feuerall things

That last post went a completely different way than I had expected.

When I found the postcard from WWI, I started thinking about something amusing I had learned about people’s reactions in the U.S. to the war: anything German-sounding had its name changed. Hamburgers (Hamburg) became Liberty Sandwiches. Sauerkraut became Liberty Cabbage. I assume this is also when hot dogs became hot dogs instead of wieners or bratwurst or whatever they were called up until then.

So I was going to write about how that’s yet another example of history repeating itself, what with the whole Freedom Fries thing that got going a few years back. (And any time I think of that, my mind wanders to the crazy mom in Better Off Dead who serves what she thinks is French food to the foreign exchange student. “We have French bread, French fries, French dressing…”)

But then I went a whole ‘nother direction when I sat down to write.

I’ll take you back to three days ago. I was listening to a lecture on T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, a poem I find incomprehensible, even after listening to the lecture. Eliot referenced a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a line about “my fathers eyes were pearls,” which meant that his father had drowned, and then his body had been consumed by the sea and resurrected into something new.

So I poked around in my Riverside Shakespeare, laughed at what his buddies had to say about Shakespeare in the First Folio, and finally got around to reading part of the first act. Afterward, I retired to my room, where The Big M and I watched Winter Wipeout, a show that never ceases to be funny. (Thank you, Japanese TV, for bringing your crazy game shows to my country.) You would think watching someone collide into a giant bouncy ball and then fall into water would get old. But you’d be wrong.

Anyway, the next day I started reading The Tempest again, and I found the passage:

Full fadom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark now I hear them–ding-dong bell.

Isn’t that beautiful? What had captured my attention in the Eliot lecture was the “sea-change.” I remembered that Fitzgerald repeatedly used that phrase in The Great Gatsby, and it felt like there was some sort of theme related to it. So I wondered if maybe The Great Gatsby was The Tempest redone for a modern audience. It would be ironic (in an Alanis Morrissette way) if the Great American Novel turned out to be a ripoff of Shakespeare.

Yesterday I finished The Tempest, and the short answer is — no, it has no relation to The Great Gatsby, at least none that I see. (I really liked The Tempest, though. For one thing, the protagonist, Prospero, is very into books. I could identify with that. For another, it’s funny.)

But thinking about The Great Gatsby got me thinking about WWI again and the post-war disillusionment that Fitzgerald and Hemingway and so many other writers experienced and wrote about.

I was all set to write about Freedom fries when my neighbor’s band started up and the thump-thumping of bass penetrated my walls. To keep my focus, I turned some music on and ran a genius list based on “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, an up-tempo (if depressing) song.

Before I knew it, Genius had picked Radiohead. As Thom Yorke’s melancholy vocals oozed over me, I started mulling on war and disillusionment, and you see the result.

Music is so weird in how it can influence your thinking, and even your memory.

This post’s title comes from Shakespeare’s First Folio. feuerall is what we now write, “several.”

Those are my several things for today.

Categories: Brain Workouts

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