Menace and Foreboding

One subtext of the entire enterprise of the Cheltenham Elegies is that the significations of the American suburbs must change. From the dulcet and the banal, the suburbs acquire an aura of menace and foreboding. How the menace and the foreboding are incorporated into our view of the American suburbs connects directly to Inter-Dialogism. What happens when the leap from one consciousness into another is made, and what is seen is perceived to be a direct threat to the individual who initiates the leap? This may happen in a number of different contexts, including social situations in which individuals are not only required to keep their cool, but to maintain the wonted placid façade that is the suburban insignia. Even more murky are situations in which the individual who makes the Inter-Dialogic leap perceives a genuine threat, with some genuine intimacy snuck in on another side of things— in other words, the insignia of betrayal. This goes beyond mere troubled brotherhood, into a place in which the drama of life and death is so intricately complex and elaborately woven that everything (again) is lost in ambiguity, and love and hate are impossible to distinguish. This is where the individual with Inter-Dialogic tendencies (like the Elegiac Protagonist) gets beaten back with his or her own limitations— emotions take over, and where there is any sensitivity, it is lost in confusion and despair. Keats inverts this process, in the Odes, into being lost in a haze of sexualized, musical ecstasy— the Odes and Elegies find two parallel lines towards consciousness losing itself, in self-transcendence towards dissolution into higher realities. As the Elegies’ blackness meets the Odes’ whiteness in the Gyan chap, a foundation is built of wonder around the possibilities of poetic language. Yet, in Elegy 260, we finally come face to face with the brick wall in all the Cheltenham characters’ consciousness— they cannot let go of their pasts, and replay all the most important scenes of menace and foreboding in their heads endlessly, in an eternal loop:

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.

Dealers in the world need to have an intuition, a sixth sense. The need to be able to intuit who around them is for real and who isn’t. The problem with the Elegiac Protagonist here is that he isn’t completely a dealer. He appears to be an accessory to dealers, and nothing more. Yet, his sixth sense informs him in this memorized loop (“The same voice, as always…”) that he is being betrayed somehow by someone he cares about, probably the hero/anti-hero from 261, and there is nothing at all he can do about it. Elegy 260 is rather unique, among the Elegies, because it does not come to any definite conclusions; in fact, the poem ends before the action starts, leaving the readers to configure for themselves what the nature of the action exactly is, and what the betrayals might be. When betrayal of individuals is involved, Inter-Dialogism becomes profoundly horrible, a waking nightmare which brands individual minds for all time with the decisive moments which made or broke them. The funny twist involved in 260 involves sex— that if the Elegiac Protagonist is about to be excluded from something important, his success with girls is what may be standing in his way, which has caused hatred and resentment to migrate towards him, and this betrayal. In the suburbs, the fates of individuals are often decided sotto voce, and in the kind of accents which may accompany the reading of weather on TV or a game show host’s opening monologue. Quietness and stillness do not preclude viciousness and petty larceny to souls. All the menace and foreboding built into Cheltenham as a construct have to do with these levels, and with the sad, sick sense that suburban deaths are potentially as banal as suburban lives. That the Elegiac Protagonist lived to tell his tale cannot efface the Inter-Dialogic horror of whatever he sees in his friend’s brain here, and the Meta-Dialogic defense mechanism voice he has developed to counter it (“you were fucked up even/ then”). Where this leaves Inter-Dialogism is a variegated place which can cover the gamut of human thoughts and emotions. Elegy 260’s version of Inter-Dialogism is one of the hardest, and also the most realistic— in Cheltenham, as in much of the rest of the human world, human life, often claimed to have some sanctity inhering in it, is actually, in practice, as cheap as a dime, and treated with the extreme lowliness of those who live in the dirt.