Notes for The Profane Comedy
Although I will be adding notes to the lines of poetry, it is important that the reader have some background on the single most important individual not mentioned in the poem, Dante Alighieri, who produced what is universally regarded as one of the most important, influential, beautiful, and captivating poems in written human history, The Divine Comedy, made up of three poems, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.† Dante himself never referred to his work as "Divine" although he did call it his Commedia, which is how I will refer to it.† He called it a comedy because, like all classical comedies, everything works out happily in the end.† Most people just read Inferno and they imagine that Dante was venting spleen when he wrote it.† As an exile from the fractious politics of Florence in the late 13th century, he had reason to be upset, and to hurl many acquaintances and contemporaries, including the Pope, into the pit of hell, to make them suffer and to perhaps revel in his control over their torments.† But Dante was a serious theologian also who found a way to subsume his personal travails in the concept of his life as a journey toward salvation and love.† Thereby he made his metaphorical journey into a tale for Everyman.† He made his main character Dante, but, as Prof. Person revealed in my studies of the poem, Dante the pilgrim and Dante the poet are two decidedly different people.
I will give one example, although Inferno in particular is rife with such.† In Canto 15 of Inferno, Dante meets an old teacher of his, Brunetto Latini, who is among the sodomists in hell.†† There is, however, no evidence that the living man Latini had any homosexual tendencies whatsoever.† Dante the pilgrim suffers to see his teacher in hell, and tells him that he would gladly have Brunetto Latini freed from his eternal punishement.† However, Dante the poet is the one who has placed Brunetto in the pit to begin with.† And upon examination of the Canto, the reader will become aware that Brunettoís sin is not so much sodomy as it is a complacency which Dante interprets as meaning that Brunetto was satisfied that his earthly works (his poetry and his teaching) were enough to have achieved salvation, when in fact, according to Dante the poet, they were not.† This complication, one character taking two positions, is a key to my fatherís intent in the Profane Comedy.
Even more importantly, the Divine Comedy gave my father a structure to work with.† Dante the pilgrim is assisted by Virgil the poet whose great work, the Aeneiad, was an epic-poem-as-history of the beginnings of the Roman empire.† Fing the pilgrim is assisted by Abraham Lincoln, who stands as the central figure of the history of the United States.† Dante is inspired by Beatrice, his life long love, and the instigator of Virgilís assistance on Dante the pilgrimís journey.† Fing is inspired by Lilica, who sends Lincoln to help Fing the pilgrim find his way.† Fing goes through Perdition, Limbo and Elysium, just as Dante went through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.† Dante wrote in terza rima, and my father utilizes terza rima throughout, although he also varies his verses and rhyming schemes, adding quotations from other writers and playing with structure in a post-modern, imagistic, allegorical fashion.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Dante the poet describes a humanistic vision of the potentiality of an individualís life, and that is what my father attempted to do as well.† Danteís name is never once mentioned in this poem, but he has to be considered the single most important influence on my father in the creation of his poem.† The idea to scour political history for the seed of contemporary societal dysfunction, the manner in which the main characters are led episodically through these metaphorical realms, the intent to provide enlightenment for others, all are my fatherís purposes as I believe he perceived them in Danteís Commedia.† I do not know where, when, or how my father studied Dante, but his work is an absolute key to this poem.
1 - Oneís journey goes a certain distance - Dante, the poet, begins his Commedia with the line "Midway on our lifeís journey" immediately noting that this work is not just about or for him, although he then begins to refer to himself (Dante the pilgrim) in the first person.† Fing does the same thing, not using ĎIí until line 17.
2 - When a path appears to be a web - The path being the path of life, which Fing is indicating is the same as Danteís at the beginning of the Commedia, the age of 35, which is a Biblical reference from Psalms 90:10 stating that a manís life span is three score and ten years.† Fing was 35 in 1976.† The web then is any variation from the straight path, references to the web and spiders are not infrequent in this poem.† This second line states absolutely the allegorical intent of the work.
4 - ...halting the tidal ebb. - Another of several key images at the beginning...† This is one which the reader can treat as a marker for Fingís feelings of physical impotence, that is his submission to or perception of phenomenon over which he has no control, which are often principles of light, gravitation, force, physical disorientation, imbalances...
9-10 - I will attempt to interpret these lines in various ways, so that some understanding can be gleaned from consideration (and perhaps even provocation) of other possibilities.† My feeling is that where my father left ambiguities it is because he sincerely intended on leaving the reader to do much of the sorting out of resolutions or morals to his tale.† First rendering -† One begins to see that reality is different from what one believed it was, that no amount of rationalization can ever bring reality and imagination back into harmony, and so one begins to feel the sin of pride in oneís belief system and the inescapable consquence of its tendency to self-deception.† Second rendering - the fearful vision - is what one has when one strays from the correct path and there is no reason which can make sense of the experiences which are encountered by the individual who has wandered helpless off the correct path.† What one sees when one has these fearful visions is that they lied to themselves, their - pride has positioned [them] into apostasy.† So because they cannot see or reason properly they cannot trust themselves to find the correct path again.† I must say that some of these interpretaions of mine will have to be excused by the reader as a form of informed speculation.†
***My father had a religious background which caused him no end of Nietzschean trouble as he developed.† In fact, and this is a point which should be known up front, my fatherís father died at Pearl Harbor December 8th 1941, the day after the Japanese bombing, not a day of infamy.† He caught some friendly fire from a jumpy gunner while he was climbing a palm tree to get a cocoanut to share with some of the families who were gathered in mourning.† My father was 5 months old.† He never knew his father at all.† And his mother kind of went into seclusion like my mother did after my father killed himself.† Anyway, my father lived with his grandparents, and his grandmother made it her duty to raise her only son to be a priest, dedicated to the goodness and eternal preservation of the souls of humanity.† My father could never break away from the influence of those expectations.
