Constant Reader
WebBoardOrientationReading ListsHome WorksActivities

Buy the paperback

Miss Lonelyhearts
by Nathanael West

Synopsis:
"Somehow or other I seem to have slipped in between all the 'schools,'" observed Nathanael West the year before his untimely death in 1940. "My books meet no needs except my own, their circulation is practically private and I'm lucky to be published." Yet today, West is widely recognized as a prophetic writer whose dark and comic vision of a society obsessed with mass-produced fantasies foretold much of what was to come in American life. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), which West envisioned as "a novel in the form of a comic strip," tells of an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist who becomes tragically embroiled in the desperate lives of his readers.
 
Topic: 
       JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (20 of 31),
       Read 66 times 
  Conf: 
       CLASSICS CORNER 
 From: 
       Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) 
  Date: 
       Wednesday, May 24, 2000 11:14 AM 


For some reason I thought of Flannery O’Connor in connection with
Nathanael West. He seems almost to be an anti-Flannery, but I’m
wondering if his parody is so over-the-top that it comes full circle
to an affirmation of some kind of spiritual dimension? Or have I just
had too much caffeine?

In any event, I looked in the index of Flannery’s collected letters,
THE HABIT OF BEING, and found two references to West. In one,
she recommends his DAY OF THE LOCUST to a writing friend, and
the other says this:

Jack Hawkes is going to lecture at Brandeis University soon on
some aspect of grotesque writing and is going to include me along
with West, Djuna Barnes, and himself, so he asked to see my novel
and I sent it to him. Now I am very sorry I did because any
perception so fine as his will find it dull and he is so awfully polite,
so much a gentleman, that he will not want to say what he really
thinks. The more I hear from him, the more impressed I am.

As far as I can tell, the novel she sent was WISE BLOOD.

>>Dale in Ala.

(PS: Speaking of black-and-white, I'm trying to envision all the
colors that parents' faces would turn if MISS LONELYHEARTS were
ventured as a high school text. Think they'd buy the argument "But
it's supposed to be grotesque"?) 


Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (21 of 31), Read 56 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 01:19 PM Dale: Grotesque seems to be the operative word to describe this book, doesn't it? You know, its sort of interesting how we humans love to delve into the more pleasant aspects of ourselves but run, almost as if scared to death ,when faced with any sort of mirror that reflects our most basic ugly sides? I think high school kids would not be harmed at all by reading this book. It's the parents who would feel the ugliness of the mirror's reflection...i think...could it be the most disturbing aspect of this character is that he didn't run from the ugliness of his life? Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (22 of 31), Read 51 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 01:43 PM We read both Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts as electives in senior year English. Don't recall anyone's parents having a coronary, not that many of our parents paid that much attention to what we were reading. In those days, if it was assigned it was presumptively good, at least around here. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (23 of 31), Read 53 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 02:13 PM Here's a semi-brief bio of West I found on the Web. A bizarre life, indeed. *** Nathanael West (1903-1940) - original name Nathan Weinstein (until 1926) American writer who satirized the American dream and saw that liberty and freedom have been turned into a bizarre nightmare. West attracted posthumously attention after World War II first in France. He was fascinated by what he called 'the secret inner life of masses', where the power of unfilled desires always threatens to turn into malignant violence. "At college, and perhaps for a year afterwards, they had believed in literature, had believed in Beauty and in personal expression as an absolute end. When they lost this belief, they lost everything. Money and fame meant nothing to them. They were not wordly men." (from Miss Lonelyhearts, 1933) Nathanael West was born in New York, N.Y. as the son of immigrant German Jews from Lithuania. His mother was Anna (Wallenstein) Weinstein, and father, Max Weinstein, a construction contractor. As a young man West showed little ambition. He studied at Brown University, Providence, where he befriended the writer and humorist S.J. Perelman - he married West's sister. During these years he started to draw cartoons and write short surrealistic sketches, which he later collected as the novel THE DREAM LIFE OF BALSO SNELL (1931). West did not take his studies seriously - he borrowed his cousin's work and presented it as his own and failed a crucial course in modern drama. In 1924 West graduated with a Ph.B. degree and changed his name legally to Nathanael West. He spent a couple of years in Paris. He wrote there his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), a fantasy about western civilization set in the innards of the Trojan horse. Back in the United States, West managed small hotels, Kenmore Hall from 1927 to 1930 and the Sutton Club Hotel from 1930 to 1933. In these jobs West was able to assist other writers offering them free housing. Among his visitants were Dashiell Hammett, James T. Farrell, and Erskine Caldwell. Hotel life offered West numerous anecdotes which he used in his works. In the early 1930s West worked as a journalist and was involved with a pair of literary magazines. These experiences gave material for his second novel, MISS LONELYHEARTS (1933), an allegory of America as it struggled through the Depression. The story depicts a male newspaper columnist, correspondence pen name Miss Lonelyhearts, who develops a Christ complex and becomes tragically involved with one of his correspondents. The advice columnist is a therapist, priest and messiah to to those alienated and in pain, but he is himself unable to live in the world of decay and emptiness by the help he offers others. Despite critical success the book sold poorly. West continued with similar theme of good aims gone wrong in his next novel, A COOL MILLION (1934), an attack on the optimistic rags-to riches ideal. The story reflected his childhood memories, when his father gave him several popular Horatio Alger novels to read - hoping that he would enter the family business. West moved first time to Hollywood in 1933, to work on a film version of Miss Lonelyhearts. He returned in 1935, and lived in a cheap hotel called the Pa-Va-Sed, on North Ivar Street, near Hollywood Boulevard. In the years before he found employment, West spent time among the outcasts of Los Angeles. He remained in Hollywood for the rest of his life, working as a scriptwriter for smaller studios like Monogram. During this time West published THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1939), a study of the fragility of illusion. Many critics consider it with F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished masterpiece The Last Tycoon (1941) among the best novel written about Hollywood. The protagonist, Tod Hackett, comes to California in hopes of a career as a scenic artist but soon joins the disenchanted second-rate actors, technicians, laborers and other characters living on the fringes of the movie industry. Tod finds work on a film called prophetically 'The Burning of Los Angeles', and the dark comic tale ends in an apocalyptic mob riot outside a Hollywood première, as the system runs out of control. "In the center of the field was a gigantic pile of sets, flats and props. While he watched, a ten-ton truck added another load to it. This was the final dumping ground. He thought of Janvier's "Sargasso Sea." Just as that imaginary body of water was a history of civilization in the form of marine junkyard, the studio lot was one in the form of a dream dump. A Sargasso of the imagination! And the dump grew continually, for there wasn't a dream aloaf somewhere which wouldn't sooner or later turn up on it, having first been made photographic by plaster, canvas, lath and paint." (from the Day of the Locust) By a bizarre coincidence, Fitzgerald and West died on the same weekend in December, 1940. West was killed in an automobile accident on December 22, near El Centro, California, with his wife Eileen McKenney. West was recently married, with better-paid script work coming in, and returning from a trip to Mexico. Distraught over hearing of his friend's Fitzgerald's death, he crashed his car after ignoring a stop sign. West considered himself an outsider. He believed that society was decaying, and that the American dream is a sad, monstrous myth. He wrote only four books, of which The Day of the Locust turned out to be a success. Paradoxically he had in Hollywood, for the first time, high hopes for the future and a stable financial situation.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (25 of 31), Read 30 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Thursday, May 25, 2000 09:55 PM Dale, Dan, Beej and all, Dale you did a fine job with your biographical sketch of West. I was able to get a copy from our local library. Complete works... Octagon Books N.Y. 78. These particular books has have a special meaning for me. One of my best friends recommended it to me after telling me that much of my other reading was junk. So I did read both Miss Lonelyheart and The Day of the Locust. This took place somewhere between 1950 and 53 while we were both working as army psychologists at Ft. Ord, CA. I got started reading Lonelyheart once more the other night and to my surprise could not remember a thing about it. So I looked at Day of the Locust and this I do remember quite well. It made a profound impression on me. I do remember that I had the impression of immeasurable sadness after reading these two books. I just curious if I find these books more cheerful this time around. Ernie
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (26 of 31), Read 20 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 07:13 AM Was MISS LONELYHEARTS not published during the depression? I can't help but wonder what sociol-dynamics this book might have caused within the literary world at a time when morale was already "beaten and trodden upon"... Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (27 of 31), Read 19 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 07:48 AM Hello All-- Ironically, the critic Harold Bloom's brand new book 'How to Read and Why' deals briefly but well with Miss Lonelyhearts... and connects West to O'Conner and to Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. I am not an unreserved fan of this novel. Sometimes I think it is the best thing of its kind ever written... and sometimes I think its own darknesses overcome it. For a narrative so small and economical, it plays for huge stakes, parodying Christ, Creation, Self, and nearly everything West could think of. In Middle school I was assigned to read a book I hated- I read it, and every page I completed I tore out. In an adolescent way, I fantasized that my reading the book destroyed the book as I went ( I didn't calculate the possibility of OTHER copies...hey, I never claimed to be bright)...and it seems to me that West destroys his own book similarly and progressively with the very process of WRITING it. ML himself feels that Shrike has enclosed Christ with 'a thick glove of words' that ruin Him, the letters embodied in the text accumulate into a psychic assault, and the best writing in the novel (Shrike's speeches) is the deadliest. What to do with a book that uses the sharpness of its own words as mini-spades to dig its own grave and then invites us to jump in? Shrike says (on ML's behalf) 'I feel like Hell' and he means it: these characters are little encapsulated Hells of their own, and when they try to open up to anyone they unleash small, personal apocalypses instead. If I don't find something on the order of redemption in this book soon, pages will start to fly! I hope this discussion can save my copy of 'Miss Lonelyhearts' because its a nice hardcover edition I would hate to lose....
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (28 of 31), Read 16 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 08:37 AM George: "Little encapsulated hells of their own" sure nails these characters. Offhand I can't think of a more unrelentingly dark book. Many of the scenes...Miss Lonelyhearts' visit to his girlfriend, for instance...seem totally incomprehensible to me, the dialog and the actions alike. But nonetheless they jab a little knife blade into the pit of my stomach, which tells me West is writing at a level--or a depth--that somehow goes beyond literal comprehension. At least, you can't say he's derivative. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (29 of 31), Read 18 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 08:51 AM perhaps ML has become conditioned to believe his rewards in life come from his reactions to misery...sort of a bit like Pavlov's dogs...i dunno... Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (30 of 31), Read 11 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 09:06 AM From his adoption of other's misery maybe, Beej. Fantastic note, George. Fantastic. But at the same time a little frightening. Are you sure you aren't losing your distance from ML in the same way he lost his distance from his correspondents? Don't do it, George. Don't do it! Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (31 of 31), Read 14 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 08:47 AM Hey, CR! No fair! No fair! The discussion on Miss Lonelyhearts has been interesting, and will give me insight when I finally get around to reading it. BUT................could we hold further discussion until June 1st? Of course, I could just not read the thread until then, and will do that if the understandable urge to post continues to overwhelm CR's, but I already feel like a lagger. And I know you all wouldn't want a fellow CR to fall into the depths of a tbr self deprecating funk, now would ya? :-)
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (32 of 38), Read 30 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 11:45 AM I took a field trip with a bus full of screaming students to New Orleans. During lulls in faculty conversations, I read Miss Lonelyhearts in its entirety for a second time. Every now and then a peer or a student would stoop over, frowning at my frown. "What you're reading, Mr. LeBoeuf?" The first time someone asked this, I couldn't answer. I opened my mouth, shrugged, made a gesture in the air, squinted, and finally the student just went away. Every time after that I would just lift up the cover to be read and interpreted by the questionner. What a bizarre little novel. I honestly could not answer just a simple question: "What are you reading?" I don't know, I honestly don't know but I continue to witness the events wide-eyed with wonder. Suffering with literary aphasia, Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (33 of 38), Read 32 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 11:47 AM Dan: You're very welcome. You are no shabby information-poster yourownself. Kay: Guess you'll have to cover your eyes, because the horse is out of the barn here, for which I bear large responsibility.{G} What's the great line in the Old Testament..."If I hold my tongue, the rocks will cry out." >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (34 of 38), Read 25 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 01:46 PM Just in case nobody noticed, there's a neat piece of symbolism going on here. a shrike is a kind of bird that feeds on insects and such. Impales 'em on thorns for safekeeping, careless of whether they're still wiggling. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (35 of 38), Read 26 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Anne Wilfong (annewilfong@worldnet.att.net) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 02:02 PM Ruth, Being a birder, I picked up on that right away, too. I just started reading this today as I waited for my mammogram...now I must get back to it, because, like Dan, I'm not too sure (i>what I'm reading yet! Anne Reading is life...the rest is just details
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (36 of 38), Read 25 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Sara Brennan (se_brennan@hotmail.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 02:04 PM I didn't notice, Ruth... and it's a point well worth noticing. Ye gods!
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (37 of 38), Read 21 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 02:36 PM In years when we have 'blooms' of shrews, in the spring the shrikes hunt them out of their snow tunnels by the dozen and hang the little bodies on the bare limbs of the silver birches. It's almost medieval to see all those tiny bodies swinging in the naked branches. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (38 of 38), Read 18 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 05:36 PM Just got back from Tennessee and visiting my brother for a few days. I picked up the book in one of those great old-and-rare-books stores (called "The Odd Volume") in Jackson, TN, the kind of place I dearly love and have trouble leaving. I'm halfway through this work, and see ML and Shrike as two very dark (I know the adjective's been used a lot, but it is so apt) alter-egos of Sinclair Lewis's George Babbit, for some reason. Babbit was humorous in its satirical style; this is ominous and even ghoulish, but does anyone else see this comparison? Maybe something I'm forgetting about Babbit struck a chord. . it's been a while. Speaking of symbols, what about the description of the sacrificial lamb incident at the book's onset? =a Nihilistic need to sacrifice the innocent (as ML does by agreeing to take on the column) but a failure to completely achieve or be amoral about that sacrifice, to become haunted instead (as occurs with the failed sacrifice of the lamb and the return to put it out of its misery)???? Just thinking out loud here-bear with me. I should probably finish the book first or wait til June as Kay asked, but I'm already dying to discuss this one. . . Janet, wanting to make up for lost time from other classic threads. . .
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (39 of 63), Read 52 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 08:58 AM I know, in the Old Testament, the slaughtering of the lambs was symbolic of the promised messiah. Wasn't Miss Lonelyheart's father a Baptist minister? also, they were chanting,"Christ, Christ, Jesus Christ.."I think there is more in that little lambs tale(LOL) than meets the eye. Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (40 of 63), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 02:42 PM I finished Miss Lonelyheart last night and must agree with some of you who called the book bizarre. I think those of us who have lived during depression days when everything seemed hopeless and useless can make better sense of the writing. There was no hope and the value systems were out the window but for the one's anchored in religion. West, in a way put all that into this book. In the first incident of Miss Lonelyhearts illness Shrike comes to his room and gives him a number of alternatives to his present circumstances. Miss L. turns them all down as I remember BUT ended with a trial to one alternative, going to the farm and this is where he felt better but can't stay for ever. The heavy drinking that goes on offers another escape which does not work too well. The ending when Miss L. beats up on the Doyle woman who then told her husband a lie which leads to Miss L.'s death for all the wrong reasons is the ultimate joke that fate can play. Contemporary readers who have not experienced the horror of these times will see this book as a bizarre and strange story. But go ahead and ask depression survivors about the mood of the people and state of the world during the thirties, especially in the big towns. Ernie PS. Just a bit of warning. History repeats itself - somebody has said.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (41 of 63), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 03:19 PM Beej, I agree there are probably several levels of symbolism going on in the lamb's sacrifice. The lamb also represented Christ himself (William Blake used this idea a lot in his poetry), but I can't remember if that's New or Old Testament. The sacrifice of the lamb factors in there, too, I'd wager: the innocence and goodness of Christ put on a level with all the victims' (ML's writers) being sacrificed to the hypocrisy and falseness of the farce. The country life echoes a Garden of Eden paradise, superficially, but doesn't work because it's too late. The consequence of it all seems to parallel Christian theology as well: Mankind is doomed to a sinful, unhappy existence. Finished reading this one early this morning. Felt a hollow sort of iciness at the conclusion. . . Janet, again, thinking out loud and not sure of anything at this point.. .
