While only one novel was clearly in view, and shown to be actively read — The 42nd Parallel, by John Dos Passos — there's another literary reference straining through Peggy Lee's rendition of "Is That All There Is?" which opens and closes last night's episode. The song's lyrics were inspired by Thomas Mann's short story "Disillusionment."
I zealously fed my magnificent expectations of life with the matter of a thousand books and the works of all the poets. Ah, how I have learned to hate them, those poets who chalked up their large words on all the walls of life — because they had no power to write them on the sky with pencils dipped in Vesuvius! I came to think of every large word as a lie or a mockery.You can read it in its entirety, or listen to it here.
Ecstatic poets have said that speech is poor: "Ah, how poor are words," so they sing. But no, sir. Speech, it seems to me, is rich, is extravagantly rich compared with the poverty and limitations of life. Pain has its limits: physical pain in unconsciousness and mental in torpor; it is not different with joy. Our human need for communication has found itself a way to create sounds which lie beyond these limits.
Is the fault mine? Is it down my spine alone that certain words can run so as to awaken in me intuitions of sensations which do not exist?
It's not hard to imagine that the story was written with Don Draper in mind. Ennui in extremis.