13 - duty to vocation - is a Calvinist concept, which runs through the entire poem.† My father would have been reading about Calvin in a series of readings which included Weberís The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.† He was reading Nietzsche and Foucault also in an analysis of the structures of moral society in the west, in the United States particularly.† Duty to vocation is the one protestant concept which does not fall under my fatherís scrutiny and his acceptance of it is one element of the American Dream vision which my great-grandfather inculcated in my father as he raised my father in the stead of his father who had died in Hawaii.† Fingís choice of guides is another indication of his protestant inclinations despite so many other Catholic tendencies, like the compulsion to confess and the sense of shame which seemed to endlessly over-power my father.
15 - One has no choice but to be beckoned - A strangely constructed passive usage for a seemingly inevitable call to action which I presume my father believed the duty to vocation was.† Perhaps he believed that everybody had a vocation, the trick was simply to find it.
23 - adversion - adversity.† There are several made up words in the Profane Comedy.† This one seems to have been necessary to complete the rhyme.
24 - To speculate and gamble against chance - The line requires some contemplation.† To speculate and gamble is to take a chance.† One gets the sense of how entwined Fing is in the muck of his indecision at the beginning of this poem when he considers his course of action to be taking a chance against chance.† Imagine those odds.
26 - Furrowed mottled sorrow on his brow - I am convinced that this description of Fingís guide is a reference to the photograph of Lincoln taken just days before his assassination, where the years of his presidency have clearly taken their toll.† My father had this picture on his desk.† From his notes and the selection of his books about Lincoln, it seems clear to me that he considered Lincoln to be a secular American Christ.† Danteís Virgil also holds this sort of position, exceptionally virtuous and wise, yet seemingly condemned to an eternity of Limbo based on the technicality of the timing of his birth, two generations before Christ.† Fingís Lincoln bears considerable comparison to Danteís Virgil.
49-50 - I: "And yet you stand as representative
††††††††††† Of ideals which good citizens may pursue.
Does my father intend to gloss over Lincolnís failures when it comes to slavery and civil rights?† Does he really believe in Lincolnís nobility just because he bent to the politically obvious?† In any case, no other person in Perdition is held in this light.
57 - I am Lincoln - This is not the only time that Lincoln will castigate Fing for his dim-wittedness.
60 - vivisection - American Heritage defines this as "The act or practice of cutting into or otherwise injuring living animals, especially for the purpose of scientific research."† This is the first of various references to the path, the journey of life, as an experiment, a Baconian attempt to explain the otherwise inexplicable physical world.† That it is a horrific experiment on live animals is perfectly in keeping with Fingís vision.† Lincolnís response is a further irony, suggesting again that one is passively brought through the process of conscious existence, as an animal in a vivisection.
63 - You very simply donít know whatís been done. - This is Lincolnís manner of telling Fing that what is needed in his life is a Nietzschean revaluation of all values.† Lincoln is telling Fing that he has been duped into the muck of his indecision, that he misunderstands his history, if he is stymied on the path of his life.
74 - I will show you what human can mean - This is a double-edged statement, one which rings with Danteís ambivalences as well.† To say Ďwhat human can meaní is to include both positive and negative possibilities.† The irony is though that this part of the journey dwells almost entirely in the realm of negativities.† Still Lincoln assures Fing, By this manner you may experience yourself.†† This is not insignificant in drawing up differences between Dante and Fing.† More on that with line 92.
88 - my guide fell - This is the first of Lincolnís falling down three times, obvious reference to the passion of Christ, carrying the cross and falling three times on his way to Golgotha.† One of the key connections of Lincoln to Christ in the poem.
92- The sign on the stile, ĎHere lies morality.í - The sign above the gate to Danteís Inferno reads, among other things, ĎAbandon all hope, ye who enter here.í One major difference between Danteís Commedia and Fingís Profane Comedy is noted here at the gateway to hell.† Where Dante is going to be professing morality (where people went wrong, how they offended the great judge in the sky, what people must not do in order to achieve their salvation) with love (that is by Beatriceís and Virgilís guidance) in the course of his journey, Fing is going to bear witness to the opposite of morality (how people always go wrong, how the great judge in the sky is not offended by any of this, and that salvation is not possible) with love (that is by Lincolnís and Lilicaís guidance).† And the opposite of morality is not immorality, it is irony.† Irony with love, that is Fingís journey in three words.† Thus The path appeared to continue straightaway/But that is not what it was in reality.
99-101 - In the life that we lived as the hostages
††††††††††† Of the rationally disciplined mystery
††††††††††† Of Ben Franklinís most loving adages.
The only analysis of Ben Franklinís adages I could find in my fatherís collection comes from Max Weberís The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.† Early in that book, Weber utilizes a few of Franklinís quotations as archetypal, secular, internalized-authority mantras which indicate the manner in which the Calvinist conception of duty to vocation escaped its religious boundaries in the American colonial period and became the commercial work ethic which Weber says is the key to Western dominance in the world today.† That Fing calls Franklinís aphorisms a Ďrationally disciplined mystery,í that he sees we are hostage to the protestant ethic, that it is a veneer over something which is still not understood, is, to me, most powerful.
108-109 - remember that you have no mother
††††††††††† Other than the one who brings us together
She has not yet been named, but this mother who is not Fingís mother is Lilica, who is in no other place referred to as a mother, but as a lover.† This is a hinge I have not been able to construe.† And why would Lincoln say that Fing had no mother?† All living men have a mother.† Is it possible that Fing the poet is separating himself from Fing the pilgrim, who, as a character in an epic poem, has no progenerative maternity?
120 - 122 - My guide seemed in no need of diction
††††††††††† To read the flash of fearís imagination
††††††††††† Upon my confused visage.
There are many occasions in the poem where words are an unecessary form of communication.† Fing is ambivalent about many things, but he is perhaps most ambivalent about words.† This will come out more fully when Fing considers Bacon and Locke and Sterne.† Lincoln in particular is able to read Fingís face and mental processes fairly easily.† Is it psychic or just totally obvious?