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (42 of 63), Read 51 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 03:29 PM Now , wasn't this entire slaughtering of the lamb business a dream? I suppose i should re-read the entire story again and see what i can see...There is sooo much symbolism in this book....layers upon layers upon layers.... Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (43 of 63), Read 52 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 05:26 PM The word that is continually used with respect to West's work is 'grotesque', in the literal sense. By exaggerating individual events or perspectives, he brings them into sharper dramatic contrast and enhances the inherent internal conflict (how can you love the afflicted, as commanded by Christ, if by noticing and accepting their suffering your own humanity is submerged?). Although many portions of the book are written in terms of Christian religious cant, I think West's aim is broader than any single religion, or even religion as a whole. Instead, he aims at all the dreams and inchoate hopes that have allowed suffering humanity to endure over the centuries -- and chooses to illuminate how these dreams have died and proven unavailing in the harsh light of modern life. After ML's return to the city, after his 40 days in the carnal wilderness with Betty, he realizes the interlude has not cured his Christ-complex. Wandering the streets, he sees the destitute and desperate one at a time, each story more horrific than the last. And he begins to think about their plight: " Prodded by his conscience he began to generalize. Men have always fought their misery with dreams. Although dreams were once powerful, they have been made puerile by the movies, radio and newspapers. Among many betrayals, this one is the worst. The thing that made his share in it particularly bad was that he was capable of dreaming the Christ dream. He felt that he had failed at it, not so much because of Shrike's jokes or his own self-doubt, but because of his lack of humility." Of course, humility doesn't work worth a damn, either, but then nothing really does in the world of ML, except possibly lots of booze and sex. It's a great pleasure to revisit this tiny little book after an absence of many years. And it's interesting that a story that filled me with raucous enthusiasm as a young man defiant against the meaninglessness and horror of it all, still has the power to touch me 35 years later. Many books lose that power with the passage of the years. However, raucous enthusiasm has been replaced by a quiet resolve to handle life only with a little dignity, defiance having proven a non-starter. Another interesting angle here is West himself. Born Nathan Weinstein in New York City, in the finest traditions of literature, America and modern Judaism, he fled first to Paris, then to California, renamed himself (what else) Nathanael West and proceeded to seek the godhead with a typewriter, ending up dead at a young age, in that most quintessentially American of coffins, a wrecked automobile. I don't know what it all means, but I do know that Freud would have been up all night taking notes on this one. I look forward to some lively discussion on this little gem. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (44 of 63), Read 52 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 05:30 PM And you know, I don't want to sound like Johnny One-Note, but you could certainly weave in a discussion of the Book of Job here somewhere: "The Problem of Job As Seen Through The Thoroughly Modern Eyes of A Jewish Kid With A Christian Spin". The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (45 of 63), Read 57 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 05:41 PM Dick: What wonderfully cogent and enjoyable notes! Just goes to prove you were not cut out for yard work. {G} Today, while out doing necessary family stuff, I couldn't get ML out of my mind and in context thought of the quote (Camus? Sartre? Other?), "If there is no God, then everything is permitted." I think West has the most encompassing view of that "everything" I've ever read, as least as it's applied to American society. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (46 of 63), Read 50 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 06:45 PM Enjoyed your note a lot, Dick. Very perceptive. This book left me in a kind of miasma, a mood which will not lift. Same kind of feeling I got when reading Wm. Burroughs. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (47 of 63), Read 54 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 07:46 PM Well -- Though I had every intention of reading this one with the group here -- I won't get to this in time for THIS discussion. BUT -- I can tell you that it just went to the top of the list of important TBR to pick up ASAP -- whew, Dick -- got me hooked with those posts on top of all else I've been seeing here! Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (48 of 63), Read 55 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Anne Wilfong (annewilfong@worldnet.att.net) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 08:27 PM I finished this book today, and was quite thankful for the afterword by Stanly Hyman to tell me what in the hell I just read. Certainly you must peel this story like and onion, and get ready for the tears. It was confusing, sad, comic, tragic...Just like the life of Miss Lonelyhearts himself. Looking forward to a rollicking discussion! Anne Reading is life...the rest is just details
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (49 of 63), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 10:45 PM I've noticed some comparisons made here with the Book of Job and Babbitt, so I guess I'll describe two which occurred to me: (1) Dostoyevsky: Doesn't this novel read like American Dostoyevsky? Miss L. is reading The Brothers Karamazov and pondering the idea of universal love. Later, Goldsmith says: "How now, Dostoievski?" he said. "That's the way to act. Instead of pulling the Russian by recommending suicide, you ought to get the lady with child and increase the potential circulation of the paper." For me, even these overt hints would be unnecessary to see the connection between Dostoyevsky's brooding philosophers and Miss L: Similar characterizations, similar instances (note the dream sequences which echo the dreams of Roskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, and, most importantly, similar themes. Perhaps West has produced a truly Dostoyevskian novel in our native tongue and culture. And, not too surprisingly, it's chilling, it's bizarre, and it's thought-provoking. (2) The second comparison is with Jay M's Bright Lights, Big City. The similarity between these two works illustrate that Jay M. was certainly influenced by West's Miss L.. There's a similar search for meaning in a chaotic, meaningless world. The protagonist in Bright Lights works with the reference department, checking facts for a magazine. He drinks, he has casual sex, but nothing makes his world or his soul more content or meaningful. To me, Bright Lights is Miss Lonelyhearts-Lite. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (50 of 63), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 11:00 PM Dan'l: I think the comment on Dostoyevsky is right on point, although I do think ML is at one important remove from Raskolnikov: ML's concerns are more universal than R's. In C&P, R's poverty and hunger are as important as driving forces as are his moral views of society. You cannot imagine the C&P story unfolding without R's poverty and need as a driving force. Conversely, ML's needs and driving motivations are purely spiritual (except of course, when he's inspired by the tumescent Egyptian obelisk; but, hey? Who wouldn't be?). I think that's an important and critical distinction between the two works, although there's no question West was looking to D for derivative force. I do think, however, you might well construct an interesting argument that ML is R, post-industrial revolution in the west. I'm not familiar with the second author you cite and need to go bone up. Not, of course, in the Egyptian obelisk-sense. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (51 of 63), Read 44 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 03:36 AM Well, this is the most enjoyable 'pre-discussion' I think I've ever read. Dan- Dostoevsky bears deeply on ML (the 'no God/everything permitted' quote is actually from Karamazov I believe)...a good comparison, although ML is at root a satire and D's great novels are not. Janet- Many of ML's characters are missing something-- physically (noses, height, been mutilated, etc.,)-- and I wonder if West is hinting that, in this world anyway, innocence itself is destined to be mutilated...? The cynical armor of Shrike, his followers, and the intermittent armor of ML himself seems to be palpably protective: a shield against a world that hacks away... Steve- How difficult it is to maintain 'distance'-- as everyone's notes attest. The inarticulate message of ML haunts, comes to mind at inappropriate moments of the day, and generally works its way through your thoughts whether you like it or not... Shrike uses rancid religious parodies at moments as techniques for seduction (most memorably when he ends a sermon by 'burying his face in her neck like the blade of a hatchet.'), and he seems to recognize the power that a religious structure lends words. He offers this advice to the masses: 'they should ask- give us this day our daily stone.' Bread/stone/whatever... it doesn't matter really, the last word is interchangeable. People are seduced by powerful phrases regardless of their content, and Shrike masters that and loves it, and if he is reduced sexually with his wife as West hints, its probably because Shrike expends his energies raping language itself. What Shrike loves, West fears: Shrike is to me the ultimate example of 'sound and fury, signifying nothing' whereas West is searching out content at a deeper level, maybe, than even words can get to...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (52 of 63), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 09:22 AM Is it reaching too much to comment that SHRIKE is a very apt combination of "shriek" and "strike"? The harshness of the consonants, the onomatopoeia of the word itself, the character, all seem indicative of a particularly shrewd and perhaps merciless--yet razor-sharp-- approach to style and theme. Whereas "Betty" is all apple pie (or apple betty) and denial, "Doyle" suggests a pitiful kind of "Dolt" (and foil or toil?) perhaps (he misinterprets and limps through plot in a doltish sort of way.) The allegorical use of names in literature has always fascinated me. Janet
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (53 of 63), Read 34 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 10:58 AM The dismemberment of his characters is a West trademark. For example, Lemuel Pitkin, plucky and plucked hero of A Cool Million loses chunk after chunk of himself in his tragi-comic quest for a piece of the American dream. For Nathanael West, body-parts are coin of the realm on the turnpike of life. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (54 of 63), Read 34 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Jim Heath (ddrapes@teleport.com) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 12:25 PM Just for the sheer joy of causing trouble, I would like to suggest that ML is a fairly unattractive character. He's got a girlfriend who loves him, a reasonable job where he could potentially help people a bit, and his health. What's he do? Spends his time wallowing in other people's misfortune and beating himself up because he's not Jesus Christ. He's a world class procrastinator who because he can't do everything, does nothing. In other words, ML has a lot of everyone's worst characteristics and the challenge is to no go wallowing with him, seductive as that may be.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (55 of 63), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 12:45 PM No question, Jim, he's a major-league failure as a human being, let alone as a saint or (possibly) a martyr. The ending of this has always intrigued me. Was ML really shot at all? Was he killed? Why such an ambiguously lugubrious ending, anyway? My guess is simply that grotesque Westian humor again: ML has his fever-born epiphany, arises from his sick-bed to heal the crippled Doyle, but instead ends up in a comic, gunshot-riddled pratfall with the very person whose withered limb he sought to miraculously mend. The ultimate bad news for man: even when God is strongest in us, our humanity betrays us and our best instincts play out like episodes from the Keystone Kops. There is no salvation, no nobility, no relief from the pain, except possible in liquor, sex and finally, death. Kind of a cheerful young fellow, that Nathanael, wasn't he? The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (56 of 63), Read 42 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 12:45 PM I'm inclined to agree with you, Jim. I found little Christ-like about ML, as he wallowed about in self-pity, striking out at everyone around him. Not that Shrike couldn't use some striking out, but the others were pitiful. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (57 of 63), Read 30 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 03:44 PM Now I didn't see self-pity in here. Nihilism, perhaps; clinical depression, maybe; intense, even obsessive, preoccupation with issues of redemption, certainly. But not self-pity. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (58 of 63), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 03:57 PM i didn't see any self pity either. I think this man was so angry at the misery in the world that he wanted to inflict pain in order to rid himself of pain. I think he, possibly, went through the various stages of grief...grieving for his career, grieving for his helplessness, grieving for his lack of passion. Just the train of thought I am on now...what a complex character..... Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (59 of 63), Read 31 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 09:05 PM Janet, no question that there is significance in Shrike's name, but I think it's even simpler than you suggest. Try this, and tell me what you think: shrike: any of numerous usually largely gray or brownish oscine birds that have a strong notched bill hooked at the tip, feed chiefly on insects and often impale their prey on thorns. Beej, I really do think you're onto something, and I don't say that just to suck up. There is an allusion to this whole idea right here: He read it for the same reason that an animal tears at a wounded foot: to hurt the pain. This idea of inflicting pain on pain sounds a little psychotic, but isn't that exactly what we're dealing with here? Psychosis? Obviously ML is a lousy person during the greater part of the novel, but he is so, I think, because he really does have difficulty dealing with the pain of other's. Further, I believe that he is truly starting to wire himself together with this "stone" thing in the last two chapters. He is finding a way to feel less and act more "normally." And then he is capped. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (60 of 63), Read 33 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000 09:33 PM Oh, and Ernie, I take it you did not find this book any cheerier this time around? It is well to bear in mind your point concerning the depression. The sheer amount of misery in the entire world today may equal that in 1933, the absolute dregs of the depression, but it certainly is not immediately and graphically visible to the average American as it was then. Hell, today there are young Americans who have worked in the business world a long time and who have never even experienced a down market, let alone seen any suffering. We know that the depression affected West profoundly because he wrote this bitter, bitter satire on the Horatio Alger stories called A Cool Million that was published in 1936. I think your observations are perfectly apt. Ernie, I also take it that you don't believe we have yet repealed the law of economic cycles? Does the fact that every Tom, Dick, and Harry from the janitor on up has his negative net worth in the equity markets and can talk of nothing else strike you as familiar? Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (61 of 63), Read 19 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Jim Heath (ddrapes@teleport.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 07:46 AM It's hard to argue that someone is suffering from self pity when they are really feeling sorry for someone else. Still there is something basically self serving about saying, "Everything's awful, so I guess I'll have a few drinks and hit on somebody else's wife."
