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Ch 1: I BEGIN A PILGRIMAGE 
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Post Ch 1: I BEGIN A PILGRIMAGE
Chapter 1: I BEGIN A PILGRIMAGE

Please use this thread to discuss chapter 1



Fri Mar 20, 2009 6:36 pm
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'Gentlemen, friends, comrades---I am going away immediately and shall be guillotined to-morrow,'

---'Oh hardly guillotined I should say,' remarked t-d, in a voice which froze my marrow--- despite my high spirits; while the cook and carpenter gaped audibly and the mechanician clutched a hopelessly smashed carburetter for support.

These are ee cummings words to his US military company comrades as he is arrested by French authorities for associating with someone accused of writing treasonous letters. His light tone, and humour, reflect the fact that he doesn't take his arrest too seriously, which is further revealed by his comments during questioning. He is more concerned about loyalty to his friend and protecting those who helped write the letters, including a French translator, than worrying about going to jail. I think this lightness and humour can be seen in his poetry quite often. And he does slide in odd statements too .. like "the mechanician clutched a hopelessly smashed carburetter for support" what is all that about?



Mon Mar 30, 2009 4:56 pm
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I just want to post a small sample of Cummings' prose. I find it as amusing as his poetry. Cummings' spacing of words within a sentence or switching around of the expected word order in his sentences, just as in his poetry, produces little bits of humor.

"which protestingly housed some forty huddling Americans by night---holding in my hand an historic morceau de chocolat, when a spic not to say span gentleman in a suspiciously quiet French uniform allowed himself to be driven up to the bureau by two neat soldiers with tin derbies, in a Renault whose painful cleanliness shamed my recent efforts. This must be a general at least, I thought, regretting the extremely undress character of my uniform, which uniform consisted of overalls and a cigarette."



Thu Apr 02, 2009 12:45 pm
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saffron
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Another spring poem -- I love the opening line. It is an all time favorite of mine. The words seem out of order, but capture our attention immediately. The word perhaps with its meaning both maybe and possibly suggest two meanings at once -- that of a tentative exploratory sketch and that spring is possibility.

Spring is like a perhaps hand
by E. E. Cummings

III

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.


I copied this ee cummings poem from the “poem of the moment” thread because I wanted to connect his use of scattered language in poetry with his prose writing. In particular, I think the meaning of cummings writing, both in poetry and prose may be found in this unusual writing style. The lack of coherent sentences, the broken phrases, the splintered and fractured, the odd and unexpected or unnecessary twists of language force us to read each word and then go back at times to review what we have read and try to decipher his meaning.

So, I’ve been pondering what cummings is saying through this style of writing. Saffron used the term “tentative” and “possibilities” which relate directly to this poem because it is about spring and I agree that the poem’s language conveys a tentative, unsure feeling which is appropriate - Spring is tentative.

Perhaps cummings wants to convey a wider sense of “tentative” with his writing, beyond spring and beyond the specifics of the events described in The Enormous Room, but a tentative that is about the human condition, that in an age of rapid change (early to mid 20C) that humanity is moving forward in a tentative, unsure way, both individually and en masse. The individual relationships he describes in some of his other poems also seem characterized by uncertainty and confusion, or at least, that’s what his use of language suggests to me. His liberal and apparently random use of punctuation stretches the meaning of language as well, helping us escape the notion that English language is limited to 26 alpha characters.

The Enormous Room describes how he was imprisoned for a crime that amounted to standing by his friend. Given the First World War conditions, the confusion, errors of judgment, paranoia, excessive nationalism, befuddled, uncaring authorities are part and parcel of a tentative, uncertain world under duress. Cummings frequent, scattered use of French, creates not only a sense of authenticity but a sense of broken-ness and lack of direction, as if the language itself doesn’t know where it is going.

saffron
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when a spic not to say span gentleman in a suspiciously quiet French uniform allowed himself to be driven up to the bureau by two neat soldiers with tin derbies, in a Renault whose painful cleanliness shamed my recent efforts

This describes the arrival of the French authorities when cummings is arrested. Interesting how “clean” and “quiet” seem more sinister.



