Meta-Dialogism and Elegy 260

The opening salvo of Cheltenham Elegy 260 is an image both tactile and subtle enough to convey the vagaries of a certain kind of teenage life in the American suburbs— the Elegiac Protagonist, “too stoned to find the bathroom,” pissing on a tree-trunk in the backyard of a friend of a friend:

I was too stoned to find the bathroom.
The trees in the dude’s backyard made
it look like Africa. You were my hook-up
to this new crowd. The same voice, as always,
cuts in to say you were fucked up even
then. You had a dooming Oedipal
complex. We were all wrapped tight,
even when we got high. I was the
only one getting any, so you both
mistrusted me. African trees & easy
camaraderie. A primitive pact sealed
between warring factions— my spears
(take this as you will) for your grass.

That the trees look “African” is clearly the byproduct of his intoxication. Dramatic tensions inhere— does the third party here, an unfamiliar, approve of his tree-trunk being pissed on? Of even more interest is a textual moment which bridges the chasm between the Bakhtinian dialogism discussed in the Elegies recently and the phenomenological tensions explored in the Elegies earlier this year— “the same voice, as always/ cuts in to say you were fucked up even/ then. You had a dooming Oedipal/complex.” This constitutes the manifestation, in a first person narrative voice, of a precise, coherent, fully realized second voice; in it, the realization of a second complete character, dramatic interest intact, within the first. The textual stance of the Elegiac Protagonist must appear layered, because the complexities of his character encompass a multitude of voices which may be channeled through him at any moment. This phenomenological tension— the exploration of the narrative first person singular, its potentialities not only to contain multitudes, but to manifest precise, cohesive voices out of this multifarious consciousness— creates the possibility of meta-dialogism, the interstitial communication of complex data within a single character or consciousness. A perceived stability— the “same” voice— establishes the dynamic of meta-dialogism as a defense mechanism against the bewildering congeries of appearances which constitute Cheltenham’s “game face” to the world. Competing voices in a single consciousness arise out of situations which manifest such extreme surface/depth tensions/abrasions that they can only be processed accurately with a repertoire of cohesive voices in tow.

So it is in Elegy 260— the Protagonist’s second manifested voice is there specifically to assert depth— that the smooth phenomenological surface (a dope deal, African trees, “easy camaraderie”) belies other voices (Oedipal ones) which render the Other in the poem (the same Other, we assume, as in 261) both impotent sexually and generally ineffectual. The Elegiac Protagonist is sexually potent, and mistrusted for it; his “cock out” routine in the Elegy’s opening vignette amounts to an assertion of physical confidence. This receives a mirroring algorithm at the Elegy’s conclusion regarding the Protagonist’s intellect— “my spears…for your grass” suggests that the bartering process involves thoughts, plans, stratagem, and the recompense of drugs for them. The textual back-lighting also shades the situation to suggest that the Protagonist has been brought in as a hired hand, to employ the “spears” of his intellect towards finding a solution to whatever the stalemated, drug-related situation is. As in 261, the hero/anti-hero Other (or brother) figure in the Elegies drags the Elegiac Protagonist into a dangerous, possibly life-threatening situation (the rough u-turn in Old York Road being a compacted version of this drug contretemps), and the suburban façade of placidity is disrupted severely by the tasks being fulfilled by its inhabitants.

This congeries, which creates a practical/tactile base for the emergence of meta-dialogism in the Protagonist, is both complex and a complex (psychological hindrance), to be endured by those placed/situated to endure it. What the function or purpose of meta-dialogism is for the Elegiac Protagonist, is both a coping mechanism and a phenomenological quirk which facilitates recognition, no matter how beleaguered, that the human world is real, and that everything which happens to him in Cheltenham really is happening. The only way to give human reality a stable voice, from within one consciousness, is to develop several distinct voices. The Protagonist’s meta-dialogism takes the world (Cheltenham-as-stage) and solidifies it, against the wonted suburban impulse to nullify human experience/reality via outright denial, and the adoption of singular, indistinct first person perspectives.