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (62 of 63), Read 14 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 10:33 AM Steve, I'd noticed the bird analogy earlier in this thread (due to bird folks pointing it out), and I agree wholeheartedly that that's part or most of of the allegory here, especially the part you put in bold--I wasn't aware of that charming characteristic of shrikes. West couldn't have picked a better name for his character on that front. I do see shrieking and striking going on, too, although again, I may be reaching with my last point on this: While she was talking, Shrike burst into the room. He was drunk and immediately set up a great shout, as though he believed that Miss Lonelyhearts was too near death to hear distinctly. . . But Shrike was inescapable. He raised his voice and talked through the blankets into the back of Miss Lonelyhearts's head. . . West does other interesting things with names, too: Betty and ML travel through New Haven and go to Monkstown on their quest for spiritual cleansing through a return to nature. Satire without humor enhances a very intense desolation and, again, darkness of tone here. Jim--I see your point,too. Also, don't the self-pity and the grieving for others sort of overlap in West's theme? Isn't ML's CONNECTION with the rest of humanity a premise here, so that when he experiences the pitiful state of the rest of humanity, his own is emphasized--and he can't deal with either? Is there some transcendentalist influence such as Steinbeck emphasized when addressing the Depression and its effects perhaps at work here? ==> the pain of others comes ultimately to merge with the pain of one's self? Janet
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (63 of 63), Read 5 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 11:09 AM Janet writes, Isn't ML's CONNECTION with the rest of humanity a premise here, so that when he experiences the pitiful state of the rest of humanity, his own is emphasized--and he can't deal with either? Is there some transcendentalist influence such as Steinbeck emphasized when addressing the Depression and its effects perhaps at work here? ==> the pain of others comes ultimately to merge with the pain of one's self? Janet: This struck a chord with me, as there is a somewhat New Age-ish concept that transforms the word "empathy" from a quality into an individual: "empath." As one Web page defines it, An Empath is an aware individual who uses all their senses (intuitively, psychically, emotionally, and spiritually) via holistic, New Age and metaphysical means to explore what other people are feeling and can offer alternatives or choices to assist people with living the most enriched, quality-filled life they can, within their own unique situations. I would say that ML is great at the first part of this equation, but a failure at the second. He can't even fully embrace any "alternatives or choices" for himself, much less the suffering folks around him. I also think this "empath" deal connects with authors, painters, playwrights, what have you, who often lead sad lives at least in part because (a) they are more sensitive than the average person to other people's pain and difficulties, (b) this quality is in most cases an involuntary one (its pain only switched off through drink, drugs, etc.), and (c) the only "alternatives or choices" they can offer are the alternate worlds they create within their work, worlds that are often more frightening or depressing (see West, painter Francis Bacon, Malcolm Lowry's UNDER THE VOLCANO, Graham Greene's THE POWER AND THE GLORY, Cormac McCarthy's SUTTREE and others, etc.) than the "average" person's view of real life. Make any sense? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (64 of 66), Read 4 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 11:40 AM DALE says, "I also think this "empath" deal connects with authors, painters, playwrights, what have you, who often lead sad lives at least in part because (a) they are more sensitive than the average person to other people's pain and difficulties . . ." I would say that "they" are NOT, except in special cases, more sensitive than the average person but, rather, because they spend much time looking closely at the world, they more experience the world's pain whereas the average person lives life behind his defense screens. Pres, who is in deep and out too far.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (65 of 66), Read 4 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 11:52 AM Pres: Good point, and I certainly didn't mean "sensitive" in the sense of kind, caring, thoughtful, etc. In most cases (ML, for one) the exact opposite is true. "Thin-skinned" might be more applicable. A psychiatrist I interviewed once theorized that many artists are simply not equipped, from birth, with any number of the cognitive "filters" that are necessary for leading a normal life. Therefore, they don't voluntarily choose to step out from behind their defense screens and inspect the world--they're missing these screens, or many of them, in the first place. Sort of like being born without eyelids. I don't think, for example, that a normal or emotionally healthy person could possibly have written MISS LONELYHEARTS. Interesting discussion! >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (66 of 66), Read 5 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 11:48 AM We have a lot of different thoughts and inquiries going in a lot of different directions. I would like to confuse things further. I suspect Shrike of being a verbal prankster. Toward the beginning of the chapter titled "Miss Lonelyhearts and the cripple," he appears to be interrupted in the middle of some literary quote: Mankind, mankind. . ." he sighed, wagging his head sadly. "What is mankind that. . ." I think he is just pontificating there and not quoting anything. The instance of this in which I am really interested, however, occurs toward the end of the chapter "Miss Lonelyhearts in the dismal swamp:" But don't take a chance, smoke a 3 B pipe, and remember these immortal lines: "When to the suddenness of melody the echo parting falls the failing day." I don't think that is an immortal line at all. I think it is a nonsense line off the top of Shrike's head. Furthermore, is there any significance to a "3 B pipe" other than some sort of nonsense play on the names Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven? Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (66 of 84), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 12:26 PM I keep mulling around the idea, that ML is jealous of God...I think he sees himself as another Jesus, healer of the sick, comforter of the desperate. I think much of his inner turmoil comes from his shortcomings in this regard. In essence, perhaps he has begun to accept his publicity as a "savior" and is floundering because he can't live up to his own reputation.I wonder if his recurring "Jesus" dreams result because he truly believes he is in a unique kinship with Jesus. Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (68 of 84), Read 55 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 12:30 PM oops....didn't post that after the last entry in here...sorry about that.... as far as empathy goes, I think, possibly < he is too self absorbed to even truly consider helping these folks...I think all his advice is given to somehow fulfill a need within himself. Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (69 of 84), Read 58 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 01:02 PM Steve-- Wow--I just realized that when I was reading the line you quoted,--When to the suddenness of melody. . .--it struck me that there was something very familiar in the meter and the type of wording-- I think I have a clue, now--there's a sonnet that begins, "When to the sadness of misfortune. . .men's eyes . ."--or something like that. It's Wordsworth or Shakespeare, I think, and I can't find a copy of it here at home on my bookshelves. I KNOW I've got it at work, tho. Anyway, someone will recognize it and post it, I hope. My point is, was Shrike parodying the lines from this sonnet? Sneering at them, perhaps? Dale, The idea of being born without eyelids in the metaphoric sense really hit me, and is I think relevant here. Some folks are indeed unable to filter out awareness of that sort, and they ARE usually artists in some form or another. ML may be one of these--we do seem to get a hint of a creative spirit at work here. Some (of his colleagues, for example) may simply call it "too much imagination" as ML assumes the role of "savior" toward the end, but it is a creative endeavor, is it not? Janet, off and running (at the mouth!), and loving it. . .great discussion, guys!!
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (70 of 84), Read 60 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 01:22 PM "A psychiatrist I interviewed once theorized that many artists . . ." theorized, i.e., my guess is as good as yours. Pres
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (71 of 84), Read 61 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 01:36 PM I think I’ve taken an even darker view of this than most of you. It seems to me that ML recoils from all those letters of woe and pleas for help, not because he empathizes with them, but because he is unable to. They cause merely fear and revulsion. There might have been a time when he was able to empathize, but the years of reading and responding to those agonies has burned it out of him. Now all he can feel is revulsion. He doesn’t care about the unfortunates of the world, he only cares that they revolt him. Like many of the people in the book, he’s missing a vital part—a heart. All he can do now is strike back. To hurt the pain. As for the religious stuff—can it be satiric? Perhaps West (thru ML) is saying, “What good is God, if he lets stuff like this happen?” I can see ML deliberately trying to provoke God by nailing that Jesus directly to the wall of his bedroom. But nothing happens. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (72 of 84), Read 57 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 01:39 PM As for the sidebar question about how artists view life. I think that many are drawn to art for many different reasons, not the least of which is the making mudpies syndrome. But if one seriously follows art (and I'm including writing), it forces one to remove those eyelids and experience not only your pain, but the pain of others. If you don't try and see life raw, you're not going to be successful. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (73 of 84), Read 42 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 01:58 PM Pres: Oh, no! The psychiatrist's guess had to be better than mine. He was wearing a freshly-pressed white lab coat. {G} Janet: John Gardner, in his book THE ART OF FICTION, makes a case that writing fiction is a modified psychosis. Like a schizophrenic, fiction writers literally see scenes and hear voices that aren't real but which seem at the moment more real than the "real" world. Only differences are that a writer (a) knows the difference and (b) can turn this function on and off (well, OFF, at least) at will by getting up and switching to some other activity. (If I could turn it ON at will, my output would be about 10 times what it is. {G}) >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (74 of 84), Read 54 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 01:38 PM Ok, minor moment of clarity here: It's, "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes. . ." I THINK. So this probably doesn't relate at all--but could Shrike be parodying some other sonnet-like lines here? They do have that meter. . . Funny the things that come to you when you're getting in your car to go to town. This time, for sure, as Bullwinkle says. Janet, whose car is running along with her mouth. . .
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (75 of 84), Read 36 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 02:47 PM AHA! I KNEW i got that identifying with God business from somewhere! Last chapter.. "When they became one, his identification with God was complete. His heart was the one heart, the heart of God. And his brain was likewise God's"......and..."God had sent him so that Miss Lonelyhearts could perform a miracle......."..."He would embrace the cripple and the cripple would be made whole again, even as he, a spiritual cripple, had been made whole." To me, this says it all... Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (76 of 84), Read 35 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 03:30 PM Beej: Strong paragraph indeed. What it says to me is that when your pursuit of God (or vice versa) becomes this intense and absolute, your options grow very limited. You can be a mystic, a saint, go crazy, or die. Or, I suppose, all of the above. Which do you think ML achieved? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (77 of 84), Read 40 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 03:38 PM Dale, i don't think he achieved a damn thing.I think this is a classic case of knocking your head against a brick wall. I think his aim was not to become closer to God, but to actually become God.. Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (78 of 84), Read 37 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 03:53 PM ML also thought of himself as "the rock", and says neither laughter or tears could affect the rock..it was perfect...To me , he is saying by this that feeling any emotion is a flaw. When Betty tells him she is pregnant, ..."He did not feel.....the rock had been thoroughly tested and had been found perfect." Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (79 of 84), Read 33 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 04:53 PM Beej: Clearly no saint nor mystic, he. I do think ML achieved being (presumably) dead, but do you think he was also crazy by that point? Or does that question become rhetorical within a cast of characters of the caliber West has laid out? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (80 of 84), Read 31 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 04:58 PM Janet: Shakespeare, Sonnet #29 When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries And look upon myself and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd, Desiring this man's art and that man's scope, With what I most enjoy contented least; Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate; For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings. David, glad that he can answer any question about this book!
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (81 of 84), Read 29 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 06:07 PM Dale: I don't really know if he died..Maybe it isn't important to know whether he did or not. Do you think he was insane? or crazy?or depressed? Or were we allowed only to see one side of his personality? I just don't know. West didn't seem to want us to stray too far from this aspect of ML's personality. i don't even see much development of the other characters here. Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (82 of 84), Read 16 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 09:35 PM Wow, great discussion, everyone. I read ML this afternoon while trying to recover from a bout with the flu. My condition made the surrealistic qualities of the story even moreso. I definitely thought of Dosteovsky while reading this...different goals/beliefs in the authors, I think, but the nightmarish, desperate quality is similar. I felt like I was watching competing madnesses developing in both ML and Shrike...and I definitely thought that I was watching ML going mad. I may go back to reread parts of this, but don't know if I could stand to read it all again just now. Thanks for the bio, Dale, and to those of you who knew what a shrike was. I wouldn't have caught that. Barb
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (83 of 84), Read 16 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 10:01 PM Well, Barbara Moors! This is a great discussion of this work, but we have not even scratched the surface of it. I surely hope everybody hangs in there until the bitter, bloody end on this one. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (84 of 84), Read 12 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 11:13 PM This discussion is fantastic and made me remember a thought I had when I read Dostoevski and another when I read ML. The first one was that only D being a Russian can come up with so many disasters and tragedies. I wrote something to this effect in my postings. But West proves me wrong. There is disaster after disaster in ML. Also ML reminded me very much of Franz Kafka. The message being, there is incomprehensible chaos and suffering in the world and things get rather bizarre. Reflecting some more about ML and my own previous comment regarding the depression days I changed my mind. The times and the environment are not of prime importance. I hesitate but have to agree with Dale that poor Mr. West must have had problems which somehow surfaced in his writings. Dale, the Dr's conjecture that the artists does not have the necessary filters to protect him from seeing and perceiving the way the normal person sees (since he is protected) makes a heck of a lot of sense. The artists reveal themselves autobiographically or in their writings. Well, you may ask: How about our friend Cellini. Did he suffer or was he fortunate enough to "Project" his nasty and crooked impulses on his enemies, and boy did he have enemies!!! Have to admit that once I got into ML I was debating with myself whether to quit or be brave and go on to the bitter end. I went on to the bitter end. Well West is able to portray pain to the point where the reader has no way to escape these feelings at least to some degree. So, I am off to read a bit of science. Nothing like it when you want to escape pain. Ernie
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (85 of 99), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 08:38 AM Let's talk about stones. From the '...our daily stone' bit to the crushing the lamb's head with a stone bit to the 'Americans break stones furiously, hysterically, almost as if they know the stones will some day break them' line to the rock forming in his gut line to the infamous perfect rock of calm at the end I think we have a symbolic theme. If hysteria is risky, that rocky calm is even riskier... as ML's death attests. ML is really crushed by his own inner rock, and only inadvertently killed by Doyle's pistol (wrapped in a newspaper, of course)... which is the deadlier element here? The letters in the newspaper, the gun, Betty making Doyle panic, or ML's dangerous obliviousness to Doyle's intentions and the whole situation? Why part of the way down the stairs? If ML can no longer feel humility and thinks he's Christ/Satan, is that half-fall West's compassionate assertion that he's neither, that he can't fall or rise all the way as Satan and Jesus had...?
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (86 of 99), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 08:46 AM george! much room for thought in that one! yes indeedy! and shall we take it one step further and remember ..."Upon this rock i shall build my church?" Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (87 of 99), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 08:53 AM Here's a question I've been pondering, with no clear result: though not a saint nor mystic, does ML qualify as a martyr? And/or, do you think he considers himself one? And doesn't the term martyr, unlike a soldier for a cause, imply a sort of passivity or compliance in the face of one's own fate? If it is a sort of martyrdom, admittedly he doesn't achieve much. But isn't that a part of the point of martyrdom, that it's death solely for a principle? This book won't get its stone-like {G} teeth out of my behind. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (88 of 99), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Sara Brennan (se_brennan@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 09:45 AM I finished this book this weekend, but after having read all your cogent comments, I feel like the the kid in the last row who is hoping the teacher doesn't call on her. Guess I'll have to re-read it in order to keep up with the rest of the class. At this point I will say, though, that NW's telling of Miss L's dreams is really, really good. Usually dreams sound fake when they're written about, but in this book I got sucked right into them. And between the dreamy delirium of ML and the madness of The Yellow Wallpaper, I've felt kind of disoriented myself lately. And Dale, I'm glad you brought up Graham Greene's THE POWER AND THE GLORY. It's been a while since I read that one, but it left me with the same impressions of defeat and despair. Sara
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (89 of 99), Read 41 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 09:49 AM I sure didn't think he was a martyr, Dale. I thought he was a despicable character, who only wanted to harm people. To me, he suffered, not because others were in pain, but because they were a pain in the ass to him. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (90 of 99), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 11:12 AM Dale, Do you think martyr and victim are synonymous? Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (91 of 99), Read 19 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 03:06 PM Beej: Even the dictionary waffles over "martyr," doesn't it? The primary meaning is: 1. One who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles. But these others follow: 2.One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle. 3.a. One who endures great suffering: a martyr to arthritis. b. One who makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy. verb, transitive martyred, martyring, martyrs 1.To make a martyr of, especially to put to death for devotion to religious beliefs. 2.To inflict great pain on; torment. [Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin, from Late Greek martur, from Greek martus, martur-, witness.] Interesting, I think, that the root word is "witness." I never realized that. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (92 of 99), Read 20 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 03:17 PM So a martyr chooses to be a martyr? And a victim does not? So...was ML a martyr or a victim? or neither? Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (93 of 99), Read 23 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 04:11 PM Dale, it sounds like it comes from early Christian usage, when believers suffered martyrdom for being "witnesses" of Christ. I can't see ML as a martyr; he was trying to escape rather than accepting the consequences of his actions. But not a victim either; to my mind, that has the connotation of unmerited suffering brought on by actions beyond one's control. David
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (94 of 99), Read 27 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 04:15 PM David: Being neither victim nor martyr, I suppose ML's condition would more accurately be described by the psychiatric term (here in the South, at least) of "messed up." Hope Ernie can correct me on this if I'm wrong. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (95 of 99), Read 28 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 04:17 PM And speaking of "messed up," I'm reminded of the comedian I once heard who recreated a Christian fundamentalist testimony service: "I used to be all messed up on drugs and liquor, but that was before I found the Lord. Now, I'm all messed up on the Lord." >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (96 of 99), Read 29 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 04:45 PM I think you'd be better off thinking of ML as a klutz rather than a martyr. I mean the guy runs joyously to make the lame walk, and ends up gunned down by accident and falling down the stairs (half way, only of course). Try as I might, I cannot imagine a painting glorifying the 'Martydom of Saint Lonely Heart". The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (97 of 99), Read 5 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 07:33 PM To support George, I recall a phrase early on in this novel stating that a "stone in the gut" was all ML had left. I liken this "stone" business to a similar symbolic treatment in Yeats' Easter, 1916: Hearts with one purpose alone Through summer and winter seem enchanted to a stone To trouble the living stream. The horse that comes from the road, The rider, the birds that range From cloud to tumbling cloud, Minute by minute they change; A shadow of cloud on the stream Changes minute by minute; A horse-hoof slides on the brim, And a horse plashes within it; The long-legged moor-hens dive, And hens to moor-hens call; Minute by minute they live: The stone's in the midst of all. Modern society is one of the first civilizations that tries to subsist without a common foundation, some bedrock that everyone possesses or believes is at the root of their existence and purpose. In other words, there's no "stone" in the midst of everything, no solid bedrock of meaning and security in the chaos and flux of time. In modern society, everyone is a free agent and there does not seem a "stone in the midst of all," instead we have differing problems. ML has a "stone" within him, a supposed way to provide the "Desparates" and the "Sufferings" with a solid foundation upon which to lay their troubles. There's nothing but flux within this novel. ML is searching for the bedrock of existence in religion, having given up on art, bucolic bliss, drugs, and whatever else Shrike pontificates on in a scene very much like a scene between Raskolnikov and visiting "friends." Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (98 of 99), Read 12 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 07:00 PM "MARTYR" - Constant Reader without access to WebBoard. Pres
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (99 of 99), Read 5 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 08:33 PM And, of course, we have "stones" as in the grit in the gizzard that grinds exceedingly fine, not to mention the "stones" that are sometimes called cojones, and even the merely stoney heart. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (100 of 102), Read 23 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 03:49 AM I must say, my reaction to Miss Lonelyhearts is much more sympathetic than the sentiments of nearly everyone else as expressed here. However, I will rethink my position. If thereafter I cannot move off it, I will attempt to defend it. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (101 of 102), Read 14 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 08:49 AM "Although his clothes had too much style, he still looked like the son of a Baptist minister. A beard would become him, would accent his Old Testament look.But even without a beard no one could fail to recognize the New England puritan. His forehead was high and narrow. His nose was long and fleshless. His bony chin was shaped and cleft like a hoof. This description of Miss Lonelyhearts struck me as sounding more like the Devil than Christ. Which leads to a whole line of speculation, wondering if even the Devil can get sick and tired of the depravities and sorrow of mankind. David
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (102 of 102), Read 12 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 10:00 AM Steve, you and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum on this one. I'm feeling that everyone here (except possibly Jim) has ready ML much more sympathetically than I have. I can't find an ounce of martyr/victim in him. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (104 of 105), Read 21 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 01:02 PM Steve-- I'm entrenching a similar position; if I get overrun I bequeath you my ammo, my copy of ML (with pages), and a nearly-full bottle of Bailey's... Shrike's rhetoric has eaten away ML's 'ethics' like acid... I'm not sure we ever get to see the real ML, given that he's been destroyed already. Shrike has a much better mind, and so dominates ML that when ML tries to 'convert' the Doyles, Shrike's voice comes out of ML's mouth. ML is constantly comparing himself to inanimate objects (bottles, glasses, stones, bombs, etc.,) and I agree with both camps here: ML is an evil and secretly arrogant loser/ML is a compassionate but lost soul. There's a line from King Lear that goes: '...he has ever but slenderly known himself." ML slenderly knows himself, and the only way he knows to explore himself (words) is not to be trusted. He does perpetrate evil, but incidentally and with bewilderment. His self-identifications are very vivid but no help to him. Why does a man with a 'great, understanding heart' only compare himself to objects? More importantly (forgive the length of this note...), why does west make ML such a BAD writer of columns? Shrike's one brief 'Art is a way out' foray is written better than everything Ml writes put together. And why is Shrike so concerned with attacking ART? ML shows no real artistic impulse, his interests lie in Christ and religion. I believe that Shrike is his own Shrike... art was his escape like religion would be ML's, but Shrike's own mind has butchered him and hung up the still-speaking corpse to suffer and to destroy others. Shrike tells Doyle: '...you can know nothing of humanity, you ARE humanity.' Shrike knows a great deal about humanity, so what does that make him...?
