“I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.”
— T. S. Eliot
If you follow the numbers you can see that each panel is on a floor above the previous except 4a and 4b which are of one floor. Here they are with their original subtitles, obscure papers by S. Freud. Don’t ask me what they mean as I was just trying to be clever. The garage; Panel 1 – “A Mythological Parallel To A Visual Obsession” (1916b)- will take you to an art gallery; Panel 2 – “Instincts And Their Vicissitudes”(1915c) – on the ground floor. Above the gallery is the hotel hall; Panel 3 – “On The Universal Tendency To Debasement In The Sphere Of Love (1912d). one up are the kitchen; Panel 4a – “Civilized’ Sexual Morality And Modern Nervous Illness (1908d) and the studio: panel 4b – “A Special Type Of Choice Of Object Made By Men”(1910h). Then there is the attic; Panel 5 – “Remembering, Repeating And Working-Through”(1914g). Finally there’s panel 6 – “Some Psychical Consequences Of The Anatomical Distinction Between The Sexes” (1925j – the “Peaceable Kingdom” homage.
In panel 1 There’s a chimerical limo-snake, the serpent pushing the fruit of an apocryphal “The Tree of Wealth” which the writers of Genesis were careful to leave out. The First Woman is about exit said vehicle or is that leg something else?
In panel 2, does this First Woman who enjoyed fruit from that tree, who is now being enjoyed herself, measure up to art? Is her aging flesh a match for eternal bronze? The good Herr Docktor doesn’t have to choose. He is rich enough to enjoy both but with his mechanical hand can he? Yes, he can pretend and remember.
Siggy actually had a mechanical jaw late in his life. Long after he mechanized the talking cure, mechanized writing about the talking cure where he, in theory, banned touch from the consulting room, so he says. He saw desire as fuel for a human machine; as steam pushes an engine along tracks. This metaphor of his time is from personal experience – in and out of the consulting room – as well as introspection. So I give him a mechanical hand.
In panel 3, which is about desire for what you can’t have; can’t be with, even if you could survive in her world, without protective gear. You’d not hear the mermaids singing in your diving suit nor would human voices wake you to drown. The artist is safe there but alone. Note the empty bottle and the pair of glasses/two empty glasses outside a hotel room door. They are both a symbol of desire met and a pun on “look but don’t touch.”
In panel 4a there’s a party in the artist/Prufrock’s kitchen. There’s no one who’s all human here. There’s the mermaid hiding her fishy parts with her sea-green dress. “That makes me so digress” Is she pulling it up or down? There’s Siggy with his academic, Midas-like, mechanical touch; and the diving suit from panel 3, now perhaps empty.
Empty, the suit is a symbol of the art object. Art is about drowning. The suit allows the artist to be where he would drown yet live to tell. The art object is the suit back on dry land, still damp, now empty. Therefore the art creator is not now needed.
Are these rooms an everyman’s rooms, Prufrock’s? Sorta, as there is an atypical pool in the studio. It symbolizes the bi-worldness of the artist. There are stairs up and down here; either or both could be Prufrock’s “Do I dare?” stair of hesitation. The stairs down lead to where he can be “Scuttling across the floors of silent seas,” via the “restless nights” hotel, past “sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown” and further down to the “farther room” of women and the arts; where with his single pin his “modest and rich” social acceptance is asserted.
Or up the folding stairs to an the attic where art could either save the day or be just a memory storage devise recalling a pointless lust over and over again, year after year where there is J. Alfred’s second pin, the pin upon which he “formulated, sprawling” and “wriggling” where he spits “out all the butt-ends of my days and ways.”
Substitute pen for pin or worse. And he for me, but I’ll never say “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all.” But Prufrock says it twice, once for each of us.
There follow the yellow fog and smoke – computer screen or window; make a sudden leap. “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’” No, go ahead ask Lazarus. Exit up out the window or down through the computer to a peaceable kingdom, your choice. Either way the top panel (6) is my take on Edward Hicks’ many peaceable kingdoms.
Siggy is in there again, he is wearing a cowardly lion suit, introjecting the real lion that’s always in the Hicks paintings. Then there’s the bull that’s often, but not always, in Hicks’ art/work/obsession. The bull here a stock market bull-man; it/he’s a macho dude that all the babes go for. Could he be J. Alfred’s Prince Hamlet?
I substitute a mermaid for Hicks’ typical angel which adds problematic sex to the mix. Angels are asexual, neither desirable nor possesseable and mermaids can be desired but never can never be possessed. So it’s a chimerical ménage a trois: bull boy, mermaid and the freudy-‘fraidy lion. Add the limo-serpent for show, call the discarded leg and the empty suit sex toys and it’s a fantasy, a triple XXX myth, pornography for faux intellectuals like myself.