129 - 169 - Ronald Reagan is introduced in line 129 but not named until line 140.† What is most intriguing is how prophetic this passage is.† My father killed himself in 1976, the year that Reagan lost in the primaries to Gerald Ford.† It is hard to imagine that my father was so prescient as to picture the actor as a President, but that is certainly the case here.† He must have known something about Reaganís character, and his strange and putrid compatibility with the self-deceiving American public.† And of course, Reagan is not dead at the time that Fing takes this trip to The Dead.† Continuing with the oddities, in line 143 he refers to Reagan as the Old Biffer.† It is rather the Gipper of course, so I am not sure what this reference might mean, or whether to consider a mistake.
156 - His scowl and reproach were without precedent - With the ambiguous syntax, two interpretations are allowable here; on the personal level, Fing is saying that he has never known such a withering reproach in his experience.† Still, I know from my fatherís notebooks that his relationship with my mother was not successful for him, and that my motherís reproach had always been a part of her relationship to him, no less so after he killed himself and abandoned us to our imbalanced fates.† But on the societal level, Lincolnís approbation was a sorely truthful judgement, such that America had never (and has never) known the like.† Here we have Fing beginning to address, tentatively, perhaps without even his own notice, the issues of the house divided, the living corpus that was the compromise which became the United States of America, North and South.† The magnificence of the poem rests in the understructuring of the many considerations Fing has about American history.† He is telling the story as a pilgrim and as a poet, in the manner that Dante did with his main character, Dante.
157 - 160 In the mild justice which righteousness bestows
††††††††††† When tempered by the ideals of free institutions
††††††††††† In the glance of a man who you know knows,
††††††††††† Having named the decisive ideal in crystal distillation.
Fing has directly addressed Reagan, and Lincoln has taken such exception that he interrupts to put a question to Reagan instead.† Fing feels the unprecedented reproach but also considers it mild justice, and righteousness tempered by ideals of free institutions (certainly a reference to the pioneer civics education which Lincoln received).† In Lincolnís shining wisdom, Fing is shamed but senses the correctness of Lincolnís position, no less so because the man who has turned his glance away, ignoring him and dispensing of his justice, is the man who has named the decisive ideal of the establishment of the United States by writing the Gettysburg Address, that crystal distillation being that the country was Ďdedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.í† There is no doubt that my father was obsessed with this idea as he developed in the1950ís and 60ís in the United States.† He moved around all over the country, Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco, LA, and was galvanized to a certain form of activism by the injustice he recognized in the institutionalized racism all over the country.† Lincoln and Jefferson are referred to many times in the early notebooks, meditations and poems upon the essence of freedom, the responsibility of freedom, the traps of freedom, the lie of freedom, the exploitation of freedom, the inequality of freedom, the failure of freedom, the unleashing of freedom, the meaning of freedom, and the inability to define freedom.† But my father grew up in a country where freedom rang and the measures of success were all exceeded.† His upbringing, broken as it was, was not unstable economically, and he was an advantaged child-citizen in many ways.† And then he encountered the world of horror and instability outside his little world of horror and stability, and he sympathized with the desires of all disenfranchised people, women, African-Americans, disabled people, to be given a fairer opportunity to achieve the benefits of equality for ourselves.† He also saw that this tendency was going to provide him with less political power and more economic disenfranchisement.† He also saw this tendency as fulfilling a prophecy of Karl Marxís that the development of capitalism meant that husbands and wives and families all would be competitors on the market.† My father felt these deep ambivalences about his country, and his country was nearly as deeply divided in the 1960ís as it had been a century earlier, but he never sided with anybody, nor took to marching.† He simply wrote poetry about his experiences and tried to find a teaching job where he felt comfortable.† Because if society was going to make my father play a role, to accept the duty of his responsibility as a fully functioning citizen in a democratic republic, he could only do that as a teacher.† He was an elementary school English teacher when men didnít do that very much.† And I think my father had a hard time fitting into this role for more than just that reason.† Before he stopped keeping his notebooks (excepting the journal he kept the year that he died), his last months of writing contained various expressions of cultivated imaginings of the sexualities of children.† They are neither innocent nor particularly shameful, but they represent (not unlike his suicide also) the lengths that my fatherís mind could go to.† As the poem shows...
164 - 165 - "All are free to pass through here, none are in need
††††††††††† To offer justification," he said, "For their sin."†
If I am not mistaken, this is a reference to a point in Danteís Commedia.† However, I have not been able to find the corresponding section.
170 - 175 - "You are the equal of everyone you see.
††††††††††† You must allow them to be what they are to be
††††††††††† You must let them play their scene and leave
††††††††††† Please hold your tongue and test what you believe
††††††††††† In the silence of your own conscience."† My teacher
††††††††††† Did not look at me, but kept up a stern pace.
There is much packed into this series of lines.† Here Lincoln reiterates the democratic ideal, thereby equating 20th century America with Hell as clearly as at any other point in the poem.† But Lincoln admonishes Fing to be disinterested, to be passive, to be an audience, and so Fing the pilgrim is being instructed in the same manner that Fing the poet is instructing the reader to read this poem.† Finally, I know of only one other use of the word Ďconscienceí in the poem, and it comes in the last page of the poem, bearing one might say the heaviest moment of the entire piece.† But for all this I might have let mention of the use of the word Ďconscienceí pass, except that on the very next line, Fing uses the adjective Ďsterní which is a homophone for the individual (Sterne) who uses the word Ďconscienceí again in the last page of the poem.† It may be that I see more in this than some other scholars, but the word Ďconscienceí is so lightly used, and the use of it on the last page so unexpected and odd, that I feel it is worthwhile to point it out to the otherwise unwitting reader.††††††
176 - 181 - "Iím at your service, but Iím not delivering
††††††††††† The answers to your questions.† Instead you must face
††††††††††† The very shadow of your quivering
††††††††††† And acknowledge the strength of its force and its weight
††††††††††† Even as you attempt to stem its shivering
††††††††††† When there is nothing there for your body to hold."