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (105 of 105), Read 10 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 02:18 PM I suppose Shrike's 'misery-fighting dream' was art as opposed to ML's religion. Somehow they both mediated their dreams through the newspaper. Something there, I think, but I'm not sure what. On an utterly unrelated point, I did like, and found significant, the symmetry between the skull-crushing episodes: the dream involving the almost-heroic sacrifice of the lamb and the rather pathetic real incident, involving an unfortunate frog. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (106 of 107), Read 33 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 04:17 PM "Miss Lonelyhearts found himself developing an almost insane sensitiveness to order. Everything had to form a pattern..." I wonder if, perhaps, this entire book is a study of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. perhaps ML is a victim after all. What a pathetic joke it would be, for someone with OCD, to have to deal daily with the chaos and disorder of others. Beej
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (107 of 107), Read 29 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 05:57 PM I just finished this one last night. West makes Kafka look cheerful. Ruth, I will definitely agree with you about ML. He repulsed me too, and I think part of the problem is that West never lets us see him before he has degenerated into an almost psychotic case. Wasn't there a time when Christ meant something to him? Didn't he make a sincere effort to help his readers at first? Something is missing in this story. Or was I the only one who felt that? Except for Betty, almost everyone in this book has a cruel streak. I would have found the story more disturbing if the author had allowed me to sympathize with any of the characters or at least understand them better. I think ML's boss represents the devil. Who else could be that heartless? Ann
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (108 of 111), Read 16 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Thursday, June 01, 2000 06:50 PM David: I like your analogy--ML as unwitting Devil. Very interesting. Quite frankly, I get the distinct feeling we are getting nowhere with this novel. Everybody (including moi) is advancing ideas but nothing is really connecting. The work is as much of an enigma here at Post 108 as it was at Post 1. Maybe we should have done Day of the Locusts instead. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (109 of 111), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, June 01, 2000 09:07 PM I agree. Let's give up on it, and do Day of the Locust. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (110 of 111), Read 16 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 01, 2000 09:53 PM Now, wait a minute! Some of us still want to gnaw around on this literary bone for a while. I haven't had much time to write , but have been thinking about it and rereading parts of it since Saturday. My initial reactions have been similar to Ann's. I wanted to know who this guy was before we come into the story. Immediately, we find someone who is in this utter panic and it's hard to figure out where this all came from. As I read back through the religious references, it occurred to me that the central theme of this story may be simply a crisis of faith. What do you do when you're a Baptist minister's son, have built all you believe on that bedrock (here we go with stones again...) and it begins to erode? After reading Mrs. Doyle's letter, "If he could only believe in Christ, then adultery would be a sin, then everything would be simple and the letters would be easy to answer again." What happens when everything's not simple anymore? ML seems to try a bit of everything in response, but in this panic of changing attitudes like clothing. Barb
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (111 of 111), Read 19 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 01, 2000 09:33 PM Dan raises an interesting point, though it's one I disagree with entirely, so let me take a crack at it: It's intruiging that Paradise Lost looms so large on the CC horizon. In that work, as in ML, the 'satanic' figure has the better mind, better thoughts, and the better words. In PL, as in ML, the reader is taken on an up close and personal tour of the tragic waste of inner gifts, painful to read and painful to contemplate. I suspect, though, that we'll be a little more comfortable with PL, because there are things to research, references to track, and religious dogmas that run like scaffolding around the entire poem. With ML we're not so lucky. A few sketchy bio's, some shadowy historical influences, and some punned names that let us guess at the parodical Christianity of it... these are the scraps we've been thrown. Novels, however, are not radar blips to be identified and dispensed with. The art of ML is not perhaps primarily one of 'meanings', the art of ML may be in its effect on the reader (and West?) and the magnificent verbal pyrotechnics it fires off. At one point in his play, Hamlet is enraged by the assumption that one can easily 'pluck the heart of (his) mystery.' ML IS enigmatic, deeply so, and I can only speak for myself in saying I'm glad the heart of West's mysterious book is so difficult to find, let alone pluck out. ML himself is dangerous and endangered, but despite Shrike's assaults, the mind-corroding letters, Betty's misunderstood love, and all the things that hem ML in, it's what has lain dormant in ML all along that actually kills him. I find it grimly hopeful, at the very least, that West can say along with Milton: 'The mind is its own place, and can make a Heaven of Hell, or a Hell of Heaven.'
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (112 of 117), Read 31 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 01:15 AM To say that Miss Lonely Hearts is not a character novel(ette) is to put it mildly, and frankly, I'm amazed at the energy that is being invested trying to make it into one. My recommendation on this one: think about it less, feel it more. For example, West doesn't have characters. He has slogans with lines. He has polemics with suspenders. He even has revolutionary rhetoric with argyll socks. But characters? He ain't got none. And of all the characters that he ain't got, he ain't got Miss Lonely Hearts the most. The real character here is West himself: the passionate, talented young Jewish writer, throwing out these absurd, outlandish fairy tales, in an age of towering dictators, violent political passions, and heart-breaking economic and human suffering. To me, West's writing falls squarely between the Lost Generation of the '20's and the Beats of the '50's, and of the two bookends, he lies closer to the Beats, by far. His grotesque, absurdist work seems to me to be a clear precursor of the hipper, looser, but just as edgy prose of Kerouac, Burroughs as Ruth pointed out, and ultimately such master black comics as Heller and Vonnegut. In the end, I come to the conclusion that this is less a book, much less a novel, than it is a tract or pamphlet, albeit one from West's heart, written with incredible pitch and intensity, and that seeks to confront the limits of the human condition with thinly veiled comic hysteria. Like a bird battering itself against the bars of its cage, the book and its driving ethos, in the end, collapses back on itself in confused and apparent failure. But the thing itself is beautiful and the attempt magnificent. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (113 of 117), Read 23 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 07:30 AM Dick: Beautiful post, if I may say. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (114 of 117), Read 24 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 08:39 AM Jesus, I'm proud to know you, Dick! Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (115 of 117), Read 23 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 10:18 AM George, This was a good book to nominate for discussion. Although I am attracted to books with a more linear construction, the more ambiguous ones are certainly much more thought provoking and fun to discuss. That said, I did not find this book entirely satisfactory. Dick, in his excellent post, advised: My recommendation on this one: think about it less,feel it more. My point is that the lack of character development made it difficult for me to understand, much less feel the rage and despair ML was projecting. I also think that Barb is right that this novella revolved around a crisis in faith. Why else were there so many references to Christ? But to undergo a crisis of faith, ML had to have faith to begin with. West wants us to accept that as a given, without explaining the nature of his original beliefs or attachment to religion. That makes his anger and desperation much harder to believe. Do you think West's failure to develop ML's relationship with Christianity stems from the fact that he was not a Christian himself? I think maybe the reaction to this book depends on the degree to which it taps into ideas and feelings the reader himself has experienced on some level. Comparisons between Miss Lonelyheart and Raskolnikov have been made in the discussion. You could make a good case that both characters are crazy. However, there is something about Raskolnikov's endless ramblings that are much easier for me to identify with than ML's rants. Others probably feel the same about ML. (Which is not to imply that any of us is crazy -- honest) By all means I hope we do discuss The Day of the Locusts. I own this book and I hate to let half of it go to waste. Ann
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (116 of 117), Read 27 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 10:26 AM Brilliant analysis, Dick. But am I crazy? I don't see this as a crisis of faith at all. I saw it as satyric. Look at the mess the world is in. Look at the wounded people. Look at the other wounded people wounding the wounded people. Look at religion not offering any refuge or help, and even Christ is wounded for no reason. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (117 of 117), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 11:59 AM Dick and George: Fascinating posts, of course. But the enigmatic Miss Lonelyhearts is at the heart of this novel and as readers we must attempt to understand the force and ideas driving ML towards a steep cliff of despair. I'll offer this suggestion: Jack Maggs owed its true meaning to a careful reading of Great Expectations. The Hours owed its meaning to Mrs. Dalloway. Well, people: Let's 'fess up--Miss Lonelyhearts owes its meaning to Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. I say this because the themes of both works are very similar and also because that's the literary work ML is tackling in the course of this novel. I know this reason was not accepted with open arms, but I'll say it again: The key for this work is Dostoyevsky. It is a response, an elaboration, a variation on Dostoyevsky's thoughts. I don't think the Dostoyevsky references are mere filler or fodder--they point. The dream sequences are Dostoyevskian, the characters are similar to the rhetorically booted characters that march through Dostoyevsky's world. Here is Dostoyevsky presaging our perplexity at West's creation: "Let me tell you novice, that the absurd is only too necessary on earth. The world stands on absurdities, and perhaps nothing would have come to pass in it without them. We know what we know!" "What do you know?" "I understand nothing," Ivan went on. "I don't want to understand anything now. I want to stick to the fact. I made up my mind long ago not to understand. If I try to understand anything, I shall be false to the fact and I have determined to stick to the fact." Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (118 of 138), Read 52 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 03:51 PM Dick, Ann, Dan, et al, Great posts! This is where my love of this book will make it difficult for me though. I can't see this book as the story of a crisis of faith. Let's take a prototypical story of that kind, the life of St. Augustine. Young man has doubts, lives dissolutely, comes to know and speak to God, and goes on to lead others to salvation. Let's take ML: young man has no doubts about Christ, but plenty of doubts about humanity. He lives dissolutely, comes to speak to God, and goes on to destroy himself and possibly the first person his new mission tells him to save. So if it's not a crisis of faith, what IS it? A crisis of self and society. Why is ML enraged? Maybe we've become too de-sensitized to see it, but let's set it in modern terms. You get a job on The Springer Show, looking at it as a trashy joke you must endure to move up the entertainment ladder... but the joke is on you, because the people you laugh at on t.v. are real, and in a great deal of pain, with no possible escape from their own lives. Day in, day out, you must witness one-on-one the death-throes of their relationships and their inner selves. They look to you for help, for confirmation that things can turn around, and you mouth pep-talks at them knowing all the while they are doomed. Even worse, you notice that the network execs, the wealthy producers, the mobbing fans, and the star himself 1). don't care, 2). are feeding off their pain 3). are afflicted with the exact same malaise as the poor suckers who come on the show... and don't even realize it. Do you not begin to be enraged? Now you have a choice: walk away or try to help. But what if you find you have the impulse to help but aren't sure how? You start to develop alternatives... but in steps a reverse-mentor, someone too brilliant to ignore, someone with whom you feel secret affinities, someone whose words dazzlingly dehumanize everyone and make you take an unblinking look at the darkest corners of yourself. Not to worry, though, if your dark corners are empty of demons...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (119 of 138), Read 54 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 04:28 PM George: My dark corners are by no means free of demons, and your great analogy and post has just sent a chill through every last one of the little devils. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (120 of 138), Read 55 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 05:36 PM Thank you all for the kind comments; I was all liquored up last night when I wrote it, so it was a little more passionate than usual. If only my wife praised my performance under the same conditions. Anyway, I agree very much with George's comment regarding the book not dealing with a crisis of faith, so much as an antic lashing out at political and moral injustice. If anything, West mocks faith in this book rather than questions it. It is interesting, though, to consider what makes this book appeal to some of us and not much or not at all to others. I suspect one of the things that is off-putting to many readers is the almost sophomoric humor and excess that West brings to the story. For most people, I think, a little of that sort of thing goes a long way. Unfortunately for me, I'm pretty much a permanent sophomore, so it appeals mightily. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (121 of 138), Read 53 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 06:19 PM I have been following the subject, George, particularly your great contributions. I have refrained from laying out the reasons why I have such a strong reaction to this novel because they are so intensely personal. However, your last note has pushed me over the brink, and I will explain for what it’s worth. I make my living by inhabiting a Jerry Springer Show. While I have represented insurance companies, banks, and other institutions, for the most part I have spent years representing people “off the streets.” Occasionally--rarely--one comes in with a nice neat law school problem. As a rule, however, they come in with a bewildering array of problems only some of which are legal. Moreover, this bewildering array of problems is often the result of the person’s own diligent efforts devoted to accumulating them over many years. Some of their situations are blackly comical. Still, they want to know what to do. They want the problems solved now. A few of them, I can solve. A few of them, I can abate a bit. The rest of them are so intractable there is no solution. If one were to do this day in and day out with no break for a significant period of time, one would have no problem understanding Miss Lonelyhearts. When I get to the saturation point, I have to work very hard to control my frustration, outrage, and anger with the very people who have come to me for help. Some of them disgust me. Some are clearly mentally whacked. It affects my own state of mind. I get depressed. It is very difficult to “leave those things at the office,” as the easy advice goes. It can drive you up the wall. And certainly, if one's grasp on religion was tenuous at the outset, this all will probably cook it, if you will pardon the mixed metaphor. Maybe I am not perfectly mentally stable myself, but I can assure you that I am not alone in this within my profession. It's my theory that this is why there are so many drunk lawyers. As I said, for what it’s worth. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (122 of 138), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Jean Keating (jbkeating@home.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 07:01 PM Steve, My son is a public defender and he has expressed many of the same opinions you just stated. Are you, by chance, a public defender? Jean K.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (123 of 138), Read 55 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 07:04 PM No, Jean, but I drink beer with the public defenders here. They are of a mind with your son, and they are at the saturation point all the time. Frankly, I don't know how they do it. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (124 of 138), Read 52 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 08:06 PM George--brilliant analogy to Jerry Springer. Viewed in that light, ML makes a lot more sense. Dan, I like your comparison to Dostoevsky and the Brothers K. However, Dostoevsky always leaves us some hope, even if his doubts ring more true to me than his hunger for faith. ML, on the other hand, is one long scream of pain. Steve, my 4 years as a case worker for the welfare department (in a more distant life time, thank God) left me with some understanding of your predicament. Ann
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (125 of 138), Read 50 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Susan Pardue (ezrabird@aol.com) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 08:28 PM Dan, I'm with you all the way. Miss Lonelyhearts has its genesis in The Brothers Karamazov, and is written in response to it. West has reworked the story, allowing Ivan to retain his sanity and emerge the victor over the religious and good Alyosha (No "hurrah for Karamazov!" exclaimed at the end of this version). West is certainly not the first to have thought Ivan's rebellion against God, his refusal to accept the world as God made it, made a more compelling argument than Zosima and Alyosha's message of active love--I've heard that Dostoevsky himself worried he wasn't successful in refuting Ivan's case. What has West done in the novel but show the flipside to Zosima's 25-minute walk and talk among the downtrodden, dispensing advice and solace with a hundred percent accuracy rate. Zosima is regarded as a saint in life, but once he's dead popular opinion changes as he begins to immediately stink. West doesn't wait until after death to bring on the odor--Miss Lonelyheart's Zosima-inspired advice and efforts to help the Doyles stinks right off the bat. Dostoevsky collected newspaper accounts of cruelties inflicted upon children and gave them to Ivan to use in his rebellion against a world that permits such to take place. Such accounts are sent to Miss Lonelyhearts, who tries to become Christ rather than question why such cruelties occur. Like Alyosha, he wants to take on the suffering of the world, but West knows that's absurd. In such a world you cannot be a Miss Lonelyhearts and keep your sanity--Shrikes are the only ones that will make it through intact. Susan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (126 of 138), Read 50 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 10:51 PM Has any of you had the impulse to ask the contemporary Miss Lonelyhearts what they think about West's book. There is Abby and her sister plus many others. I am tempted to do that. The more I think about this book, the more I agree with all those who suspected a crisis and break down in rationality in ML and probably in Mr. West as well. What do you people think of those who give advise? The one's I read in the daily paper are pretty good. As for us practicing or retired psychologist it's "No Way" Most of the various school tell you not to give advise. Freud was opposed to giving advise, but in reality constantly did so. Rogers told his students to "Rephrase" what the patient has been saying. But last but least has any of you listened to the most prominent advise giver? It's Dr. Laura who often gives advise before the client has finished his or her story. Would Dr. Laura make a fine ML? I am ending with this profound question, Ernie
