Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paradise Lost and The Dream of the Four Miltons

Several years ago I wrote an interpretation of a dream I had in 1990 that I titled "The Dream of the Four Miltons."  The dream takes place at a hotel: a place where people are "always dropping in, always good food."

I have become ever more convinced that an important latent theme of the dream is the Clifford Odets play Paradise Lost (whose name is drawn from John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost) and my associations of that play to my childhood experiences in Atlantic City and other personal and psychological associations.

1.  Paradise Lost concerns the Gordon family; the parents Leo and Clara have three children: Jules ("Julie"), Ben, and Pearl.

Storyline: The extended family of a middle-class American businessman succumbs in stages to the crushing pressures of the Great Depression beginning in 1932 when, while America is voting for Roosevelt and against Hoover, the breadwinner's resources are stretched to the limit and continuing in a grinding spiral through to the 1935 day when the family is to be evicted from their home with no place to go, nothing to do and no way even to buy food. Through it all, however, the head of the household hangs on to a set of moral values.

2. Odets was a lover of classical music and throughout his career as a playwright he considered writing a play about his beloved Beethoven.  Coincidentally, Beethoven died in his 57th year and Odets saw meaning in the fact that he was stricken with cancer and ultimately died at age 57.  I am now 57 years old.  Odets' stage directions for Paradise Lost indicate that Pearl Gordon plays Beethoven in the play.

The final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony features a tenor and chorus singing the following text that refers to a runner running his race.  The text also refers to "Elysium," or paradise. Sometimes Elysium is imagined as a place where heroes have continued their interests from their lives. Others suppose it is a location filled with feasting, sport, song; Joy is the "daughter of Elysium" in Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy."

Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Into your sanctuary, heavenly (daughter)!
Your magic reunites 
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.

Whoever has had the great fortune 
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul,
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!

(Odets' biographer, Margaret Brenman-Gibson, has written: "He [Odets] began a file marked 'Beethoven,' noting the similarities between himself and the great composer and analyzing the sources and forms of his genius.  Both, he felt, were shy, suspicious, essentially homeless, poor, and parentless -- negative elements that Beethoven had changed into a positive but embattled idealism, a reaching out for 'Bruderschaft' [Brotherhood].)

Odets' choice of the title Paradise Lost is an overt reference to Milton's poem of the same name and, arguably, a veiled reference to the term "Elysium" (or paradise) in Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy," which Beethoven set in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony.

In the play Paradise Lost the character Ben Gordon is an Olympic runner. In the year 1990, when I had the dream I titled "The Dream of the Four Miltons" I used to run every morning.  Perhaps there is some relationship in my mind between Jesse Raben, my coworker in 1990, and the African American runner, Jesse Owens.  Significantly, the identity elements of competition and humiliation present in the manifest dream ("I am the great Stanley Palombo, a professor of medicine, and one of the greatest psychiatrists in the world. And room service is sending you a birthday cake? Who are you? You're nobody!") recur in the relationship between Jesse Owens and Adolf Hitler, who was humiliated by Owens' victories at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  (In the context of the 1936 Olympics the word "race" is a play on words denoting both ethnicity and athletic competition.)

The "events of the previous day" of "The Dream of the Four Miltons" featured my watching an episode of the TV series "Baywatch" -- an episode that featured a waterskiing race.

Season 1, Episode 19: "The Big Race"
Original Air Date—16 March 1990

(According to the psychologist Drew Weston, Ph.D. "competitiveness" is a feature of the personality of the high-functioning individual with anorexia nervosa.  See paragraph 3, below).

SOLO (Tenor)
froh wie seine Sonnen fliegen
froh wie seine Sonnen fliegen
durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan.
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn
freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen,
wie ein Held zum Siegen
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn
wie ein Held zum Siegen
freudig freudig wie ein Held zum Siegen.

CHOR (Tenor I/II, Bass)
Laufet Brüder eure Bahn
freudig wie ein Held zum Siegen,
wie ein Held zum Siegen,
freudig freudig wie ein Held zum Siegen.

English Translation

Glad, as his suns fly
Through the Heavens’ glorious plan,
Run, brothers, your race,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.

3. Apparently Wagner's opera Parsifal was a favorite of Odets. The "transformation music" from Act 1 of Parsifal accompanies a scene change in which a symbolic father initiates a son figure into his world.

There is a parallel passage in "The Dream of the Blue Oxford."  "The Dream of the Blue Oxford" has its origins in my friendship with Craig W. Dye.  A passage from my dream interpretation discusses a man initiating another man into his private world:

A few days later we established contact. By that time the Jewish ghetto as it existed in 1942 until July 1942 did not exist anymore. Out of approximately four hundred thousand Jews, some three hundred thousand were already deported from the ghetto. So within the outside walls, practically there were some four units. The most important was the so-called central ghetto. They were separated by some areas inhabited by Aryans and already some areas not inhabited by anybody. There was a building. This building was constructed in such a way that the wall which separated the ghetto from the outside world was a part of the back of the building, so the front was facing the Aryan area. There was a tunnel. We went through this tunnel without any kind of difficulty. What struck me was that now he was a completely different man--the Bund leader, the Polish nobleman. I go with him. He is broken down, like a Jew from the ghetto, as if he had lived there all the time. Apparently, this was his nature. This was his world. So we walked the streets. He was on my left. We didn't talk very much. He led me.   Well, so what? So now comes the description of it, yes? Well . . . naked bodies on the street. I ask him: "Why are they here?"

