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The Hollow Men

The Hollow MenApocalypse Now, T.S. Eliot and Heart of Darkness.

This week the unusual ways in which the various mediums of contemporary culture interact with each other was the starting point for another interesting line of inquiry. While I am always attracted to the collisions between popular and so-called ‘high’ culture once again the TV show The Big Bang Theory was the catalyst to send me spinning off in strange directions. My colleague Kristina Decker over at the MA in Medieval and Renaissance literature had blogged several weeks ago about how this popular sitcom had included references to Chaucer. This time it was the turn of the most major of Modernist figures T.S. Eliot. While here I am more interested in the actual text referenced rather than the why or the how, suffice to say the lines paraphrased by one of the main characters was ‘This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper‘(97-8).

Thanks to the wonders of the internet within minutes I was able to identify the poem the lines were taken from as The Hollow Men of 1925. Almost as quickly I managed to find a very powerful reading by Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Again intertextuality raises its every present head. The epigraph to The Hollow Men runs;

‘Mistah Kurtz – he dead’

Linking the poem with the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Which of course is the borrowed framing narrative for Apocalypse Now. Even with my limited knowledge I found numerous further references throughout the poem, incorporating Dante and the story of Guy Fawkes. There is enough in these allusions alone to fill several blogs, suffice to say Modernism and its obsession with intertextuality is once again to the fore.

Marlon Brandon reads The Hollow Men in Apocalypse Now.

Turning to the poem itself, we had quite recently studied, all too briefly, Eliot’s The Waste Land, in the MA in Modernities. It made enough of an impression on me to be included in a previous post.

As with The Waste Land I found my first impression of The Hollow Men to be one of instant admiration. I will not attempt to suggest I understood either poem in any great depth but I found it hard not to be intrigued by the musicality of the verse, the arresting imagery employed and the strange tone of the poetic voices incorporated. In short both works stunned me. Particularly in The Hollow Men, Eliot seems to be staring into the soul of humanity and finding only emptiness staring back. While not wishing to be melodramatic frankly the poem frightened me and any work of literature that can have that effect is worthy of the highest praise.

Again turning to the wonders of the internet I have since watched a documentary on Eliot and ordered his complete poems and plays. Oh God, what has The Big Bang Theory and the MA in Modernities done to me. I don’t normally even find myself drawn to poetry that much. As if I don’t have enough literary obsessions with McCarthy, Beckett and Nietzsche, now T.S Eliot joins the group. I’ll never get enough time to read it all.


Works Citied

Eliot, T.S. A Hyper Text Version of T.S Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”. Web. 27 Dec. 2012

The Hollow Men T.S. Eliot How Cultures Die. Youtube.com. 2 Oct. 2008. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.

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