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (127 of 138), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 12:13 AM When I was a 19 year old college student I worked on weekends at WFME, Newark, NJ on the graveyard shift: Midnight to 8AM. It was all pre-recorded tapes of soothing gospel music. Besides keeping the tapes rolling I announced the news three times a night and hosted Prayertime on Saturday mornings: let us pray for so and so who has cancer and needs an apartment, while hymns played in the background sort of thing. People would call me up, too, with terrible problems asking for spiritual advise. Dottie was my regular caller and she even came to visit me once (I'm not talking about our Dottie.) She was handicapped with one usable arm. Her boss had an arm amputated in the war and his wife was a thalidamide victim born without arms. They travelled together to Florida and between the three of them they had two arms. The whole thing was a bit much. I can understand the black humor in it and the need for mental stability while dealing with it. There are some undercurrents that can drag you out to sea. I have two friends who are emergency room physicians, one of whom is particularly affected by the horrendous situations that occur on a nightly basis. He is unable to keep it from getting to him. Most likely he will be changing professions within the next several years which has been his longstanding plan. Poor Miss Lonelyhearts wasn't up to the job. He could neither be the thick skinned opportunist that Shrike was nor the wise and sensitive columnist that he was purporting to be. Dr. Laura seems to be more like Shrike than Miss Lonelyhearts. She is in control of her airtime. She scoops out just enough material from each advisee to engage the listener. She tirelessly worships at the alter of ratings. She is the highest paid shrinkoid in the history of the world. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (128 of 138), Read 34 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 08:06 AM Well, all of you have written brilliant posts. I wrote this little bit before the last 20 posts, so it's way behind. I got the book late, (I have a copy somewhere, I know it, but had to resort to getting it from the library). ____ Miss Lonelyhearts’ madness seems very much like Roskolnikov’s, as noted previously. In R’s case, the madness was caused by guilt of the murder he committed and an overactive navel-searching gene. My question is, what is causing ML’s guilt? Assuming that’s what it is, of course. Well, one cause could be that he just can’t solve all those problems. But it seems more than that to me. I think he has a huge child-like ego, and in the manner of a child thinking he caused his parents’ divorce, ML somehow feels responsible for all the problems in the letters. Hey, they weren’t there before! Another thought. There’s this in the Miss Lonelyhearts and the Lamb section: "For him, Christ was the most natural of excitements. Fixing his eyes on the image that hung on the wall, he began to chant: ‘Christ, Christ, Jesus Christ. Christ, Christ, Jesus Christ.’ But the moment the snake started to uncoil in his brain, he became frightened and closed his eyes." Now what is the snake? Temptation? Temptation to what? Become overcome with religious fervor? Become Jesus? What a bunch of mixed up religious metaphors. It seems ML has got temptation to do something he’s scared to do and swooning over Christ all mixed up. No wonder he’s a basket case. He’s really afraid to take the plunge and become immersed in those seductive feelings of Christlike goodness. Sherry
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (129 of 138), Read 41 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 08:24 AM Ann and Robert, I overstated the case in saying that kind of work makes Miss Lonelyhearts easy to understand. Rather, I should have said that doing such work gives one a head start on understanding the book. Regardless of my joining with Dan in his earlier interjection of frustration, this discussion is moving me even closer. Now, all I have to do is get this Jesus Christ thing down and reread The Brothers Karamazov. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (130 of 138), Read 42 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 09:10 AM I just want to thank everyone- I'm wondering to myself how rare it is to participate in an exchange that is simultaneously honest, receptive, and challenging... not an everyday phenomenon. Steve- A special thanks to you... from the beginning of this thread you've understood the threat implicit in really reading this book, and your latest posts have helped me understand a little more why my own approach to ML whiplashes back and forth so unpredictably. The contrast between your 'stay with it...to the bitter end' stance and the way you exponentially heightened Dan's hint that this discussion should move on to The Day of the Locust mirrors exactly my ambivalence about ML. Valery said that people can read well only from personal motivation, whether it be out of love or hatred of the author, or to mentally prove that author right or wrong. What happens when a reader can't tell at any given moment whether he or she thinks the book at hand is brutally accurate or dead wrong...or both? Too often, that is the situation I find myself in when confronting ML. It does help, however, to know I'm not the only one who takes such things personally.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (131 of 138), Read 43 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 09:19 AM Robt & All: Speaking of the helping professions... About three years ago, after a devastating surprise divorce, when I was in the depths of despondency and clinical depression and Prozac had no more effect than after-dinner mints, I took the advice of a psychologist friend (not Ernie {G})and sought out a local Divorce Recovery Support Group. The first session immediately proved to me that “misery loves company” is a myth. To echo Steve’s remarks about clients, divorce was merely the tip of the iceberg of these people’s problems and pain. The thing was organized on somewhat an AA model, with cheery group leaders sharing war stories, listening sympathetically, and bucking us up, and by the end of the session there was so much unalleviated misery in that room that I literally felt I was drowning in it. The final event of the night (this group met in the rec center of a Catholic church, and for some bizarre reason we sat in the middle of a basketball court, which as you can imagine made for very soothing lighting and acoustics) was for us all to stand and join hands in a “prayer circle.” In a daze I felt for the persons’ hands on either side of me, connected with one, and with the other grasped a cold iron hook. For the past 25 years my best clients have been medical rehab facilities, so I feel totally comfortable around people with the most severe physical disabilities, but that night in my weakened state I felt like a character of Kafka’s. I hid my surprise (I think), gently readjusted my grip to the man’s forearm instead, and prayed. Dear God, get me out of here. The prayer done, I exchanged hugs and goodbyes with the group, and once I cleared the door I ran as if for my life and never looked back. The next morning I logged onto CR after a several-month absence, and things have been looking up ever since. >>Dale in Ala., more thankful for all you guys than you know
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (132 of 138), Read 28 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 10:08 AM Ernie, I don't think it is going to be of much help to ask these things of the Dear Abby's of the world. Anybody who could do that day in and day out for years and retain her sanity is really sick! Anyway, whenever she is confronted with an intractable problem, she never fails to cop out with, "You need to seek professional counseling!" So that brings us to Dr. Laura. In the chapter called "Miss Lonelyhearts in the Dismal Swamp," there is this great paragraph wherein ML describes for Betty eloquently and in a nutshell what has happened to him. (Oh, hell! I will just transcribe it here.) Perhaps I can make you understand. Let's start from the beginning. A man is hired to give advice to the readers of a newspaper. The job is a circulation stunt and the whole staff considers it a joke. He welcomes the job, for it might lead to a gossip column, and anyway he's tired of being a leg man. He too considers the job a joke, but after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him. He sees that the majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual advice, that they are inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering. He also discovers that his correspondents take him seriously. For the first time in his life, he is forced to examine the values by which he lives. This examination shows him that he is the victim of the joke and not its perpetrator. I strongly suspect that Dr. Laura took her broadcasting job because she, too, was tired of being a leg man. However, I also strongly suspect that she has yet to examine the values by which she lives. She still thinks she is the perpetrator of the joke. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (133 of 138), Read 30 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 10:35 AM Ernie, Interesting observations about ML and current advice givers. The letters to Ann Landers and her sister Abby are pretty tame in comparison to those in this story, aren't they? Actually, it is hard for me to imagine a real newspaper publishing such painful letters. Readers like advice columns because they make them feel better off than the poor sucker writing the letter and because the problems are so easily resolved with a snappy answer or even a put down. The last thing they want is to be left with a persistent impression of undeserved pain and hopelessness. Dale, you've been in the newspaper business. What do you think? Robt and Dale, your stories remind me how difficult it is for most of us to deal with physical deformities and others' suffering. (Hearing about somebody else's pain never did a bit to alleviate mine either, Dale, although I do remember feeling relieved a time or two that at least I was not that crazy). In ML, helplessness sometimes enrages the main character. Writing of his relationship with Betty, West says: "She was like a kitten whose soft helplessness makes one ache to hurt it". Later, ML remembers how he had accidentally stepped on a frog. "Its spilled guts had filled him with pity, but when its suffering had become real to his senses, his pity had turned to rage and he had beaten it frantically until it was dead." This is followed almost immediately by a description of how he almost twists an old man's arm off. What is this connection between pity and cruelty? Also, I am curious to know how many of you found humor in this story. Dick mentioned a couple of times that he thought it was funny. I don't do well with so-called black humor, so I am not a good judge. The one sentence that did make me laugh was Shrike describing his wife: "She was a virgin when I married her and has been fighting ever since to remain one." Ann
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (134 of 138), Read 28 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 10:39 AM Dale, I knew there was a reason I decided to stop going to that support group for Alzheimer's caregivers. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (135 of 138), Read 27 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 11:34 AM Susan and Dan, lest my note above give the impression that I am making merry with your posts about Dostoevski's book, I wish to say that I thought your observations brilliant. Susan, although it demanded a little effort from the reader, your analysis of the Father Zossima segment in relation to this book was very neat indeed. Do you recall the long section in that book wherein Christ is brought in front of The Grand Inquisitor? I am very close to having built up the energy to reread that section of The Brothers Karamazov, thanks (or no thanks) to you both. If indeed ML is a response to that book, then I think Shrike may be Miss Lonelyhearts' Grand Inquisitor. I am a little rusty on Dostoevski's book, but if my recollection serves me correctly, I think The Grand Inquisitor was saying some of the same things Shrike is saying here. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (136 of 138), Read 22 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 12:01 PM Ann, I would like to take a crack at your question about the connection between pity and cruelty in the context of this book. If one simply encounters a person with severe problems of any sort--physical deformity, mental anguish, chronic victimization, etc., one probably feels simple pity. One is still pretty safe from them. However, when you are placed in a context where these people are turning to you, confiding in you, and placing their hopes in you to tell them what to do--to solve their problems--then you yourself are in danger for the simple reason that in the instant you undertake to make the attempt, their problems in a very real sense become yours. Then when you become overloaded (or reach the saturation point, as I am fond of saying), you start to resent or even hate these people for having burdened you with all this--for having done this to you. Obviously, ML had completely lost it for this very reason. This is the explanation for conduct such as beating hell out of Mrs. Doyle. Now as I understand it, Christ took all of our sins upon himself and accepted all of our problems as his own. He accomplished this with no resentment and resulting cruelty but rather with perfect love, although he did whine about it just a little bit on the cross. However, as I also understand it, he was divine. Any human being who takes even a small fraction of human suffering as his own is in for trouble. Again, I think this book proposes an answer for human beings, and that is "the rock" that ML incorporates inside himself toward the end. One must have an unfeeling place within one's self that these people can't get to. Nobody else agrees with me on this, but I do still strongly feel that ML was getting it together toward the end of the book with his "rock" device. The irony is that he is nonetheless killed as a consequence of his earlier breakdown. By the way, I too find the book hilarious, but I have not yet gotten up enough spine to say why publicly. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (137 of 138), Read 11 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 12:55 PM Percy Bysshe Shelley asked this question in his great poem 'The Triumph of Life': 'Why did God make good and the means of good irreconcilable?' Much as I'd like to believe the 'rock' is a symbol of ML's inner recovery-in-progress, it can't possibly be. All the references to rock/stone in ML are menacing without exception. ML himself, for all his faults, IS a perceptive man, intuiting much more of what occurs around him than anyone else in the book besides Shrike. That perceptiveness of ML's holds strong until the rock materializes. Then he lets a letter from Doyle drop from his hand unread. ML's entire (and dubious) glory consists of being the one to READ those letters and feel their pain. Much, much worse is ML's thought that God has sent Doyle to him at the end to receive a miracle that 'proves (ML's) conversion.' Sadly, ML's 'miracle' will not be just for Doyle... it is now mostly about ML himself. The rock, the fever, the obviously false voice of God, these are all of a piece, and they are all signs of ML's degeneration. I read West's message like this: one cannot withdraw from selective segments of life. One must stay open to the cries for help AND to the words of Shrike and what he represents. There is no way to withdraw to a safe island within to avoid Shrike's rhetoric and only come out when the Doyle's and the Betty's drop by. If there's one thing I know for sure about West it is this: to him nothing is perfect. The fact that the rock is portrayed as perfect is surely an indictment of it. West himself worked at a hotel- his friends say that he used much energy and cunning to allow people who had nowhere else to go to covertly get rooms without paying. Many talented artists found shelter under West's wing (D. Hammett himself once availed himself of West's help I believe). West would never portray a human ascension in terms of withdrawal or in terms of the buffered coldness of stone and mean it as anything but a terrifying commentary on how much battering a human can take before he becomes inhuman...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (138 of 138), Read 7 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 01:44 PM George: Your post comparing ML's dilemma to a job with the Springer show was brilliant and elucidating, especially how it brought forth a very fascinating discussion of the infamous Dr. Laura. Susan: Thank you so much for clarifying the Dostoyevsky-West connection I could only perceive through the corner of my eye. Now that Steve has brought forth a possible relationship between Shrike and The Grand Inquisitor, the connection may even be stronger than I originally thought. I'll be re-reading that section of Brother Karamazov this week. Ann: Maybe I'm just pessimistic, but I never get this affirmation of "hope" with Dostoyevsky. His writings are too steeped in pain, suffering, and futility to ever seem "hopeful." Sure the characters may be happy at the end, but we know that's only because the next page of their miserable lives is was not written. Besides, here at Post 138, I'm beginning to get a firm grip on the fascinating possibilities of this tiny novel. To think I almost dismissed it as peripheral and irrelevant. My special thanks for everyone here who helped elucidate this work. "And always so, all our lives hand in hand (except for Dale, who accidentally grasps a hook)! Hurrah for CR!" Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (139 of 146), Read 56 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 04:40 PM All: I just realized that the note I posted above on my support-group scenario--as well as some of the situations in ML--is similar to one theme in the Lorrie Moore story we read a few weeks ago, i.e. her dealings with the other parents in the children’s cancer ward. Apparently there’s a great divide between support-group-joiners and non-’s. I got the sense that her husband was feeling so helpless he would have sought the other parents’ support, but she put the kibosh on that idea before they were even out the hospital door. Also, on the topic of the pity/cruelty connection, I'm reminded of an old Yiddish proverb: "If you see a blind man, kick him. Why should you be kinder than God?" I didn't make that up, but I wish I had. Maybe ML could have found some comfort in it.{G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (140 of 146), Read 53 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 04:53 PM Ann: Important point, I think, that letters as dark as the ones ML received would not have appeared in a real newspaper. In my newspaper experience, most readers wanted two main things...happy, uplifting endings, and/or to feel superior to people who have done really klutzy things. (Of course, there was also the lady who proudly informed me she only bought my paper for the grocery specials, and who made it a point to dispose of the entire news-and-editorial section in our front office wastebasket each Wednesday morning, preferably while one of us watched.) What uplifting-and-superior says about the terrifying territory of tabloid/trash TV I'm not really sure, unless it's that if a bleak story is outlandish enough, superior can triumph over uplifting, at least with a large part of the audience. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (141 of 146), Read 31 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Sunday, June 04, 2000 07:00 AM Dan, don't waste your time on the Grand Inquisitor thing. It is coming back slowly to me now. As I recall, the Grand Inquisitor was berating Christ because he was such a damned inconvenience to the Church. Maybe there is some connection with Shrike, but I don't think so. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (142 of 146), Read 36 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, June 04, 2000 08:39 AM Steve: I never find reading Dostoyevsky a "waste of time." In fact, this is just the flimsy kind of excuse I need to justify rereading one of his works to "investigate." Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (143 of 146), Read 29 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Sunday, June 04, 2000 02:01 PM Dan, Okay, that does it. I'm going to nominate the Brothers Karamazov for next year's reading list. It's been 25 years since I read it the first time and I still think it is one of the great classics of Western literature. Dostoevsky isn't overly popular here, but the discussion on this one could be phenomenal. Ann