Fingís response to this is "I donít get it."† So itís ok to laugh at the seeming meaninglessness of this verbiage.† The first line and a half are further instructions on how to read and experience this poem.† Lincoln is clarifying his job for Fing.† He is to be a guide, the motion and direction of their journey, but he does not have answers.† It seems as if Lincoln feels that answers are to be found in facing our own shadows.† On a personal level this has a Freudian sort of foundation in it, but again, I capture a waft of Michel Foucaultís writings in here.† What Fing is about to see is the underbelly of an Enlightened society, one caught inextricably within its defining institutions, such as a shadow is caught inextricably within the form of the individual.† Foucaultís examinations of the institutions of the modern, western state reveal the necessity of this underbelly for the proper functioning of bourgeious society.† And so, with Fing going metaphorically beyond Foucault, there is strength and force in the weight of a shadow, which shivers uncontrollably, and has no body to be relieved of its shivering.† The lack of a body is somewhat contradictory to Foucaultís conception of the actual physical body of the individual in a disciplinary society, as my father learned from "Discipline and Punish," which he read the year that I turned two, but I donít see it as too big a leap to envision this bodyless shadow as Foucaultís Ďsoul,í which I paraphrase as the sum of the accumulated habits of the individual in a disciplinary society.† The shadow can also be the underclasses, the masses of disenfranchised in the modern, western society.† As a footnote, the only time I ever remember my mother saying anything light-hearted about my father was in reference to that book "Discipline and Punish," which he apparently bought thinking it would be helpful in raising my brother and myself.† I can see how things didnít work out for him.
189 - anthropomorphification - literally I read this to mean having been made into the shape of a man, another passive sort of creation.† My father did not believe that he was an active agent in the circumstances of his life, except when he created this universe of words.
190 -192 - You are not one of the elected to be strewn
††††††††††† Into the hell of this bureaucratization.
††††††††††† Have no fear of the words which you are shown."
Double meaning on elected plays to the Calvinist religious intention of election by God into heaven due to grace received and acted upon, but also election as in to have been chosen to be a representative of a constituency, by that constituency..., which, in this case, is good because Fing does not want to be strewn into the hell.† He will remain a man.† And then in a peculiar and seeming direct call to the reader, and not Fing the pilgrim (because he is not seeing words, he sees actual physical visual images) to not be afraid of the words which are on this very page.† This advice coming from the sage Abraham Lincoln, Fingís guide, the readerís guide.† Fing and the reader are fused into one, and urged to keep going, even if you donít understand it.
195 - a plague of locusts - Biblical, apocalyptic reference to a time which can only be tangentially connected to Hoover, of dust bowl Oklahoma and Texas in the early thirties, but an image of the depression, nonetheless, which found Herbert Hoover the presiding officer in the executive branch of the government.
197 - Herbert Hoover Insurance - !†††††
201 - 210 - Knowing my fatherís interest in James Agee, as seen in the last pages of Elysium, I feel confident in suggesting that this rendering of the effects of the years of the most stagnant economic depression in 20th century America are closely recollected from the images of Walker Evans which accompanied Ageeís prose work "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," about Alabama sharecroppers in 1936.†
211 - 212 - After as many hours as have four score
††††††††††† And seven years...
Apparently Fing and Lincoln have been in line for 87 years.† This incredible request upon our belief is made all the more profoundly strange when it occurs in two lines, or at most 12 lines, without any other reference to time passed.† I have spent many years puzzling this moment which lasts 87 years but passes in a moment and all I can say is that one cannot always believe oneís senses, that this is a dastardly play upon reason, which the pilgrim never feels, but the poet gets to laugh off as an infinte jest.† I can think of no other reason that my father put this in than because he could do it and, in doing so, reduce our most fundamental preconceptions of the steadiness of chronological progression to ruin.†
225 - "Iíve got the guns and the numbers - This same bullying line of argument is taken one other time in this poem, with John Tyler going up the tower steps of St. Anthonyís in New Bedford near the end of Limbo.
239 - 240 - ...unable to shrug
††††††††††† The liquid weight of words which were heard as promises.
The description of Hoover is to me like the description of a hapless company man whose job is essentially a constant harrassment, but the telling image is the Ďliquid weight of wordsí which makes words very heavy indeed and that promises are what weigh words down so heavily.† As I have always tried to keep it in my mind, I feel it is worthwhile to repeat myself here if I must...† In the sense that this poem is an Ďirony with love,í I think Fing wants to highlight the ironic potentiality of promises, and how Hoover figures into that I do not know, except that he oversaw the most significant collapse of American society in the 20th century.
245 - Who had undivided, with his will, a nation - From his notebooks, the scribblings in the many civil war books and biographies of Lincoln, his poetry, his divided will, it is clear to me that Fing considers this reuniting of the torn nation the pinnacle of Lincolnís political achievement.† That he died for it is only further divine evidence, in my fatherís mind, of Lincolnís supernatural capacites of comprehension and empathy.† With the manifested spirit of Lincoln guiding him on this journey, he has no other fear or worry.† Anotherís wisdom and will will carry him through.† And so Fing is going to be made to feel the sting of Lincolnís wrath in another of many temporal sequences (in which I include the 87 years spent in the last scene) which may in other ways be referred to as dreams (Although that is not my preferred word.† This poem is not a dream, it is a living breathing organism in the same vein as a Henry Moore or Steven Giblin sculpture.), Fing departs from the propulsion of his narrative in a physical and downward direction, into a truly abstract state where the raw uncanniness of the imagery is even more stark that what has heretofore been encountered.
253 - 273 - And a vision blistered through my consciousness
††††††††††† But unique in manner and words and sense.
