T.S. Eliot’s Catastrophic Bear Market

Although a financial regulation bill is in the works, our economy continues to tank, and nobody can figure out what to do.  Except me, of course.  I have discovered that Western literature is a major cause of our economic crisis.

You see, most people, as victims of various “liberal” arts programs, fail to notice how centuries of depressingly sensitive poems, novels, and plays have struck at the heart of venture capitalism.  In order for America to triumph over socialism and regain its place in the world, we need to revamp the literary “classics.”  I shall, therefore, using my newly patented Free-Market Literary Criticism, attempt to unpack some “Love Song” by a dude named “J. Alfred Prufrock”:

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table

Whoa.  Let me stop you here, J. Al.  So far, your poem indicates only moderate returns.  Your first line is your best, as it shows a take-charge, can-do attitude, thanks to the action-packed verb “go” — as in, “You GO, then, Prufrock!”  Kudos, too, for the dare-devil strategy of leveraging the word “you” before “I.”  It’s not often that positioning yourself in a subordinate tier accrues to your benefit, but this time the risk pays off, as it allows you to rhyme “I” with “sky.”  Awesome!

Unfortunately, at line three, the net worth of your poem plummets.  For without warning, our eyes are unpleasantly gob-smacked by the whacked-out imagery of a huge sick person, plastered across heaven’s firmament.  People just don’t like to see giant, comatose hospital patients, unless these patients are being expertly sliced open by incredibly good-looking actors who are highly paid to simulate sex with one another on Grey’s Anatomy.

It is also unclear, given President Obama’s new health care plan, just what kind of medical insurance this patient has been forced to buy.  Is it Aetna?  Blue Cross?  Alas, the reader will never know.  Alas also, that Grey’s Anatomy isn’t on TV right now, forcing us to return to your poem:

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

[Skipping some lines here, yadda yadda. . .]
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a MacArthur Genius Grant if I were you, honey.  Your choice of an adjustable, not fixed, poetic meter is high-risk and indicates an overall subprime quality to your work.  If you want to write a “Love Song,” J. Al, you need to deal in mergers and acquisitions.  So, incentivize — make the reader a tender offer — attempt a hostile takeover — anything but sit there, looking derivative.  Above all, man up.  Going forward, what say we drop that gloomy, underdog persona and wax poetic like a WINNER?  Perhaps you meant:

Let us go then, you and I,

When the bailouts are spread out against the sky

Like a CEO on Wall Street’s profits table. . .

Oh, do not rue the shame or onus,

Let’s just go and grab our bonus!

You see how proactive that sounds?  Somebody reading this stanza on a crowded subway would be empowered to open up their Wall Street Journal extra-wide, spread out onto two seats, then push and bite their way out of the car, to arrive, in a timely fashion, at the free-market workplace of their choice.  This is how democracy will be saved!  So let’s turn the page and see if your poem improves:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Here, we pause to ask the poignant question, “So what?”  Shoulda, woulda, coulda — nobody gives a rat’s ass for your suffering, pal.  The real tragedy here is that your parents didn’t force you to go to Harvard Business School.

Please stop writing like some seedy, downsized loser, staggering around an anonymous Iowa landscape because your crystal meth lab just exploded.  Come to think of it — that may be the reason you’re hallucinating overhead invalids and oceanic mutants.  Next thing you know, you’ll be whining about oil spills in the Gulf.  To continue:

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo. [Yadda. . .]
Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach?

I think I have discerned your big problem: You assume that you are some kind of “artist.”

Chances are, when you were in school, you were programmed into believing that you were “unique” — that human pain and perception can be transformed through “Art.”  But that was before the economy nosedived, proving once and for all that the ideal of self-expression is anathema to the profit motive.  The minute you start wondering whether you should eat that peach, Al, you stray into communistic psychological realms that must be vaporized if society is to advance.

Millions of people get this.  They have gone cold turkey off writing, painting, dancing, etc., and are busy turning their inner children into full-metal-jacket killing machines.  Unlike you, Al, they know that, in order to survive in today’s market, you have to murder the part of yourself that most wants to live.  Because:

“Money is truth, truth money,” — that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Actually, that’s kind of poetic.  And so very, very true.

Susie Day is Assistant Editor of Monthly Review.

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