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (144 of 146), Read 32 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Sunday, June 04, 2000 02:22 PM Ah, give it up, Ann. Nobody's gonna vote for some long, boring Russian book. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (145 of 146), Read 32 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Sunday, June 04, 2000 02:45 PM Well, they did vote for Middlemarch, so there's hope. Ann
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (146 of 146), Read 35 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, June 04, 2000 02:52 PM Granted--even I gave up on Brothers Karamazov two or three times before slugging it out to the final "hurrah." But that doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for it in a lineup. I thought Crime and Punishment was an excellent choice yielding excellent posts. And what are you saying about Middlemarch, Dick? It's British, so that makes it ever so superior to (sniff) Cossack fiction. Besides, that's my beach book this summer. I'm going to stretch next to the kiddie pool reading Middlemarch and re-reading Paradise Lost, another British tome. Whooo boy--one hot summer. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (147 of 150), Read 26 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Monday, June 05, 2000 10:55 PM Ann, You have my vote for the Brothers K. for next year. Who knows I may read it during the summer if I am stranded someplace where there is very little to do. It always amazes me how much these discussions we have contribute to make reading meaningful. This may explain why so many of us remain loyal to our beloved CC and CR. Ernie
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (148 of 150), Read 26 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, June 06, 2000 07:17 AM A stray thought. The last words we hear from Shrike in the book are a mocking 'biography' of ML, and I can't believe I never caught the 'Tower of Babel' reference in them 'til now. He says ML is 'struggling valiantly to realize a high ideal, his course shaped by a proud aim.' Height and pride are the clues, as Shrike goes on to paint a picture of a 'cold and scornful' world heaping obstacles in ML's path... ML turns these obstacles into a ladder to ascend to his goal, even though a thunderous voice cries 'Halt!' 'Higher, even higher, mount' thinks ML as he climbs to an airless height and his lungs fill with fire. A tower of Babel of one's own mistakes... a frightening thought. Worse still, Shrike's 'prophecy' is fulfilled, as Ml tumbles from his apex (the stairs) and is unable to understand what anyone says to him anymore... pragmatically, his language has been changed, communication at the end of the book progressively disintegrates as terribly as it did at that good 'ol Tower so long ago... This is a masterpiece of imagery on Shrike's part, hinting that his reversals of ML are complete: ML is climbing alright, but he's ascending to Hell. And even though ML is a 'rain-washed star', no matter how you try to purify a star, you still end up a Lucifer.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (149 of 150), Read 22 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Tuesday, June 06, 2000 10:43 AM George, your Tower of Babel observation is dead on. This is an excellent thread and I don't have anything to say that hasn't already been said. MISS LONELYHEARTS lives up to my high school English teacher's rabid praise. I agree that it stands toe to toe with works by Dostoevsky, Kafka and Flannery O'Conner as an illumination of darkness. I see it as a cynical indictment of fix-it-ism swathed in shadows and soot, a behind-the-scenes exposé of the all-loving schtick of Promisegivers. It reminds me of the televanglist scandals of the 80's, or whenever mere mortals parade as the Wizard of Oz. There is a pitfall when dealing with great suffering, the temptation to play poof-and-its-gone in order to to remove the pain of others because it is too painful to witness. The outreach is not a lifeline to others but a reaching out for one's own lifeline when the helper becomes the one in need of help due to his or her own impotence and sense of futility in the presence of tragedy. West's writing style is pitch black perfect. "It had taken all the brutality of July to torture a few green spikes through the exhausted dirt. What the little park needed, even more than he did, was a drink. Neither alcohol nor rain would do. Tomorrow, in his column, he would ask Broken-hearted, Sick-of -it-all, Desperate, Disilllusioned-with-tubercular-husband and the rest of his correspondents to come here and water the soil with their tears. Flowers would then spring up, flowers that smelled of feet." "Miss Lonelyhearts went home in a taxi. He lived by himself in a room that was as full of shadows as an old steel engraving. It held a bed, a table and two chairs. The walls were bare except for an ivory Christ that hung opposite the foot of the bed. He had removed the figure from the cross to which it had been fastened and had nailed it to the wall with large spikes. But the desired effect had not been obtained. Instead of writhing, the Christ remained calmly decorative." "The hot water made his body feel good, but his heart remained a congealed lump of icy fat." Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (150 of 150), Read 14 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, June 06, 2000 07:38 PM You were certainly right about this book provoking some of the best discussion, George. I've seen infinite aspects to this story that I wouldn't have seen on my own. I was also glad that someone (George?) mentioned West's efforts to help his friends which makes me think that cynicism may not have permeated his thought process as totally as the story might lead one to believe. I still keep niggling with my earlier comments concerning a crisis of faith. I don't think it necessarily is traditional religious faith, but more the faith that things can be fixed, that there are simple solutions. The media cultivates the public's need for these "fix-its", as Robt said, through advice columnists, exploiting ignorance once again. And, Steve, your comments about the effects of working with people with a seemingly endless list of life problems were perfect. I've been there and I suddenly understood ML's mean side completely. Barb
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (152 of 157), Read 24 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Wednesday, June 07, 2000 03:55 AM Well I am missing one big party here and am sorry, sorry, sorry but I DID jump into the fray above and tacked a note -- with a big old quote from Dan included -- and hope I don't get stoned myself for saying what I did -- having read the other half of the thread I figure what I said fits the pattern here -- GREAT discussion going here and I cannot wait to gather up my J.B. and ML and get down to brass tacks and then throw Job in and tackle Paradise Lost and anything else that gets mentioned or voted in here as a result of this one! Okay -- we can all breath now -- I tell you THIS is what has kept me here but I am definitely the small fish in the BIG pond around you guys! Am SO glad that I will soon be back and able to CR more! Dottie -- wondering how many MORE books she can fit into the suitcase in July ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (153 of 157), Read 27 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, June 07, 2000 10:17 AM Robert-- You did say something that hasn't been said... a very perceptive comment on the helper progressively needing more and more help, which I think catches West's spirit of reversal-ism. Barb-- I just can't see where ML has any real hope that anything can be fixed ('cept the end, where he is obviously beyond lost). I return again and again to WHY Shrike vanquishes ML? It can't be a duel of faith, because ML's faith is at least greater than S's. It must be a duel of artistic skill: ML could fight back if he could find his own voice, but he's so overawed by the force of Shrike's sermons that he is silenced-in-advance. I'm still groping towards my idea that West values LANGUAGE over everything, and is grappling with the very dark implications of the fact that skill with words outweighs the truth words can carry within. Compare the ineptitude of the letters ML receives to any one of Shrike's speeches and reflect on the fact that the most visible letter writer (Doyle) and the only adversary S faces (ML) go down to a catastrophic finish... while the polished Shrike continues on, the last words of his being 'and so...' (he will never stop) and I think you will see the disturbing thing West has revealed about words with words...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (154 of 157), Read 23 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Wednesday, June 07, 2000 11:27 AM Great post, GEORGE. I particularly like: "the very dark implications of the fact that skill with words outweighs the truth words can carry within" Now there is meat to chew on. Someone can write a nice essay for (you name the publication) on that subject. I would like to argue that it certainly appears that way but that the world of the intellect requires that it not be so. Now for the supporting facts . . . Pres, hollering at the base of Mount Rushmore.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (155 of 157), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Wednesday, June 07, 2000 06:57 PM Allow me to throw a spanner in the works: Is Shrike's verbal assaults that daunting, that fabulous? Does Shrike really shut ML down with his verbosity or does ML realize that Shrike is too ignorant to even understand a rebuttal if one arrived? During both my first and second reading, I had the impression that while Shrike was verbose, he was just hot air venting most of the time. Even the narrator belittles Shrike with the whole "Mrs. Shrike" episode: [Shrike says of his wife:] "She's selfish. She's a damned selfish bitch. She was a virgin when I married her and has been fighting ever since to remain one. Sleeping with her is like sleeping with a knife in one's groin." It was Miss Lonelyhearts' turn to laugh. He put his face close to Shrike's and laughed as hard as he could. Shrike tried to ignore him by finishing as though the whole thing were a joke. "She claims I raped her. Can you imagine Willie Shrike, wee Willie Shrike, raping any one? I'm like you, one of the grateful lovers." Shrike isn't winning over ML here--in fact, ML's laughter is more stinging to Shrike here than probably anything Shrike ever said to ML. Then, of course, we have the attempted seduction and/or rape (depending on your perception) which ends this chapter. And I'll concede it is somewhat the action of Shrike's words on ML; that is, "Wee Miss Lonelyhearts couldn't rape anyone either." It illustrates the situation explained by Mrs. Shrike earlier in the chapter: "[Shrike] knows that I let them neck me and when I get home all hot and bothered, why he climbs into my bed and begs for it. The cheap bastard!" Notice the final paragraph of this chapter: [ML] released her. She opened the door and tiptoed in, carrying her rolled up clothes under her coat. He heard her switch on the light in the foyer and knew that Shrike had not been behind the door. Then he heard footsteps and limped behind a projection of the elevator shaft. The door opened and Shrike looked into the corridor. He had on only the top of his pajamas. This reduces Shrike's stature, surely in my mind, immensely. He's ludicrous sans pants and obviously hoping he'll get laid by his wife after ML does all of the foreplay. Is this the man that ML feels he can't beat? Can all of Shrike's overwrought cleverness in speech make up for this one image in ML's mind? ML probably meets Shrike's speeches with silence or laughter because he knows better than to have a mental debate with an unarmed opponent. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (156 of 157), Read 11 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, June 07, 2000 08:35 PM Dan-- Though I appreciate the devil's advocate approach, your interpretation runs screaming from West's actual words. ML on Shrike: "Why laugh at himself, when Shrike was waiting at the speakeasy to do a much BETTER job." "...he (ML) tried to lead his audience in prayer. But no matter how hard he struggled, his prayer was one Shrike had taught him..." "When he kissed Shrike's wife, he felt less like a joke. But EVEN THERE Shrike had beaten him." "ML did not answer. He was thinking of how Shrike had accelerated his sickness by teaching him to handle his one escape, Christ, with a thick gloves of words." Also, Shrike parodies a wide variety of sacred texts, demonstrating an incredible knowledge of religious tradition along with his obvious command of culture (literature, philosophy, etc.,) It escapes me where ML demonstrates more than even a rudimentary knowledge of anything (though his instincts are intense and oddly accurate). Most importantly, though, putting-down Shrike's words is putting-down the book itself. Critics commonly regard Shrike's speeches in the 'Dismal Swamp' the summit of all of West's writings, and, unusually for me, I agree with them. As for the 'seduction' scene... Ml wants to get laid. He doesn't. Shrike does. I found Shrike's openness about ML's affair and his attitude more chilling than ridiculous... he's a sexual vulture who already considers his wife dead flesh. There is humor, of course, but the laughs are shadowed by Shrike, and to me his shadow seems to kill everything it touches.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (157 of 157), Read 10 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, June 07, 2000 08:48 PM I don't think that anything that Shrike says is that intimidating in and of itself. But, ML seems ripe to be intimidated by this one person. It was almost as if Shrike is casting a spell of blight, primarily felt by ML. He appears to be a symbol of everything that is sick in the world. Barb
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (158 of 165), Read 29 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 12:38 PM George: Point taken, but I still feel that you are overemphasizing the impact of Shrike's words on ML. I never had the sense that ML "dreaded" Shrike, just that he never really liked the man. Sure Shrike is intelligent, but if he's so word-crafty and clever then why is he hanging out at bars trying to torment the MLs of the world? Shrike is just as pathetic. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (159 of 165), Read 30 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 12:59 PM I gotta weigh in on the side of "Shrike as shrill distraction" in an otherwise bewildering world. Shrike speaks for cynics of course, but his strategy is just a way of getting by, and not a solution to the moral problem ML faces. On another note: no one's mentioned (unless I forgot, which is possible) those astonishingly horrific bar conversations among the drunks and reporters about casual rape and kidnapping. Talk about problems with women. I've always found those tidbits to be little snapshots from the Grand Guignol that is apparently perpetually lurking in West's brain. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (160 of 165), Read 26 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 02:15 PM Dick in Alaska writes, "...little snapshots from the Grand Guignol..." If someone here doesn't take that gem and run with it, making it the title of a novel or story collection, I may just beat you to it. Except, of course, that alongside my TBR pile is an almost-as-big TBW (to be written) pile. In other words, I'm flexible. Especially because you can't copyright a title. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (161 of 165), Read 22 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 05:01 PM Now that you mention it, Dick, I was personally appalled by the casual talk of putting uppity women in their place by raping them. Have we really come that far, baby, or was this shocking even at the time West wrote it? Ann
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (162 of 165), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 06:09 PM Ann: I suspect a little of both. It's a disconcerting, for me at least, to recall (just a figure speech, actually) that the 19th Amendment was not enacted until 1920 -- only 13 years before this story was published. By way of comparison, black men had had the legal right to vote since 1869 (subject to the usual qualifications of literacy and a rope-proof neck in some jurisdictions.) The pecking order was well established, as was reflected in the story itself, where the 3-day gang rape culminated with a black guy being allowed to join in at the end. So, there's the hierarchy: first white men, then black men, and somewhere down there, white women. And even West's imagination couldn't get far enough down the social food chain to reach where black women were residing in those days. I hope we've come far, I really do. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (163 of 165), Read 18 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 06:33 PM We were talking about Shrike's intelligence, which seems indisputable. It is pathetic that a man with the impromptu verbal skills Shrike possesses lives the way that he does... but I think that's astray from West's point. Of course Shrike reveals no answers to ML's dilemma: Shrike is an American demi-devil, and healing psychic splits isn't a common satanic practice. I don't know how intimidating S should be to us (or West), but I can't get the image of an 'inescapable' S leaning down to the squirming ML, talking through the blankets he's piled around his head, ruthlessly taking away every life-option ML might ever have considered with 2 brilliant minutes of speech. ML 'plays dead' in hopes that Shrike's cascade will stop, but it doesn't. And Shrike plants the most dangerous identification of all in ML's head by writing a mock letter to Christ on ML's behalf. This reduction of Christ to a divine counterpart of ML's, 'reading' the hopeless thoughts of humanity but unable to do anything about it, this reduction is lethal to ML. It works in 2 ways: ML is secretly scared of being like the people who write to him, and Shrike dumps a truckload of salt into the wound of that fear; and Shrike sarcastically 'thanks' Christ for his anticipated 'quick reply', knowing full well that if Christ does reply to ML it will only be in his mind and will signify the breaking loose of ML's poisonous insecurities. It takes Iago until Act IV to destroy Othello's mind... it takes Shrike all of fifty pages to do the same to ML, and I suppose I do find that heartless economy a bit intimidating.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (164 of 165), Read 14 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 08:07 PM George-- Your points throughout this discussion have been excellent ones. I thought of Iago working on Othello, too, believe it or not-- (because I think almost every classic writer post Shakespeare is influenced, consciously or sub--by the Bard) I also thought of Hamlet in response to Polonius' query "What is it you read, my Lord?" --"Words. . .words. . .words. . . " Altho Shrike is no Polonius and does not strike me as ridiculous or pretentious, his constant use of words as weapons (and the bird analogy is pervasive) without real substance is striking, or perhaps I should say "Shriking." Janet, agreeing with Steve's earlier point that Shrike is babbling nonsense at times, but also seeing weird profundity at others. . .