The conceit begins as a Ďvisioní where Fing imagines that Lincolnís father, whose family was from Kentucky, had not moved on, away from slavery, into Indiana, where Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809, 10 years before Indiana became a state, where Kentucky had been made a state in 1792.† Rather, Fing imagines Lincolnís father accepting slavery just as readily as did his relatives, and moving on, not north, but west, to Missouri, which also was a slave state, admitted to the United States two years after Indiana, and one year after the infamous Missouri Compromise, which Fing knew was a watershed moment in the intitutionalization of racism in the North, based on moral superiority without moral strength, and for the eventual catastrophe of the Civil War which brought about the death of Lincoln† So he is imagining what might have been the fate of the nation, and Lincoln himself, if Lincoln had been a slaver.† And he says, I did see a nation devestated.† Line 259 implies that all which Fing has understood, and all which he is to understand, has been understood without the use of spoken words.† And Fingís vision is immense; he seems to see the entire countryside in conflagration, unending battles between brothers, revenge, and rape, with syntax that blurs action and agency into a mass of amputation and vengeance.† Fing then flips that reality on its head and imagines that these dead and maimed people might otherwise have been lovers, gentle, civilized with trim beards and clipped anxieties, and who might have been just as willing to kiss you as hurl mechanized steel at human bodies.† The conclusion being that Lincoln was a savior as venerably/As the souls macheted, dying septic deaths/In the fields and cities of the land of liberty...† To Fing it was important that all men were created equal, all can be saviors, all are saviors.† And if that ainít love...
274 - 285 - Here Fing finally convinces himself that Lincolnís achievements require that Fing be respectful of Lincolnís request to be quiet.† It will not be the last time he defies Lincoln but he does remain quiet in this next scene.
287 - ...the door marked ĎDissolutioní - The last door with any demarcation on it in Fingís Perdition.
293 - Three youthes, as if they had never died... - Three is a very important allegorical number.† If there is need for reminder, Jesus rose from the dead three days after he died, or three blind mice, or three coins in a fountain.† That they are youthes representing such immortality bespeaks of an impossibility to mature, but then their image is such that they do not seem to be already dead, which they are, except one of them.† Elvis is the second individual in the poem who is not dead at the time of its writing.† In fact, Elvis outlived my father by about one year.† The other two youthes, who died when they were younger, are James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
299 - Somebodyís always coming over with some wine. - This strikes me, coming out of Marilyn Monroeís luscious mouth, as the most chilling line in the poem.
316 - Helpless as ever with these stars before my eyes - Fing is overpowered by the presence of these Hollywood flameouts, but they bear the physical force of three suns.† He is paralyzed and in a craving desire to love Marilyn.
321† - My guide surmised my wonder and turned to teach - Lincoln does not need words to interpret in the finest detail the manners which give Fingís reactions away.
The teaching tercets are lines 322 - 327, and also 334 - 339, and are a suggestion that their dying young was due to unfulfilled promises, although, again, Elvis outlived my father by about one year, and one wonders what kinds of promises Marilyn Monroe or James Dean really ever made to anybody.† Lines 328 - 333 are a recitation of the scene of each death, Marilyn first, James Dean second, Elvis third, although Elvis outlived my father by a year or so, and died in the privacy of his own toilet, and then the reasons for their untimely demises.† I am haunted then by Lincolnís last line here, line 339 - Before they became what they couldnít sustain, because who can really know if they are becoming what they cannot sustain?
343 - ...I wanted to give myself to be their whore - Fing has made his powerful attraction to Marilyn clear, but with this line he begins a process of examining his sexuality that until now there has been very little hint of.† My father was, to put it plainly, overwrought with the content of his preferred sexual imageries.† His poetry is full of his stifled self-pitying yearning for ease and maternal innocence and sex with children and teachers with students and bad boys who put lubricants on their own fingers.† I tend to think of this as the worst of his cultivations of insanity, and although I know it tormented him, he also found it funny when it wasnít putting him on the edge of suicide.† Which apparently, my mother says, was the last six of the twelve years they spent together, that would be right after I was born.† And so this has been a subject in regard to which my mother has been unwilling to clarify the lingering questions.† Anyway, his desire, as expressed in lines 344 - 345, is generous.
348 - My guide noted the scarlet hue of my gloom - Again Lincoln responds to Fingís unspoken responses to these circumstances.† He soliloquizes briefly and Fing keeps silent.† This might seem a bit of a defiance, but he listens earnestly and does feel aspirant.
355 - "...you may find words unnecessary." It can hardly be considered coincidental that in going through this infernal realm Lincoln reassures Fing by telling him that words, the molecular manifestation of this very poem, are unnecessary.† He means of course in response to what he is presenting, or rather guiding them through.† What is this ambivalence that Fing has with words?† He is writing this tremendously deft epic poem whose virtues are not unlike the ones Sidney described in In the Defense of Poesy.† It is the poet who takes the highest heights of intellectual virtuousness, raised above historians and moral philosophers, for his fusion of teaching and delighting in his "purifying of wit" which "is to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls can be capable of."† This is absolutely my fatherís purpose in taking the journey as a pilgrim and recounting the journey as a poet.† And words are his tools, and he curses them, like a bad workman.† Which brings us to the circumstances of the writing of the poem.† He wrote it in Philadelphia in 1976, where he grew up fatherless and motherless, but for his strictly Catholic grandparents who raised him, from 1941 - 1953.† He saw his mother only occasionally in the early years, but when she remarried in 1953, when Fing was 13, he began his itinerant years.† He returned to Philadelphia, with all of us for the last three years of his life.† My mother has let us know that she followed along in hopes of his finding some place that he felt comfortable to live, because he was always burning out on those cities, St. Louis, New Orleans, Kansas City, Albuqurque.† He was a folky guy, Woody Guthrie, wandering.† He was bohemian before it became hippie and generally disliked the manners of the people 5 years younger than himself.† But he liked children and had a degree and experience teaching in these various cities, where he smoked many cigarettes and played much music, guitar, and harmonica, and singing, when friends came around, and at night, outside in the summer.† But his mind and body were seldom at complete ease and never at rest, and he fidgeted and twitched a bit in the last years.† He also became obsessed with vividly sensual, explicitly erotic images of children which would not have been well-received by those childrenís parents.† These images tortured him.† And this poem, and the other journal which he kept, are the last burst of literary energy he had before he left us noteless, as far as I know, but my mother may have covered that up.† I leave that to her perogative.† I feel comfortable with the fact my father lacerated his own aorta in a bathtub, without leaving us a note, using words to explain why he did it.† I donít think he believed words or anything else could possibly tell truly what was the human experience, how anybody could ever make it any distance at all with the wretched entrapment of reality which American society was becoming during the bicentennial year, Vietnam, Watergate and Nixon, school busing riots, and discos and cocaine, how one person could communicate with another person with any sense of trust or acceptance, as if all people spoke different languages...
