Sunday, October 19, 2008

Michael Stipe, T.S. Eliot, and Anonymous

Anonymous said...
You really cannot admit you didn't know the upstream source for this song, can you? You reference it a lot without referencing the source. Not knowing all things intellectual is not a personal weakness. LOL.

October 19, 2008 8:20 AM

I reply:

Dear Anonymous:

First, I offer a reminder about how things work here on this blog. Secondly, I offer a commentary after a comparison made on the occasion of your first comment.

1) I do not publish anonymous critical comments. I am more than happy to publish and engage critical comments that are signed. I am making an exception in this case by posting your comment to show why I set forth this rule. I really dislike passive-aggression.

2) I actively ask my readers to hold me accountable, but I do not feel like I have to pander. I don't find any weakness in the fact that I did not make the connection between Eliot's poem and Stipe's lyrics when I first posted the video, or while later alluding to the song. After making a comparision, the only connection I see between the lyrics and the poem is by way of allusion (see commentary below), which is typical of Stipe's very oblique style of reference, which is kind of stream-of-consciousness, very modern in the way Eliot so despised. I thank you for the opportunity to briefly compare the two, looking at the lyrics of the song in light of Eliot's verses.
2.a) So, I reference the song a lot without referencing the song? You reference Eliot's poem a lot without referencing Stipe's song, which is the object of my references. It may surprise you to learn that underneath the title is a whole song with lyrics that have meaning even if one has never heard of T.S. Eliot, or his poem, Hollow Men. If anything, Stipe's hollow man stands in stark contrast to Eliot's Hollow Men (see commentary below).
3) How about an interesting and constructive comment in which you make some connections between REM's song Hollow Man and Eliot's poem The Hollow Men? Such a contribution would be more than welcome. A constructive comment would not even need to be signed.

4) You could fill the world with things I don't know. I learn something new everyday. I frequently share what I learn here by way of synthesis and making connections. It makes life exciting. I hope it makes reading my blog interesting. I am well of aware of my weaknesses, physical, moral, intellectual, etc. I am also aware that I have blind spots. Despite all of this, I believe I have a pretty good sense of humor when it comes to my foibles. This lightness towards my own failings is victory hard won and is still a struggle at times. I benefit tremendously from the comments and corrections of readers, who I prefer to think of as friends.

So, in an effort to make prime rib out of a bucket of s@#t, I humbly offer my . . .


I freely admit that I am not a huge devoteé of Eliot, nor I do I read a lot of poetry. He is far from my favorite poet. When I read poetry, I do not reach for Eliot because, to quote Stephen Patrick Morrissey, "he says nothing to me about my life".

I am also aware that it was kind of an influence on Michael Stipe's lyrics for this song. He is not ripping off Eliot, or even re-setting the poem. The song lyrics have to be assessed on their own, as any writing does. The song is written from the perspective of the hollow man. His most notable feature, the reason for the song, is his desire not to be hollow. It is difficult for me to tell, apart from the first stanza, in whose voice Eliot's poem is in. Further, I don't really care whose voice Eliot's poem is in.

While Eliot's Hollow Men (note the plural) have headpieces filled with straw and are truly empty, "Shape without form, shade without colour," Stipe's Hollow Man is aware of his emptiness, his propensity to "get lost inside his head". He also seems aware that the way to overcome his subjectivism and the resultant emptiness is by relating to other people. It is a blown opportunity to relate that occasions the song. Hence, he pleads with his beloved to "corner me and make me something". Being cornered by another is what forces him out of himself and makes him something other than a hollow man.

Stipe's hollow man, at the end of the day, is not quite convinced that he is empty, he asks "Have I become the hollow man I see?" He says, presumably to his beloved, "I want to show you I don't want to be the hollow man". Stipe's hollow man seems to be experiencing the phenomena identified in Eliot's poem:

"Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Nonetheless, he is not content in the shadowland, he longs for the light of another face, the face belonging to the one for whom he longs to be something.

LMAO! ;^)> What about? That of all the provocative things I write, I get grief over this bit of minutiae! I'll leave you with a poem by Steve Martin. It is called,

Pointy Birds
Pointy Birds

Pointy birds,
oh pointy pointy.
Anoint my head
anointy 'nointy.

Perhaps we could explore whether this was inspired by that Hitchcock film, The Birds, or by Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I prefer to just admire its austere beauty and its economy of language. While we are on matters literary, beginning and ending my commentary with a scatological reference is called framing.

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