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (165 of 165), Read 14 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 08, 2000 08:30 PM Thanks Janet. (couldn't agree more about Shakespeare's influence!) The Iago thing looms particularly in light of this discussion. In a sense, Iago also speaks nothing but nonsense. It is patently obvious that Desdemona is faithful, and Othello SHOULD greet all Iago's statements with disbelief. But he doesn't. Why? Because of the aesthetic ingenuity Iago uses in adapting his words to Othello's weaknesses. Now, in that last sentence, substitute Shrike and ML's names and I think it is equally true. Iago is not there to speak aphoristic profundities...and neither is Shrike. That doesn't mitigate the dark splendor that each of them represents...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (166 of 169), Read 30 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Friday, June 09, 2000 02:42 AM Really though, I don't think there is any question but that West was simply lampooning the verbal rapists. I really don't think that was an important part of this story. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (167 of 169), Read 21 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Friday, June 09, 2000 03:49 AM So the demonstrably most intelligent character in all of West's fiction, the hunter/destroyer of ML, and one of the most significant and influential examples of spiritual nihilism in American literature is unimportant...?! I'm baffled by this conclusion. Believe me, I know from personal experience that Shrike's outlook, as revealed in his various oratories, can be deeply wounding to the sincerely religious. Several readers I know, devout Christians, found Shrike's words immensely hurtful... and we're saying that West unleashed this pain because he wanted to have some fun? Worse yet, that he inflicted these wounds needlessly, because they are not in any way 'important' to the story? Just a sick little indulgence on West's part, with little point and no possible gain for the reader? I suppose here I'll have to drop this, because I hear myself becoming over-insistent, and I can't go on flogging a dead lamb forever. But I find this a very impoverishing view of West and his hard-won masterpiece...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (168 of 169), Read 9 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, June 09, 2000 03:41 PM George: Alright, alright. "Most spiritually nihilistic perspective...And the winner is: West, for his character Shrike in the novel Miss Lonelyhearts" "I'd like the thank Mum, Dad, and God for this honor--couldn't of wrote it without you guys." Dick et al: I was somewhat shocked by the seemingly-cavalier attitude of the writers expressing rape as a means to control women writers, but I felt West was just targeting what a pathetic bunch of losers were hanging out in that bar. They were so insecure in their ability to write and earn fame and wealth that they would dedicate their time to denigrating successful women writers through these distorted fantasies. By the way, since we're looking at some of the most disturbing, bleak American literature, I'll throw this tidbit out there with a strong, harsh caveat emptor: Samuel Delany wrote the novel Hogg from the perspective of a little boy who befriends a horrid man who makes a living brutally raping women for people kind of like the authors in ML's bar. Delany said he actually met such a "rape artist" and that this novel is an attempt to articulate such a bleak character. Delany succeeds--and the thin result is filled with some of the most hair-raising, nihilistic behavior I think ever read. The book is certainly not PC and deserves to be filed as "pornography," even though I somehow doubt anyone could be aroused by the vicious, unrelenting course of the narrative. Actually, I would place Delany's Hogg as a strong contender for George's "most significant and influential examples of spiritual nihilism in American literature" category. And if you decide to order and read this thin novel, don't come looking for me. In a way, I wish I had never read the work. I find it actually haunts me, sort of like depressing passages by Dostoyevsky or the words of these writers in ML. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (169 of 169), Read 6 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Friday, June 09, 2000 04:06 PM George, Your posts are excellent. MISS LONELYHEARTS has had a significant impact on me. Wednesday I am meeting with a young father who is seriously ill with AIDS who has the same infection for which I was hospitalized six times. I am being introduced to him as someone who is supposed to offer hope. ML has been very helpful to me and I can't exactly say why except that it explores the road not to take. I regard this as a great novel. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (170 of 170), Read 22 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Friday, June 09, 2000 07:59 PM Dan-- A pretty bleak category we've created. The prize should probably be, hmm... a black, fossilized heart? I don't have any real interest in literary competitions though, whether in books or in these posts. I only care about how great books are served by how they are discussed. The crucial question, on this issue anyway, is this: did it cost West anything to write Shrike, and if so, how much? If Shrike was simply created to mock, then he is what he has been called, a lampoon. But if it cost West something emotionally to attack the noble precepts of Christianity, if it wasn't EASY for him to make a character that corrodes Christ's image with words like an acidic spill... then it's not just fun and games anymore. I don't see any other way to divide this particular question, which may indeed be a limitation of mine. But in West I hear the agonized tone of a wounded idealist, someone who can't believe in what they would like to believe in. And in Shrike I hear West using all his verbal resources to self-inflict those idealistic wounds... in the spirit of an admirable honesty (and a dash, I'm sure, of wickedness). But the main point is, I think West LEARNED something from creating Shrike and hoped his readers would learn something also... even though it hurt him to write for him, and probably should hurt us in a way to read him. But the emotional stakes I guess at prohibit me from seeing it simply as a joke peripheral to the story. That's all. And, of course, I could be very much mistaken. Robert-- Thanks again. Good luck with the meeting, and I'm glad one bad road has been effaced for you by your reading. There are just so damn many of those paths out there... it's nice to see any one of them marked out and avoided.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (171 of 175), Read 33 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Saturday, June 10, 2000 08:25 AM George, I think you've nailed it with: "But in West I hear the agonized tone of a wounded idealist, someone who can't believe in what they would like to believe in." Very perceptive, and what makes this book a classic. There are a lot of wounded idealists out here. Sherry
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (172 of 175), Read 33 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Saturday, June 10, 2000 09:05 AM George, I agree with Sherry. "Wounded idealist" nails it. It is the pathos in ML that elevates it to something beyond cynicism. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (173 of 175), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, June 10, 2000 09:30 AM George: Well put, I think. I'm reminded of another of our best-ever discussions on CR, Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN. The character known as The Judge is somewhat Shrike-like, evil personnified, with sweeping dark pronouncements intended to disturb. As Allen Crocker commented at the time, "When you hear what The Judge is saying, it disturbs you and makes you angry. It can't be possibly be true. But when you try to refute his arguments, you find out you can't." Which also reminds me of some great thinkers, such as Einstein, who strongly resisted believing what they'd arrived at as fact: "I refuse to believe God plays dice with the universe." But the truth won out. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (174 of 175), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, June 10, 2000 11:13 AM George, your obvious love for this little novel has served you well. You have chaired a great discussion here of a difficult novel, and we're not quite done yet, I don't think. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (175 of 175), Read 34 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Saturday, June 10, 2000 07:06 PM Dale-- "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods--they kill us for their sport" --King Lear. The dice comment relates, I think. So does the Nihilism in ML. Robt-- "Pathos" is a key word here. Dale's much earlier comment is interesting--a reaction to a point I thought might be pertinent re' ML's frustrated attempt at EMPATHY with his writers. Also, I wanted to say that the novel plus some EXTREMELY insightful analytical comments here have helped me to understand some of my own motivations, and specific behaviors I have found unable to explain to myself, within myself. It's difficult for me to go into more detail because it is something very personal--a private demon, if you will--but I have found some of these analyses more of an epiphany than I would have ever dreamed. I can relate (did when I read it and do even more now) to the bumbling, PATHetic ML in many ways, and don't mind admitting it. Does West intend for his readers to see themselves in his title character? I think yes. Robt, I hope to meet you one day. I also hope things continue to go well in the context you mentioned above. Janet
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (176 of 182), Read 21 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 12:14 AM Another novel that reminds me of Nathanael West's writing is Jean Genet's OUR LADY OF THE FLOWERS. Also, the controversial John Henry Abbott's IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST. And while I'm at it: Pasolini's noirest film ever SALO. Now there's an unholy trinity. What these works have in common with ML is dark beauty. An advanced aesthetic expression of life's down side without the horror edited out. (I must add that SALO is the most disturbing film I have ever seen and I have not made my peace with it as I have with these other dark works.) Janet, Sometimes I wonder at myself for finding fiction with dark themes so uplifting. However, dealing with tragedy vicariously through novels seems to be as good a way as any to prepare myself for when it manifests for real. Catharsis and epiphanies are experiences that I seem to have with tales that traverse through the valley of the shadow of death. Anyway, I am glad to hear you had an enriching experience with MISS LONELYHEARTS. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (177 of 182), Read 13 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 07:26 AM Robt: Another lover of dark themes, here, and my cohorts have at times thought me macabre or morbid over the years. I definitely buy your theory about traveling through these dark valleys vicariously being psychic preparation for the real thing. I also try to live by the line, "Nothing that is human can be alien to me." Also, I tell people that the advantage of being a confirmed pessimist is that when you're surprised, it's always a pleasant one. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (178 of 182), Read 14 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 07:39 AM I've been finding an intruiging possibility in ML's words lately. Hebrew tradition has a concept called davhar, which is a word that is simultaneously a thought and an act. Like a prayer that is instantly effective, a davhar speaks and does something in the same moment. There are many instances in ML where metaphors are taken to this level. "ML drank steadily. He was smiling an innocent, amused smile, the smile of an anarchist sitting in the movies with a bomb in his pocket." Most writers would leave the metaphor here, it's made its point. West adds: "If the people around him only knew what was in his pocket. In a little while he would leave to kill the President." It's as if he is REALLY about to do it. Many times ML pictures somebody as an object...then thinks through the logical possibilities of their new form. He sees himself as a skeleton, and sees Mrs. Doyle as a tent of flesh... then he makes the skeleton enter the tent, and the skeleton 'flowers at every joint.' ML wants his words to be davhars. He wants to dispense advice that has an immediate effect. But it fails. He has trouble with sex. Sex is an activity where words can be immediately successful. He says 'sleep with me' to several women... if they would, then the thought would become a deed. But this fails also. Shrike's words are reverse-davhars... he says something, and it immediately TAKES AWAY the possibility of action in ML. The letters ML receives are similar, they wish for things that will never happen. Perhaps this is why Christ is so dangerous for ML? 'With Christ all things are possible': and they are possible immediately. This is ML thinking in the last chapter: 'He thought of this black world of things as a fish. And he was right, for it suddenly rose to the bright bait on the wall... He submitted drafts of his column to God and God approved them. God approved his every thought.' The davhar has broken loose in ML. He thinks, and it is instantly approved and instituted. Oddly, there is no hand on the gun when it shoots ML. It goes off inside the newspaper. Have words pulled the trigger? I know that sounds insane, but why was West careful to emphasize that Doyle 'pulls his hand out' AND THEN the gun goes off inside the package? In any event, if ML secretly wishes to die here, then one of his thoughts has finally become a davhar, and he is executed by it.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (179 of 182), Read 12 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 07:44 AM George: Very interesting. There's also a sort of New Testament equivalent of the davhar, as in the verse, "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth." >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (180 of 182), Read 10 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 08:31 AM Intriguing possibilities here for the new reading list, Robert. Why not Jean Genet? Our Lady of the Flowers would take us where we have never gone before hereabouts. Clearly an acceptable choice for Classics Corner. As for In the Belly of the Beast, I'm not sure which reading list it would be best for. I well remember the stir that one created when the author become the darling of the New York literary scene on its publication. In fact the New York literary scene led by Norman Mailer can take credit for getting him out of prison. Of course, he soon went right back in after another killing. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (181 of 182), Read 12 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 09:21 AM George, Your comments about davhers reminds me of John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Steve, Jean Genet is a true challenge to read. I would recommend A THIEF'S JOURNAL instead of OUR LADY OF THE FLOWERS as it is more accessible, but either one would spark lively discussions about morality and art. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (182 of 182), Read 9 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 10:37 AM Robert-- I can see why the works you mentioned would come to mind. Weirdly, considering CC's schedule, I associate ML most with Paradise Lost... with Satan playing the role of Shrike to himself. He seems to purposefully erode his own greatness, until he ends up on his belly and hissing on Hell's floor. Dale-- That's the only reason I mentioned davhars at all: the word is nigh on virtually every page of ML. I think if one read through the book underlining every metaphor that tries to spring to actual life a lot of ink would get spilled. An example mentioned previously: "He walked into the shadow of a lamp-post that lay on the path like a spear. It pierced him like a spear." What interests me is the fact that if my theory is even close, it would make West almost uniquely hostile to his own medium: words. Most writers, particularly reform-minded or religious ones, would welcome the davhar concept with open arms. How much did Marx or Mohammed or Milton want reality to become more like their own conceptions of it? Very much, I would guess. Even a writer as savage as Swift expected a real reader to infer nearly the opposite of what he stated, and therein arrive at a picture of how things should actually be. If West is in fact stating that words/thoughts are actually harmful to reality, or that they are most useful for burning away the false but are almost unable to provide the true, then what an impasse he was facing as an artist! Although that might help explain the black flame we've all been sensing at the core of ML...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (183 of 189), Read 37 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 05:44 PM George: I am truly fascinated with these "davhars" and their use within West's novella. I had noticed a peculiar use of metaphor at work within this work, but I could not figure out what West was trying to articulate. It also connects with your Tower of Babel analogy you mentioned way back: If you cannot even speak to communicate, then how could you speak and achieve action with your words? Robert and Dale (et al): We broached the subject of "help groups" and how West articulates the inherent malice and/or ennui than can ensue--the notion that sitting in a circle with people with the same problem as you does not really solve anything. I'm wondering just how existentialist this is getting: There's no need for "specialists" (and I use the term loosely) like Dr. Laura or "cathartic spectation" a la Springer. There's no help in sitting around in a chummy circle of people obsessively delineating problems. Then where can you go for help? West effectively destroys the entire notion of an advice columnists with this novella and at the same time does a much better job of uprooting one's faith in art, in bucolic bliss, in even Christianity to help with the ache of being human. There's nothing here--just a misplaced gesture of love that results in a gunshot. Apply this to ourselves, think about, and the questions we are raising become dark, black, and sinister. West effectively undermines the usual solutions to dealing with the subjective violence and heartache of living. In the world of ML, there is no help out there--only useless philosophies and sarcastic laughter. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (184 of 189), Read 42 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 07:30 PM Dan, Yep. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (185 of 189), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 11:34 PM Dan, Regarding support groups: I attend an AIDS support group regularly and it rocks. Real life, real problems, real support. Five years ago when I was very sick the whole thing was too much. Everybody in the group was in some stage of dying and I was unable to get any benefit from it. But now, I love it. So, I am not willing to dismiss the genre out of hand. As to the nihilism of ML: my interpretation of West's message is not that nothing works but rather that this doesn't work. I can't universalize the point. West explores the futility of this particular configuration. Perhaps that's my way of keeping from being sucked into a black hole. I feel the same way about BLOOD MERIDIAN. McCarthy's message isn't that there is no God, but rather that God isn't showing up in the usual places. To just take Job with boils ignores a greater context. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (186 of 189), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 11:47 PM Robert, my "yep" to Daniel was meant only as agreement with his reading of this story that all this world's "answers" to suffering are hopelessly ineffectual. Even if we are right and that is a correct reading, it need not constitute a black hole. Nothing requires us to embrace this message as the truth of the matter ourselves. Your note vividly illustrates one example of why we perhaps should not. