Harry Eyres’ column in today’s ‘Financial Times’ reflects on seasonal excess – including that of indulgence in the company of others. One line seems particularly resonant , ‘I don’t know about you, but I am often haunted by fragments of conversations, or truncated conversations’.
Perhaps it is the fragmentation, the truncation, of conversations that endows them with a memorable quality. Full conversations are prosaic; not even good prose, for few of us speak grammatically. Snatches of conversation can assume poetic juxtapositions; they may form no rational whole, but carry images, pictures.
Remembered conversations can assume an enigmatic nature, divorced from context, they can take on a life and a plot of their own. It’s like Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’ which can be analysed to the nth degree, depriving it of its haunting nature. The closing lines seemed always to convey a promise of redemption, of salvation from the plight in which we are ensnared:
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you ).
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
“Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away”
What did they mean in their original context? Does it matter? Do songwriters expect every listener to a CD on a car stereo to know the circumstances of the writing of the song and the background to the lyrics? Go through some of the most classic pop songs and they are at best fragmentary in their meaning. Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ has been dissected, but in the dissection, the body loses its life. Analyse the third stanza and one is left with a series of propositions and the haunting is lost.
Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone
But that’s not how it used to be
When the Jester sang for the King and Queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
In a voice that came from you and me
Oh, and while the King was looking down
The Jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned
And while Lenin read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
The striving for meaning, for rationalisation, for understanding so as to control, can take beauty from our lives. Far better to have disjointed fragments, to remember odd lines of our conversations than to live our lives in monochrome prose.