A few days ago (though it feels like light years and lifetimes) I was sat in the college library – which smelled of dead rat, one (or some) of which was presumably beneath the floorboards… – and frantically hashing out an essay on Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, and ‘cinematic bodies’. Don’t ask me what that latter is, because I just don’t know!
But feelings of exaltation, desperation, pessimism and general agony all aside, I came across a couple of songs which really should go onto any soundtrack built to accompany the reading of Jean Rhys’s early fiction – all novels or short stories about sad and desperate women, seeking solace in drink & loving Paris but desperate to look right (think size 0 culture is bad? Imagine living in cosmetics heyday…)
Compliments of my iTunes on shuffle, I give you two particularly relevant songs (or two nice atmospheric songs with relevant lines which really make sense and seem poignant and heartrending/lifechanging after 12 hours in the library aka ‘ratland’):
1. Dance Anthem of the 80s – Regina Spektor. Note particular aptness of those climactic lines towards the end: “I went walking through the city, like a drunk but not, with my slip / showin’ a little, like a drunk but not, and I am / one of your people, but the cars don’t stop…”
2. Chelsea Hotel no.2 – Leonard Cohen. Just because it’s sad and about hotels, and all of Rhys’s heroines live out their sad lives in dingy little hotel rooms (which almost, in the final analysis, seem kinder than the world outside!). This could be the bathetic end to one of those novels.
I wish I had the patience to trawl through the worrrl’ wide web and/or my iTunes (which is quite big, insolent though it is to use ‘and/or’) and find more songs so I could build a decent ‘OST’ to the (cinematic ho ho!) reading experience that is reading Rhys. Unfortunately I don’t.
But I will leave everyone with these beautiful lines from Barnes’s Nightwood anyhows; that book confused me a whole lot, but moments like this one pop out at you and make you sad and exalted and astounded all at once.
“as a lover we are beginning to forget dwindles and wastes; for love and life are a bulk of which the body and heart can be drained…” (Nightwood)