366 - "What feels like lava, might very well be dung." - I think of this as the most tired line of the entire poem, and I think the line feels badly used because my father is feeling the constraint of the rhyming.† Some of his rhyming is quite original and some of it is just a careless stretch.† Eventually this poem and Elysium wind up in blank verse tercets.† Regarding the imagery, both lava and dung are natural, but if we are talking about inhaling them into our lungs, neither is going to feel better, or worse, than molten rock.† Far be it from me to suggest that the 3000 other lines are better than this one, but I will let history judge as it may.
376 - 377† There were no walls but the limit of my reach
††††††††††† And the pressure on my skin.† I could not but submit.
He says there are no walls, but that some physical force exists at the limit of his reach and in the pressure on his skin.† He is controlled by it.† His body has been suspended in the pearlescent brine of the womb.† The physical force upon his body is so great that Fing can do nothing but give in.† We have seen it before, we will see it again.† Fing felt like circumstances were always out of his control.† He is no epic hero, for events leave him without the slightest physically reactive capacity.
383 - Ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny - One of the more salient and clear indications that humans evolved from so-called Ďlower orders.í† Ontogeny is the origin and development of an individual organism from embryo to adult, and phylogeny is the developmental/evolutionary stages that all life forms have taken on Earth, that is the tree of life and all its branches.† In the embryonic stages (ontogeny), all organisms go through the same dvelopmental stages, frogs have gills in early stages of their development, as do lizards and birds and whales and tigers and† human fetuses, which go through ichthyological, amphibian, and reptilian transformations on route to assuming their final, mammalian, characteristics.† I believe the point my father is beginning to make here is in highlighting humanityís essential animality, and to emphasize that life is therefore not sacred.† That there are millions and millions and billions and billions of dead fetuses and children in world history and they all go to hell, for no reason other than that is where the unborn go.† This is a complex scene and more remains to be said.
389 - Weíve not seen a breather. - First reference to Fing as a breather.† It occurs again two or three times.† It is among the means of differentiating Fing from the truly condemned.† Dante many times in his journey came across individuals who were confounded that a living man would be walking around among the dead.
390 -391 - "Good children, we are not free to stay, but neither
††††††††††† Have we passed without signing off."
Lincoln is as extroverted as he has been, and more direct than with any others they have yet met with.† He calls them good, but insists that he and Fing are not free, and must leave.† Still, and this is the bureaucratic aspect of Fingís Perdition which generally ceases to manifest itself over the rest of Perdition, as if the whole thing just collapsed under its own weight as the structure progressed, they have to sign off.† Much must be made of the Dantesque nature of this interlude, how Lincolnís greater involvement is revealing of a greater respect Fing is giving to his interlocuters, with whom he has heretofore been less respectful of.† And the weight of Lincolnís guidance begins to take on a clarity, and density, which it has not had as he has stood more aloof.† Danteís relations to Virgil develop similarly to Fingís with Lincoln, although the Commedia is probably ten times longer, and Fing and Lincoln move more quickly and deeply than Dante and Virgil.† There is a key moment from Canto 19 of Inferno which is illuminating.† I refer to it because in one of my fatherís notes to a friend he mentioned it in reference to this passage of Lincolnís dialogue with the fetuses.† Dante has just upbraided Constantine as an avaricious barrator in religious office, a plunderer, and that his punishment in hell, suspended upside down with feet on fire for eternity, is fitting.† The passage is translated by Robert Pinsky, American:
††††††††††† ...And while I sang this strain,
††††††††††† whether he felt the bite of conscience, or anger,
††††††††††† He kicked out hard with both his feet; indeed,
††††††††††† I think my guide approved, with a look of pleasure
††††††††††† Listening to the sound of true words said.
††††††††††† And then he lifted me in his arms again,
††††††††††† My weight full on his chest; and when he had,
††††††††††† He climbed the same path he had taken down;
††††††††††† Nor did he tire while holding me embraced
††††††††††† But he carried me to the summit of the span
††††††††††† From the fourth dike to the fifth, then gently release
††††††††††† His burden--gently because the passage was hard,
††††††††††† So steep and rocky that goats might be hard pressed;
††††††††††† And there before me another valley appeared.
In Virgil, Dante describes a Christlike figure of strength and pity.† For Fing the pilgrim to see Lincoln paying a sort of homage to the fetuses is indicative of Fing the poetís fulminations and his demand upon the reader to recognize and understand the complexity of this interaction.
393 - "Yes, we spent a great while on that bother." - Lincolnís only other reference to the 87 years which passed waiting in Hooverís office.
394 - 420 - Another indication of the importance which Fing the poet places on the fetuses is the fact that Lincoln ceases to be any intermediary at all and Fing has his first real direct contacts with the occupants of Perdition (which can be, by the way, defined as the condition of being a lost soul).† This is made all the more insistent and remarkable because the fetus tells Fing that the fetuses are really the gatekeepers but that Satan was somehow persuaded to allow the image-mongerers to get special places in front of the gates.† It is my feeling that there are so many ironies intertwined in this passage that the intent of it is to make you feel as if you are in a web of possibilities.† Billions and billions of fetuses caught up in petty squabblings with the usurpers of dignity and grace, who manifest dignity and grace with no eloquence whatsoever, about not guarding the gates of hell, just representing the most eloquent manner of stating that life is not sacred, morality is useless, history is the lies that we prefer to tell ourselves.
423 - 424 - ...my confusion
††††††††††† Was profound.