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (187 of 189), Read 40 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 11:49 PM Wonderful post, Robert. Wish I could have said it half so well. "To just take Job with boils ignores a greater context." Too bad you can't copyright aphorisms: you'd be rich in addition to being wise. Although, one out of two ain't bad. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (188 of 189), Read 42 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2000 12:10 AM Steve, Your point is well taken. My interpretation has more to do with my reading style than with West's point of view. I am able to inhabit more fully the dark night of the soul knowing that day is coming. Steve and Dick, Thank you very much for your comments. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (189 of 189), Read 39 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2000 08:54 AM About midway through the chapter called 'ML and The Clean Old Man' can be found ML's most hopeful vision. ML plays a piece by Mozart on the piano and his sister (never mentioned again) dances 'gravely, sweetly' to the music. This is a purely good memory for ML. What goes wrong? In his head, ML builds on the memory, adding his own abstracts (formations of dancing children in lines, squares, and circles) and then he does universalize the point: 'Every child, everywhere; in the whole world there was not one child who was not dancing.' ML cannot stop wishing his own style of good on everybody. He is typically ambitious in an American way: absolutely everyone in every possible space MUST be made happy. While ML builds this dance-floor utopia in his head, he stumbles into a man and gets punched in the mouth. This point is not particularly subtle, but it's an important one: not everyone can be saved...but perhaps not everyone can be destroyed. In any event, your own personal good memories can't be wished on the whole world. One paragraph later, the sweet circles of dancing children are parodied with: '(ML's) anger swung in large, drunken circles.' The charming personal memory goes rancid because it's been abstracted and universalized. Perhaps Jesus conveyed a message that can connect in individual cases and have a universal appeal. Perhaps. ML obviously can't, and Shrike could never be bested on the field of the abstract... only in the realm of the personal, with deep self-assurance and good will could someone beat Shrike. ML's disease is in his over-ambition, and in the weak susceptibility of self that leaves him equally open to Shrike (a near-anagram for Christ) and the Voice of God...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (190 of 190), Read 7 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, June 16, 2000 06:02 PM George: Extraordinary interpretation. I like it, I like it. Trying to find one thing that will make everyone happy would be one of the most depressing jobs on the planet, I'm sure. Robert & Steve: I thought so. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (98 of 190), Read 16 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Sunday, June 18, 2000 11:32 AM "Why read Nathanael West's 'Miss Lonelyhearts'? Among other things 'to understand better our obsession with guns and violence.'" From NYTBR 6/18, Michael Gorra's review of How To Read And Why, by Harold Bloom. Pres, with his tongue in his cheek.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (99 of 191), Read 25 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, June 19, 2000 07:14 PM Oh Pres--why did you wait so late into the game to tell us what aspect of this novel to concentrate upon? The violence of guns. Of course--why didn't I see it before? Well, I'm chagrinned. Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (97 of 193), Read 21 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 05:57 PM DAN: Listen, Fella, get this straight. Mr. Harold Bloom was speaking, and when he speaks, YOU LISTEN. RAMJAC
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (98 of 193), Read 22 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 06:04 PM Yeah. What Ramjac said. And Sarvac. And Darth. And all of my homeys. What do you say about that? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (99 of 193), Read 23 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 06:14 PM Pres: I'm sorry, there's just this ringing in my ears from all the gunplay I initiate and participate within in my country--violent gunplay. I cannot always hear the psychologically-astute Bloom's whisper within my heart. My forgiveness. And Dale? Who in blazes in Sarnac? Dan
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (100 of 193), Read 20 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 10:50 PM Let me assure you, Pres. When Harold Bloom speaks, I listen. Honest! More about Love's Labour's Lost soon. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (101 of 193), Read 22 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 11:37 PM The full quote from Bloom: "Why read Nathanael West's 'Miss Lonelyhearts'? Among other things to understand better our obsession with guns and violence, our fanatic need to be loved by God, our Gnostic roots (which we deny overtly) that teach us redemption through sin, but most of all to experience the pleasures provided by our greatest of parodists since Mark Twain himself." This quote falls in the context of a discussion of the darkest strand of American literature: Moby Dick, As I Lay Dying, ML, The Crying of Lot 49, and Blood Meridian. It argues that we (like Doyle) tend to enhance ourselves physically (with weapons like guns) more than we crave enhancing ourselves emotionally or intellectually. (Though CR belies that trend...unless you're all secretly armed out there). As you can see, Bloom's emphasis is really more on West's skill as a writer and insight into the violent underbelly of American religion than on AK 47's...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (100 of 196), Read 20 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, June 21, 2000 02:56 PM Thank you, George. I always find Harold Bloom interesting and controversial, but never stupid. I was starting to wonder when I read the original quote. Barb
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (101 of 196), Read 20 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 22, 2000 12:54 AM Barbara-- I started my comments on this thread (o so long ago!) with Professor Bloom's take on ML... I might as well finish them that way. I imagine I'm a little touchy on this topic: Bloom's writings have meant more to me than I think I could even express. I probably wouldn't have even read ML if I hadn't stumbled across one of Bloom's essays 10 years ago. One of his arguments then, and more recently, seems to me this: creative invention IS literature... over technique, over intellect, over even the author's own intentions at times. That is why (and I swear on a stack of 'The Book of J's' this is the last time I'll mention it) Shrike's Dismal Swamp litany haunts me so. West's gift of invention only blows into a full flame when he's de-inventing: Shrike systematically dismantles-through-parody Melville, Lawrence, Wilde, Daniel Webster, Marlowe, and The Bible itself (among others) and he wreaks this havoc simply because he can. This SHOULD be reprehensible, but because a new artistic glory is being mounted in these ruins, it is somehow liberating also. West is by no means the equal of Henry James or Faulkner or Melville, but his mastery of invention-by-assault makes him their rival in at least this one area, as Bloom hints repeatedly... and I'm very grateful to him for the insight.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (102 of 196), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 22, 2000 06:37 AM George, I never would have seen what I have in this story if you hadn't nominated it and led such an insightful discussion here. Thanks to you and to Bloom for bringing you to it. I've only read parts of Bloom's writing in his Canon, but I find that he always looks at things a little differently than anyone else I read, sees fresh (to me) aspects and points. This is a very precious quality in our herd-like society. I don't always agree with him (as in his statement that Hadji Murad is the best of Tolstoy's writing), but I'm glad he made me think about it. Barb
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (103 of 196), Read 9 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 22, 2000 08:23 AM George: Excellently put. Einstein said "Imagination is more important than knowledge," and I think that goes triple where fiction writing is concerned. Thanks for the nomination, and for all you've brought to the discussion here. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (104 of 196), Read 11 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, June 22, 2000 08:27 AM If Harold Bloom did not exist, we would have to invent him. I am becoming more and more of a fan myself. However, can he ever be difficult! A real challenge sometimes. I have his book on Shakespeare, and I am simply not bright enough to grasp some of it. (A little trivia. Harold Bloom's personal favorite is Love's Labour's Lost.) Depends on one's perspective though. I read something by one of his former student's recently along the lines of, "Harold Bloom could suck the life out of a cadaver." Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (87 of 181), Read 31 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Thursday, June 22, 2000 02:05 PM "Shrike systematically dismantles-through-parody Melville, Lawrence, Wilde, Daniel Webster, Marlowe, and The Bible itself (among others) and he wreaks this havoc simply because he can. This SHOULD be reprehensible..." I see no reason at all why this should be considered reprehensible. I'm rather fond onf iconoclasm. All's fair in etc., etc., and writing. Ruth
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (88 of 181), Read 34 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Thursday, June 22, 2000 05:53 PM Ruth-- I'm sorry, I should've clarified: what Shrike says is reprehensible because its designed to destroy ML. As calculated by Shrike, the assault is intellectually incendiary and definitely evil. As written by West, it is what you said: wonderfully iconoclastic and brilliant. The literary effect of making a morally unacceptable villain artistically worthwhile is not so easy to achieve. Countless horror and mainstream novels ooze into the marketplace each year depending upon the voyeuristic lures of violent acts, violent sex, and violent thoughts to propel them into bestseller lists... but with no artistic payoff. West manages to rise above that while sinking most of our hopes in the process... a complicated achievement.
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (181 of 181), Read 5 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, June 24, 2000 09:24 AM George, recently I read Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald at an age when I could finally understand it. Because I had missed the discussion of that book here some time ago, I went shopping for other on-line book discussion groups and amazingly enough, found one that was just undertaking that novel. Let me tell you! That discussion has been pathetic! Now we here do our share of list making, title trading, and general jim-jamming. However, we also at times get down to a real discussion of the text of a book, such as occurred here and with Lolita, for example. Let me just say to you, thank you for this nomination and thank you for being here. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (181 of 186), Read 34 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, June 24, 2000 10:22 AM Permit me to amplify just a bit. On a frequent basis, I calculate a "Health Index" based on the number of posts on the WebBoard. First, I disregard the "Constant Reader" conference. There are about equal parts list-making-title-trading-jim-jamming and real book discussions in that conference. Therefore, it is a wash. Then I use the total of notes in "Reading List Books," "Classics Corner," and "Short Stories" as a numerator and the total of notes in "Reading List Books," "Classics Corner," "Short Stories," "C.R. Salon," and "Movies, films and videos" as a denominator to come up with a percentage. As of early this morning that percentage was quite a healthy 51.6%, thanks to you and others who became enthused with a real discussion of Nathanael West. While rough, I think my index is okay even though it doesn't take into account "Words," which frankly, I don't know how to take into account. Steve
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (182 of 186), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Saturday, June 24, 2000 08:11 PM There is no accounting for words -- or maybe words is an attempt at accounting for words. Dottie -- who is up way past bedtime ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (183 of 186), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: George Healy (malword@aol.com) Date: Saturday, June 24, 2000 11:02 PM Steve-- I felt like I impeded the discussion as much as I helped it... but I'm glad someone saw it otherwise. I too have witnessed many, many sad discussions of literature online and in person... they stay entirely personal and never do seem to get to the text itself, which to me is like paying for a new car and only bringing home the keys. I appreciate what you and your compadres here bring to the table (or to the garage, if I persist with a bad metaphor...) Literature is salvation. It should be served well, with thought and humor, and at least there's one group of people doing it. It's a pleasure to participate...
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (184 of 186), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net) Date: Sunday, June 25, 2000 01:14 AM George, You are absurd with modesty to feel that you impeded as much as helped the discussion. Your remarks are enriching to read. I add my thanks for your participation. ML is a highpoint of my reading experience so far this year. Robt
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (185 of 186), Read 17 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Sunday, June 25, 2000 01:51 AM Steve, I spent a good deal of time pondering your comment of June 2. You mentioned how your work affects you and what it can do to a person who is perhaps a bit more sensitive than the average. To play ML gets to you if you are in one of the helping professions. You mentioned the problems you can solve and the problems you can not solve and the tragedies that are tied to them. Well there are similarities to my work experience as a clinical psychologist. However my situation may have been worse. I worked in a mental hospital with the most disturbed individuals during the day. Evenings and weekend I engaged in private practice I evaluated people sent by the Welfare people and a few who came on their own to get help. Unfortunately I felt deep down that I could hardly help anyone. Yes I could develop a diagnosis or find the IQ so that welfare could go from there. Well, I have seen a number of our psychologists and psychiatrists break down and have episodes of mental illness as well and one can argue that they were unstable to begin with -or - that the pain got to them. So what does one do? One retreats and escapes into reading, etc., and may come out of these experiences in one piece if lucky. Retirement and teaching was different. I did teach all sort of things on all sorts of levels and there you deal mostly with whole people. Retirement is salvation! While working in these "helping" professions on needs to be backed by fine relationships, nice home, perhaps children, etc. to come out on top or to just survive. Ernie
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (186 of 186), Read 15 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Sunday, June 25, 2000 05:04 AM Ernie -- this reminds me of the discussion of the CR personality typing discussion -- and leads to the thought that many folks in these professions who are working with people and seeing the repetitive nature of the problems of humankind -- lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, social work -- teachers -- and on and on may, in fact, tend to the CR syndrome and read their way to staying healthy and may be of more help to those they are serving as a result of being readers and THINKERS. What say you on that idea? Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: JUNE DISCUSSION: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (100 of 174), Read 9 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, June 26, 2000 08:26 AM Steve: I agree with you--though I will occasionally poke my nose into the Constant Reader conference to see what's happening. Robert: I agree--George's posts forced me to attend to this novel and not dismiss it as trivial ennui. In fact, because of the enthusiasm and the hints George dropped about the utter complexity of this seemingly simplistic novel, I went to the local university library the other day and browsed the shelves for material on West. I came across a work entitled The Fiction of Nathanael West: No Redeemer, No Promised Land by Randall Reid, published 1967. Reid's opening two paragraphs absolutely floored me, reminding me of the very points many of us here have made regarding West's novel: A critical study of Nathanael West is hardly a novelty. After years of being out of fashion, his work now suffers from another danger, that of being taken for granted. West is routinely cited as a precursor of current literary trends, his name i sure to be dropped in any discussions of the grotestque, and book reviewers automatically compare new Hollywood novels with The Day of the Locusts. Miss Lonelyhearts has even undergone that ceremony which, in some literary circles, constitutes a ritual initiation--two recent critics have detected in it a case of repressed homosexuality. And the number of books and articles devoted to West's work grows so rapidly that a bibliographer has trouble keeping up. There is in all at least one development which is worthy of simple gratitude--West's books are back in print and available in various paperbacks, foreign editions, and translations. His work is obviously being read, and it deserves to be. But it does not deserve to be fashionable. That West's name should come into vogue at a time when "black humor" is as marketable as sex--and often as synthetic as the Playmate of the month--is just a depressing, and peculiarly Westian, joke. It is true that West was in many ways the enemy of his own time, but he was no herald of ours. West's vogue has not, of course, been complete. None of his books has ever become a campus fad, and none is ever likely to. He frustrates too many of the common motives for reading. West does not invite the reader to see himself as a sensitive soul in a cruel world, a world made cruel by the stupidity and heartlessness of others. Nor does he allow a reader the comforts of superior laughter. In the deflationary world of his books, simple mockery collapses as completely as simple self-pity. So do all the customary poses: ironic detachment, passionate involvement, heartfelt compassion. A reader who wants a simple attitude to take toward his world will therefore get no help from West. Reid's discussion of Miss Lonelyhearts is magnificent. He reads the texts, notes influences, and is always careful to elucidate the text and not a particular critical theory. In the process, Reid's humor comes out at odd times make his work more like one of our discussions than critical spectacle. Reid discusses the roots of West's work and how West's parody is hard to define and to emulate. He discusses how West envisioned Miss Lonelyhearts as a "comic-strip novel" and presents a stunning commentary on just how well West manipulates the graphic media in a novel of words. Oh--and Reid discusses how ML is a modern Raskolnikov. When he is finished, it's hard for me to wonder how I didn't see just how complete West was in both parodying Crime and Punishment as well as commenting on Dostoyevsky. Not that The Brothers Karamazov was a red-herring, but Reid shows how West was thinking of Raskolnikov and "rewriting Dostoyevsky with shears," taking out all the filler and such. I don't have time to delve any deeper, but I will note this: If anyone would like me to snail mail them a copy of Reid's article, I would be happy to oblige. If you were fascinated with this discussion, then Reid's work certainly complements the work done here. Just email to let me know. Dan

 

 

 
Search:
Keywords:
In Association with Amazon.com