Monday, April 08, 2013

Just some pennies that you pick up off the floor

Season six of Mad Men opens with Don Draper reading Dante's Inferno (tr John Ciardi), on the beach.

Midway in our life's travel, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood.

He is, of course, taking his own journey through hell.

The episode is entitled "The Doorway." Leave it to Roger, simple drunk, guru, to channel Aldous Huxley, to see things clearly:

"What are the events in life? It's like you see a door. The first time you come to it you say 'Oh, what's on the other side of the door?' Then you open a few doors, then you say 'I think I want to go over that bridge this time, I'm tired of doors.' Finally, you go through one of these things and you come out the other side and you realize that's all there are. Doors and windows and bridges and gates and they all open the same way and they all close behind you. Look, life is supposed to be a path and you go along and these things happen to you and they're supposed to change you, change your direction. But it turns out that's not true. It turns out the experiences are nothing. They're just some pennies that you pick up off the floor, stick in your pocket. You're just going in a straight line to you know where."

It brings to mind yet another journey through hell, William Blake's:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.

Huxley in The Doors of Perception (which title was inspired by Blake's poem) also references "The Door in the Wall," a short story by H.G. Wells, whose protagonist reminds me of someone...

Now that I have the clue to it, the thing seems written visibly in his face. I have a photograph in which that look of detachment has been caught and intensified. It reminds me of what a woman once said of him — a woman who had loved him greatly. "Suddenly," she said, "the interest goes out of him. He forgets you. He doesn't care a rap for you — under his very nose..."

Yet the interest was not always out of him, and when he was holding his attention to a thing Wallace could contrive to be an extremely successful man. His career, indeed, is set with successes.

I rather suspect Don may meet a fate similar to Wallace's.

I am more than half convinced that he had in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something — I know not what — that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether more beautiful world. At any rate, you will say, it betrayed him in the end. But did it betray him? There you touch the inmost mystery of these dreamers, these men of vision and the imagination.

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