Further declaration of the significance of the scene.† It requires going over again and again to develop its many potentialities.† And what comes after relates as well...† Essentially the fetuses present Fing the sysipheaen, existential dilemma.† Their existence has no meaning, there is nothing which can be done about their fate.† There is no reason for it.† All answers reveal inexorable human agencies to their own tragic fates.† For the fetuses are human.† They communicate in words.† They are seen in an attitude of prayer.† The cycles of layers of angles of perception in regard to the applicability of morality to human life are infinite, a tailing away of distorted reflections upon an endless question, what is the self?
424 - 426 - ...My guide opened a door and we passed
††††††††††† Back into the heavy, spacious realm of air,
††††††††††† Where sound travelled without weight, I choked on gas.
This is Fingís birth.† It is one-third of the way through one-third of the whole Profane Comedy.† Fing is cold, on his hands and knees, vomiting, and he asks in line 428 - Is this the beginning of the journey?
To which Lincoln replies in line
430 - For a pilgrim, there are many beginnings.
To which, Fing, who is truly confounded at what he has most recently experienced -† he is working so hard to comprehend what he has seen - takes offense at Lincolnís buddhistic clap-trap.† He snaps and then Fing and Lincoln have their most angry and frustrated encounter.† Lincoln scorning to answer Fingís questions, which drives Fing to cry out in line
439 - Who sent you to take me into this fire?!
But his anger immediately turns into shame which vents itself in sarcasm, until Lincoln waves away Fingís vision and opens another temporal sequence.† All this in response to Fingís deepest penetration into Perdition yet.
448 - 453 - These six lines have a different rhyming pattern from the regular a-b-a-b-a-b of the other tercets.† Fingís sarcastic anger melds with his shame at his behavior and the boiling of these ingredients brings a veil of vapors, which Lincoln fans up to cover Fingís vision and another temporal sequence, which takes place in real time, occurs, whereby a hail of flames appears before Fing.
455 - Your intercessor is she whose love you most admire - The first direct reference to the as-yet-unnamed Lilica, and of course it is not a direct reference at all, but a most rhetorically distancing device with which this unnamed intercessor is integrally involved with Fing because it is her love he most admires.† Fing the pilgrim knows without being told who his intercessor is.† The reader waits, unless the reader reads the notes...
456 - 459 - ...she permitted me
††††††††††† To offer this display as the badge of her desire."
††††††††††† The hail of flame changed to rain and I felt relief
††††††††††† From the penetrating heat of the undying fire.
Fing the poet has condensed something remarkable into these ruminations on Fing the pilgrimís journey.† Line 458, with its liquid consonants and internally rhyming stressed long Ďaí sounds, conveys this remarkable physical and metaphsycial transformation in 12 syllables.† Even in the uncanny world of Fingís Perdition, this hail of flame changing to rain and relieving Fing of the heat - heat he calls Ďpenetratingí which I will say now prepares us for Fingís arrival at the tannery, but will say more later - of hell is remarkable.† This from his unnamed intercessor.
460 - "Her request is that you give to your host the utmost
††††††††††† Of your faith."
Lincoln speaking Lilicaís words and referring to himself as Fingís Ďhost.í† Which has Catholic connotations, the host being the bread which has been transmogrified into the body of the Lord Jesus Christ and ingested at communion.† My father got plenty of that when he was young.† I knew he disliked God and church.† My mother did too.† So I donít see every reference my father makes to that hocus-pocus.† But this one seems fairly clear.† And she doesnít say Ďrespectí or Ďtrustí or Ďsubmission,í she says Ďfaith,í which is all three of those other possibilities rolled into one, and added to it a full-on, raging metaphysical acknowledgement that we have not had up to this moment.† And Fing says only, in line
461 - I will.
As if he has given up every conception of questioning Lincoln again, which has to be stated as Lincolnís purpose.† And then, the reward is that the flame returns, in lines
462 - 463 - The furnace of the earth resumed its work to toast
††††††††††† The souls of those whose wills had froze to sample-size.
Interesting that this frozenness of will is the sin which keeps these shadow-people in their states of being lost.† And this temporal sequence comes to its end.
465 - I still wondered for whom this hell was corporatized -
Fing has really been on a ride.† He has had it coming and going and things are moving way too fast for him, like a baby just out of the womb, sensations overwhelm him.† He is only now conceiving of the hell outside of him and then considering who built it.
466 - 467 - My guide was ahead of me and turning left again
††††††††††† Down the hallway,
Lincoln is reading Fingís mind and prepares to respond again to Fingís unspoken concerns.† Still he leads by going down and to the left; that is the structure of Perdition, every step in is down and to the left, spiraling, just like Danteís Inferno.††††††††††† †††
467 - Your Lilica will show - Lilica is finally named, offhandedly, and only definitively in the manner that Lincoln makes clear that questions must wait.† The question the reader has, which is Who is Lilica? is now going to be a significant strand of inquiry in this poem, and will never be properly resolved by anybody who actually cares for this poem.† Lilica has not been a character thus far because the journey is so incredibly phenomonal that one-sixth of it will occur before the reason for its being might come into vague consideration, if not clear focus. †Who, or what, is Lilica, indeed.† My mother says it is not her.† All I know is that D. Selby Fing is dead.
469 - 470 - "In the meantime I am not able to know
††††††††††† Precisely what I am experiencing."
Fing still expressing exasperation.
471 - 474 - "You know it even now, but you donít grow
††††††††††† Merely by knowing.† The scenes change around you
††††††††††† Other shadows have their stories.† You must observe.
††††††††††† Nothing you see or hear should ever astound you."
