What does it mean to judge?

FRED
Perhaps it means to think ill of someone, or to think of them in a way that they would not want to be thought of.

WALTER
No, merely to condemn them for their moral imperfection or determine that they suffer from some defect of character.

FRED
I thought "this person may well be insane, or perhaps is in the younger stages of that same insanity."

WALTER
I thought the same thing of myself when you approached.  But really I am just sad and trying to find something to draw me on.

FRED
One can be both sad and insane, no?

[Silence.]

WALTER
And who are you?

FRED
I am Mystery.

WALTER
Ha! You don't get to be mystery.

FRED
Ego vox clamantis...

WALTER
I don't think you get to be John the Baptist either.

[Silence.]

WALTER
You must have smoked three cigarettes before speaking.

FRED
One should always think before speaking.

WALTER
Yes.  I think so as well.  I often have.