I Saw Thee, II

By Reginald D. Abergavenny III, D.D., Ph.D., L.L.D.Hon., R.A., C.G.C. – Special to The Scope

In the 18th it was the poet, the 19th the novelist, the 20th the rapper; in ours, the 21st century, the great writer is the anonymous internet writer. Famed literary critic Dr. Reginald D. Abergavenny III turns his critical eye to two recent I Saw Yous.


744

I saw you
sour cream
and onion chips:
bring it.

 
Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History beholds all of history as a “catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin.”[1] Which is to say that all is an accident. While heroes, according to Joseph Campbell, are found in their station most often by accident.[2] Likewise, both potato chips and sour cream find their geneses in mishap: the former a failed act of vengeance, the later a refrigerator left ajar.

The narrator of this I Saw You, then, is an Angel of History himself, witness to an ever mounting pile of accidents. Unlike Benjamin’s Angel, however, who is powerless in the face of a storm blowing from Paradise, the narrator is an Angel-Hero standing at the threshold of a journey into the abyss. This moment of crisis is the moment of truth for our Angel-Hero. The moment that the tides of progress, in Benjamin’s Marxian sense, or the Fates, in Campbell’s mythological sense, are confronted courageously. Caution, and potato chips, are thrown to the wind. The General, leading his troops, plunges, like a dagger, into the enemy line with the brave cry: “bring it!”

1. Walter Benjamin, “Theses On the Philosophy of History,” 1942.
2. Joesph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949.
3. Benjamin, “Theses,” and Campbell, The Hero.


931

I saw you violently vomiting
on the side of the road
near Victoria park
after the Tom Petty concert on Saturday.
You clearly enjoyed the show!
Rock and Roll, man.

 
Rock and roll music, as James Osterberg, Jr. sings, is the “runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb.”[1] It is the hypersexualized illegitimate child of uncontrolled inter-breeding between pre-war American music—rhythm and blues, bluegrass, gospel, and jazz—and Cold War techno-corporatism. Driven by the impotent rage of youth violently torn from its nurse’s breast, rock and roll is the fury of reckless violence.

The author of this I Saw You—observing, with great alliterative ingenuity, a rock and roll victim-hero in the orgasmic state of rock and roll excess—gets to the heart of this dying beast: Ears ringing with the distorted electricity of “Free Fallin’” and after hours of sensual convulsions, the body has turned on itself.

The futility of attempting to escape the violence of our world via the violence of rock and roll is writ large in the biography of Petty himself. Compelled, like so many, by the gyrating sexuality of Elvis Presley—the post-War West made Übermensch[2]—Petty saw his fate in rock and roll. To the chagrin of his overbearing father, Petty traded his slingshot for Presley 45s,[3] seeking refuge from violence in violence, a futile protest that left him, all these years later, with little more than a handful of gold records and international stardom.

1. The Stooges, “Search and Destroy,” Raw Power, Columbia Records, 1973.
2.Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883.
3. Melinda Newman, “Tom Petty: Portrait of an Artist,” Billboard Magazine, November 28, 2005.

Dr. Abergavenny is a professor emeritus of English Literature and Criticism at Apocryphal College, Oxford. He Tweets sporadically at @DrAbergavenny
 

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