Lincolnís first words of concrete, unencrypted, advice are a refutation of Fingís exasperation and the feigned ignorance it implies, a restatement of the nature of their journey - the scenes change, shadows tell stories, Fing must observe - and then the flat statement that he shouldnít be surprised by what he sees and hears.† And Fing responds with that aspirant feeling again -† even jaunty to the extent that Fing states how little he cares if anybody else is going to follow him or not,...that is Fing the poet, who reveals his petty desires for immortality and I know my father wrote this poem to become immortal, because he knew he could not keep up with the mortal side of life.† This is not like Dante, who had a life that no placid, staid, complacent bourgeiosie, western, contemporary person can dream of living in Florence in the late 1200ís.† And his side (either the Guelphs, or the Ghibbelines) was suppressed (by either the Guelphs, or the Ghibbelines) and Dante was brought to face his enemyís justice with trumped up charges of corruption in public service, which were not true, but part of a general campaign by the dominant faction to disenfranchise the dominated faction, and his punishment was exile from the city of his youth, Florence, and to wander the northern Italian countryside homeless for the remaining years of his life.† His body is not buried there still.† But he lived through it.† He worked on the Commedia for 20 years.† My father could never have put that much work into anything.† Certainly not a poem, or a marriage, or children.† So, although it looks perfectly noble that my father has structured his work with the Dantesque, Fingís Profane Comedy is one tenth the size and appreciable at most on that scale to Danteís Commedia.† But it is not surprising to hear my father, Fing the poet and the pilgrim, say he is willing to leave others behind.
476 - ...sine qua non... - Latin, meaning literally Ďwithout which none,í and implying in the case of Lilica, a progenerative influence on her part in the journey and the poem, but this is hazily presumed and there is not much support for a specific implication of maternity, just an absolute causative agent in Fingís life, and the motivating force behind any continuation along this web-like path that Fing is traversing and attempting to communicate his recollections of traversing.
478 - I began to take pride in my noble indenture. - Perhaps the only other use of the word pride in Perdition, beyond the negative connotation in the fourth tercet of the poem.† Here his pride is connected to indenture, which is noble.† Indentured servitude is one way that poor disenfranchised Northern Europeans might make their way across the Atlantic and begin the American tradition of starting life over based on the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, before the colonies became states.† So starting at nothing but being equal with oneís fellow citizens these indentured servants, a fairer form of slavery Fing believes, have nobility in them.
I know that my father was going through immensely difficult days as he was writing this poem.† He was badly out of chemical balance, I think that is clear, and his manic/ depressive, bipolar, episodes were getting deeper and shorter and he was never at one pole for very long.† All pressures in the household used to make him raise his voice in that reverberating manner, like a baritone who has really opened up his trachea to get out the fullest note.† And I know my mother didnít take his cries very seriously at all in that she never played to his self-pity; it shook the household up when he got the shadow over his brow.† But the one thing he took seriously, and relatively calmly, and returned to again and again in a pathetically driven sort of way to create some monumentality to his life falling apart was writing.† He felt that political events, the assassination attempts on President Ford, the fact that Manson family members were still at large, were indications that civil society was collapsing.† The Move Fires in Philadelphia were a nightmare for my father, happening in the neighborhood with which he was familiar.† He wrote in notes of his feeling that the sun and the moon were pulling him in different directions.† His poetry has some very strained images, and this poem is no exception.
My mother has given it to me to know that she and my father were hardly on speaking terms over sex anymore, let alone much engaged in each otherís sexual lives.† My mother always had something going on outside where my father was always brooding in the house.† And Iím sure he was taking any number of drugs, amphetamines, depressants, marijuana, cocaine, if he could find and afford it, and lots of alcohol and cigarettes.† Some friends came around but my father did not laugh much (even his manias at the end were characterized more by endless obsessing about my mother and the details of his inverted poetry.† These more opinionated statements harken to my motherís angle on her reflections of him.† I asked her once if she felt like she knew him.† She told me that he had talked about suicide at a few moments in their relationship, so his self-murder was not that much of a surprise to her, but a confirmation that the bad decision she made in coupling with him was more in her failure to properly have assessed his capacity to carry out such a brutal act against himself and his family.† He meant to leave his dead and bloody body for my mother to clean up after and live with for the rest of her life and she rejected that early on, I think between locking and closing the bathroom door and calling her work to say she would be late or not in at all, and never gave my fatherís memory any pity either) and generally visitors became uncomfortably somber when my father was around.† One old friend of my fatherís told me only about 5 years ago, that my father was quivering at wavelengths human beings were never meant to ride on.
My father was out of a job, because he was fired from the last position he held, as a kindergarten teacher in Malvernís Sugartown district, after one parent pressed an inappropriate touching incident involving my father and her daughter, the year before.† He had been suspended during the school year, fired over the summer, and unable to find work anywhere else for the last 16 months of his life.† I remember he and my mother having hissing sorts of arguments in order not to raise their voices in our company, but my father would always raise his voice and betray their fighting to us, which pretext my mother often used to cease discussing anything with him at all, which would only further enrage him.† He was frustrated and lonely and clearly would never be able to find any happiness within himself, because he really had everything he could have wanted, but I guess, like most of us, he still wanted more.† What he got was more inside himself, more twisted around some internal obsession, my mother most, seemingly.† And he never let go of what drove him insane.† If in fact we call one who kills oneís self insane.
It is my intent to fully examine and document my fatherís archives, starting with this 100 page poem, The Profane Comedy, and present this material to the audience it should always have had.† (There are other materials, a series of sonnets, for example, which may or may not serve the world as well as this poem.† I welcome all the curious to consider the value of such things as well.)† I can think of no honor greater for me to achieve than to have my father acknowledged in his proper place in American literary history.† I have only my crystal idealized memories of my father and this living poem to know him by.† I have sought for some years to retrieve him.† But now I am in need of some individual of discerning taste and means to respond to the talent which has been placed before them in this excerpt of The Profane Comedy by D. Selby Fing.† There are approximately 2500 more lines to this poem!† Lend me what support is required to publish this tremendous epic poem, and to continue my work on the notes.† All serious agents, publishers, pilferers, lawyers, barrators, surfers, readers, and gossipers, come and help me complete this important work, which is sure to become one of its generationís classics!†
If any reader has any memories, stories, or verifiable experiences with D. Selby Fing, which I can add to my biographical information, I would be greatly appreciative.
D. Selby Fing is dead.