Fri Apr 03, 2009 12:28 pm
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Do you think his use of the word 'spic' refers to Italian or Spanish nationality? It is what we call them when we are being rude isn't it? Like calling the French 'frogs' or the English 'Limies'.

And combining it with 'span' gives it a dismissive air.


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Fri Apr 03, 2009 1:13 pm
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Penelope wrote:
Do you think his use of the word 'spic' refers to Italian or Spanish nationality? It is what we call them when we are being rude isn't it? Like calling the French 'frogs' or the English 'Limies'.

And combining it with 'span' gives it a dismissive air.


I think maybe our American phrase "spic and span" is not know in the UK.

spick-and-span also spic-and-span (spkn-spn)
adj.
1. Immaculately clean; spotless. See Synonyms at neat1.
2. Brand-new; fresh.



Wed Apr 08, 2009 8:54 pm
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I doubt he meant spic as a racial slur since it wasn't really in use in US literature until after Cummings wrote the book.

And funnily enough the phrase spic and span comes from the UK, at least according to wikipedia -

" "spick and span", which was a British idiom first recorded in 1579, and used in Samuel Pepys's diary. A spick was a spike or nail, a span was a very fresh wood chip, and thus the phrase meant clean and neat and all in place, as in being nailed down."


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Wed Apr 08, 2009 9:08 pm
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Here is a transcript of Cummings' arrest order:

(it comes from Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 7, No. 2, E. E. Cummings Special Number (Apr., 1979), pp. 345-349)

SUMMARY OF GROUNDS FOR ARREST The man Cummings, Edward Estlin, American citizen, enlisted as a volunteer in the 21st Ameri- can ambulance corps on June 15, 191 7. He was evacuated from the war zone by order of the Commandant General of the Army under this date. Cummings is an intimate friend of Brown, Slater. The seizure of Brown's correspondence revealed distressing estimates of the state of the morale of the French soldiers, discouraging reflections upon the fate that is in store for the American troops, and alarmist resolutions capable of endangering the Allied cause. Although Cummings' corre- spondence has not been censored, his close friendship with Brown, whom he appears to take as an example of conduct and with whose views he appears to agree, places him under suspicion as a threat to national security. His commanding officer, Mr. Anderson, is of the opinion that he, like Brown, is an undesirable in the war zone, that he should not be left free to circulate in France, and that his immediate return to America would be dangerous.

E. E. CUMMINGS Cummings is a suspected threat to national security. He was evacuated to the Depot de Triage at La Fert6-Mace (Orne) by order of the Commandant General of the Army dated September 22, 1917, acting upon the prescription of the Chief Com- mandant General (Liason Department-Civilian Services) dated September 21, 1917, telegram no. 22.063. His expulsion shall extend as well to the supply zone. In addition it is requested, compliant with Note no. 13398 of the G.Q.G. S.R.A. of September 19, 191 7, that Cummings be remanded to a concentration camp and kept under house arrest. Cummings shall be separated, during his stay at the Dep6t de Triage and later at the concentra- tion camp when he shall be sent, from the man Brown, William Slater, of the S.S.U. 21, the evacuation of whom preceded that of Cummings.


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Wed Apr 08, 2009 9:26 pm
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This is actually a comment about the introduction. It is an "interview" between an unnamed person and the author.

I think it functions a bit like an abstract does in an academic article. I haven't read the book before, but of course have read some of his poetry. So perhaps I am reading off what I know about that. But it seems to me that the odd breakage in the language and the key sentence "Signifying?" is what the book is really about. He is breaking the bonds between symbols and their traditional meaning. He is trying to shatter language so that experience can once again shine through.

I fits with what I know about the time too. Cultural icons, words, symbols of order no longer carried meaning after WWI. There were all those writers fighting the same kind of battle with tradition and the loss of meaning. And then there is the opening instruction - "Don't be afraid" that balances the final sentence, "Don't be afraid."

