I was watching Apocalypse Now when I heard about how a sad man should have been "a pair of ragged claws". Colonel Kurtz, the radicalized villain of a savage war depiction, is revered because he can recite The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, among other things.
I was watching It Follows when I relished at the final girl's fear at hearing "I am Lazarus…" at the sight of the monster that drives the horror. The heroine's English teacher reads Prufrock very matter-of-factly, like the words are God's.
If you haven't read T.S. Eliot's poem, I recommend doing so not only because I like it, but precisely because it was written in the 1910s and filmmakers have been using it for over 40 years to elevate the purpose of their messages whether it be the meaning of war or the horror of adulthood. The American Canon is so influential that once a great quote from it permeates another artist's mind, it must be recycled and revered. (In T.S. Eliot's case, his whole poem). When I imagine my legacy and values as an English degree holder, I think about the books I've enjoyed, not the piece of paper I received from university. American literature, like the people who have made it, is the most diverse body of thoughts I have surveyed in my life. It provides the experiences of every combination of personhood imaginable, and if there isn't something for you out there yet, then you're most definitely going to be inspired to change that and write something for yourself. I could go on about how "reading is a joy like no other", but specifically what I mean is that "American fiction is a joy like no other". What does it mean to be a pair of ragged claws? I don't know, but it sounds beautiful. Phrases like this mistify me every day. Through quarantine, I've had the pleasure of working from home and staying healthy, unlike so many other people I know who have been daily rushed with the fear of getting sick. Through quarantine, I've come to experience true and utter "self", constantly being alone between four walls with little to no human contact until my partner comes home from work at night. I do not have a lack of gratitude for being quarantined through a dangerous pandemic, but I have a lack of gratitude for the fact that it's been years since I've read for pleasure and it didn't occur to me until I watched Apocalypse Now last month. I've become cozy with the instant gratification of film and television over the discipline of the written word. I've lost a lot of myself, and probably even the biggest part if it took movies to remind me of literature.
There's a certain shame in getting back into an old hobby. You must say to yourself, "I lost my way". (It feels pathetic). Within the confines of this pandemic, I'm just trying to remember that just because being at home has made time feel disposable, it's still my - and everybody's - most valuable asset. I don't know how much time I have to live, and nobody does. So it's important that I take myself towards my lifelong passions instead of letting laziness infiltrate. I must at least pretend to try and reclaim my life from months of being indoors. I suggest you do, too. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, "we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be".