Sunday, June 29, 2008
"Confinement", take 2
I'd say that the "treadmill" I refer is evidence of the confinement Hoagland is writing about; what's for certain is that at this moment, the experience recollected in the poem, he wants out of the life he no longer has empathy for. I don't think the poem is political in the way some have suggested, although it starts that way. Rather, the first stanza is set up as a situation that will be contrasted against the narrator's increasing unease, and with the final stanza, he alone in the room with a television blaring with the sound off, we find him relating not to the righteousness of the cause, but only to the gathered anger and rage itself. All these angry faces seemed ready to burst out of their confines, spill over, render their former social relationships meaningless. What appeals to me is not the sense this makes as an argument rather than the sense it gives of the sensation of being closed in and set upon, and the increasing level of the instinct of fight-or-flight.
The poem had been criticized for making use of political reference in order to make a self-centered confession, but saying that Hoagland's use of a politics situation is narcissistic is a little shallow. Hoagland's narrator is responding to the jacked-up reporting and manipulated images of the situation, an editing style designed to ratchet up the viewer's anxiety level; Marcuse discusses this when he refers to the Thanatonic desire, which is the desire to consume, engineered by marketing, to deny an impending sense of doom. The poet here is on the money and accomplishes the task of getting at a common malaise that is an obvious under current in a materialist culture.
The poem, though, is primarily about the narrator's own plight.It's an efficient dialectic the poet puts across here.Remember that his unraveling is triggered, by implication, by a media hyped reports of a coup in the Middle East, cause of the turmoil not disclosed. It sets the tone for the rest of his day, which he was obviously anticipating with dread. After he is saturated with the alienating currents of the memorial service, he returns from the local to the global, witnessing angry televised protests, feeling it as rage about to spill over or explode from the box containing it, and recognizes at once that he isn't the only one who feels like this. He indeed does relate to something larger than his own unease; he realizes the discomfort is shared, the rage is same whatever the language.
Lastly, the last stanza about the pall bearers is choice. Sometimes attending funerals seem like reruns of old tv shows, as the causes of death and the tributes and regrets expressed in grief seem interchangeable after awhile. You get the feeling that you're watching a teaser trailer of an upcoming feature, your own demise. Hoagland's wit is appreciated here.