So it is like his saying, 'I am going to force words apart. I am going to refuse to allow the traditional meaning of things, the traditional symbols, icons, word-meanings - I am going to refuse to allow them to live. I am going to destroy tradition and thereby allow meaning and experience to return. Don't be afraid. We will get through.'


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Wed Apr 08, 2009 11:14 pm
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So we know from the introduction that people who don't become artists "don't become: I feel nothing happens to them; I feel negation becomes of them."

So what does it mean to be an artist for Cummings? I think that this is an important question in understanding this book.

I think maybe, at least in part, the book is a road map for becoming what he considers an artist - someone who can create the human world by creating symbols.


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Thu Apr 09, 2009 3:28 pm
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Saffron and Mary:

Thank you both: Spic and Span is in common usage here.

Which is why I thought Cummings was being criptic. I do too many crossword puzzles, obviously! :smile:

You are both so clever. This is going to be a good discussion and I am going to follow it closely.....but I expect I will only post now and again to ask a question....

I'm still going to check my Brewers - Origins of phrases just to make sure that the word 'spic' wasn't in circulation then. ;-)


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He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad....

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Thu Apr 09, 2009 4:21 pm
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So I've read the first chapter and I noticed a few things. The title "Begin a Pilgrimage" gives some guidance on how to read what happens. If this is to be a pilgrimage then the pilgrim (e e) is heading out to cleanse his "soul," to reconnect with his sense of identity, perhaps to expiate some "sins."

He is in a high humour, not taking anything seriously. He has been battling with A and so is glad to get away from him. Yet the reader soon gets the sense that where he is heading is probably going to be far worse. So far it reminds me of a slightly skewed Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I mean Christian is freaked out and the character Cummings is joking around so things are different. Also it is a secular world that Cummings has drawn so is this a secular salvation being offered?

I mean the deus ex machina "liberates" him from the banal and does it dressed in a "grey-blue uniform". The unwarranted plot device and a god from a machine. Both senses resonate here.

If Cummings had The Pilgrim's Progress in mind then his "sin" (which knowledge for Christian has come from reading the Bible), then the character Cummings is weighted down by his sense of the worthlessness of his current world. That makes his hometown (Christian's City of Destruction) the battlefields of WWI. It also makes the deus in the grey-blue uniform the Evangelist. Cool.

Not that I think this is a strict retelling. But it might be that the general destination of the character Cummings might be illuminated by the idea of the city of light, the Celestial City.


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Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:40 pm
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I still think that cummings was being criptic and very clever with those words, and using the word spic as a slur from the word hispanic.

Quote:
In American literature, the word has been dated to around 1916, when its first known written usage was by Ernest Peixotto in Our Hispanic Southwest, page 102.[1] One of the first recorded usages of the word was in Ladies' Home Journal, on September 17, 1919, when it wrote: "The Marines had been [...] silencing the elusive 'spick' bandit in Santo Domingo". Its history before that time, however, is less certain. It was also used by William Faulkner in Knight's Gambit (1946), page 137, when he said: "I don't intend that a fortune-hunting Spick shall marry my mother." It was earlier used by F. Scott Fitzgerald in Tender Is the Night (1934), page 275, although in dialog: "'He's a spic!' he said. He was frantic with jealousy."



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He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad....

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Fri Apr 10, 2009 10:08 am
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Penelope wrote:
In American literature, the word has been dated to around 1916...


The book was published in 1922 and, of course, written sometime before that. So while it is technically possible that he used the word in that way (given the earliest date you cite), what in the text makes you think a Hispanic racial slur works to explicate the text?


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Fri Apr 10, 2009 10:28 am
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I don't think he liked uniforms. I don't like uniforms either, so I am probably biased.

But the man in question was wearing a very tidy French uniform and I just got the feeling, from the phrase, that the man might have been of 'Latin' appearance. I thought cummings was being a trifle scathing, of people wearing 'spick and span' uniforms whilst not having very 'spick and span' ethics.


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Only those become weary of angling who bring nothing to it but the idea of catching fish.

He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad....

Rafael Sabatini


Fri Apr 10, 2009 10:51 am
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