(According to the psychiatrist Michael Friedman, M.D. there is a relationship between "survivor guilt"-- a phenomenon first observed in Holocaust survivors -- and families preoccupied with food and eating.  See Survivor Guilt in the Pathogenesis of Anorexia Nervosa.  See paragraph 10, below.)

4. Odets wrote: "Would you believe that Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann are as alive to me as almost anyone I know? It has been true for many years, and there I am talking about men I do not know in life no less! "  I include this quote in my book Significant Moments.

5. One of the characters in the play is named Schnabel, perhaps based on the classical pianist Artur Schnabel who was a great Beethoven interpreter.  The pianist, coincidentally, had two sisters named Clara (like the character in Paradise Lost) and Frieda (Frieda, ha!).  Arthur Schnabel had been a pupil of the internationally celebrated piano pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky.  In the play Paradise Lost Pearl Gordon, a classical pianist, studied under a pupil of Leschetizky.  Pearl's boyfriend, Felix, was named for the composer Felix Mendelssohn, or so he tells Pearl.

6. Throughout my childhood we visited Atlantic City every July.  We stayed with a family who lived in a large three-storey house at Vermont and Oriental Avenue in the Inlet, the Lischins: Sylvia and Sam.  (Sam Katz was the name of Leo Gordon's business partner in Paradise Lost.)  Sylvia's mother, the mater familias, as it were, was Ethel Blum.  Ethel Blum had a brother who lived at the house who occupied the same shady world as the character Kewpie in Paradise Lost.

The Lischins had four sons.  On the first floor of the Lischin house was a grocery store; a sign outside the store was emblazoned "Blum Delicatessen."  So the Blum Delicatessen in Atlantic City paralleled the Cameo Shop in Paradise Lost, a women's handbag business owned and operated by the characters Leo Gordon and Sam Katz.  The Lischin household was populated by a "gallery of characters."

7.  In Paradise Lost the son Ben Gordon was an Olympic athlete; Odets' stage directions for the play indicate that there is to be a statue of Ben in a running pose in the Gordon home.  One of the Lischin boys (Eddie Lischin) was very athletic.  His athletic trophies lined the living room mantlepiece.  (I was always so envious of those trophies!) Eddie Lischin was a year older than my sister.  My father used to say about Eddie Lischin: "He's very wiry."  Eddie Lischin still reminisces about Growing Up Athletic in Atlantic City.  I think he has a Jesse Raben complex!

8.  In the Lischin living room there was a piano.  I don't know who played piano.  The instrument was kept covered in cloth as if it were in mourning.  The Lischin piano always seemed mysterious to me.  Sylvia Lischin's niece, Susan Blum, was an accomplished classical pianist and for a time majored in music at Glassboro College, in New Jersey.  I remember her father, Eddie Blum, saying in the summer of 1968: "Susan is working on Claire de Lune.  That's a difficult piece."  I was 14 years old at that time.

9.  In Paradise Lost the Cameo Shop was plagued with labor/management problems.  In the first act of the play a delegation of workers visits the Gordon home demanding better pay and working conditions.  My father was active in his union: something I write about in "The Dream of the Four Miltons."

10.  The character Ben Gordon in Paradise Lost derived his name from Odets' cousin, Benny Rossman.  Odets was born in the same year as my father: 1906. In the 1930s my father had been a close friend of Odets' cousin, who lived in Philadelphia. Odets' biographer (the late Margaret Brenman-Gibson) describes the Rossman home in North Philadelphia as "a freewheeling, lively place filled with Yiddish talk and Yiddish newspapers. . . . [A family member] recalled 'lots of people always dropping in, some living with us for a few months if they had no work . . . always good food.'" My father was one of those "people always dropping in" for food and talk.   My father's relationship with the Blums and Lischins in Atlantic City was similar to his relationship with the Rossmans.  Food played an important role in the Blum family.  Sylvia Blum Lischin's brother, Eddie Blum, owned a restaurant.  Sylvia Lishin operated a grocery store.  The Blum Delicatessen had its origins in Ethel Blum cooking knishes and selling them on the beach in Atlantic City.

11. Democratic Party Politics is a theme in Paradise Lost as it is in "The Dream of the Four Miltons."  The pushy Democratic ward heeler, Phil Foley, appears in Act 1 of Paradise Lost.  Foley's associate is named Milton.  Act 1 of Paradise Lost takes place on Friday November 11, 1932 -- Armistice Day.  Franklin Roosevelt had been elected President a few days earlier, on November 8.

12.  A theme in "The Dream of the Four Miltons" is my father's heart disease.  In Paradise Lost Ben Gordon's career as a runner is brought to an end by the diagnosis of heart disease. 


Gary Freedman said...

Tom Foley, a friend of Bob Strauss, became Speaker of the House in 1989.

Phil Foley is the Democratic ward heeler in Paradise Lost.

Gary Freedman said...

The two defining characteristics of the "Jesse Raben Complex" are "1) the person spends an abnormally large amount of time thinking about his or her personal past, and 2) the person has an extraordinary capacity to recall specific events from his or her personal past."

Notable examples of the complex are Eddie Lischin, Franz Wisner, and Gary Freedman.

Gary Freedman said...

My psychiatrist in 1990, Stanley R. Palombo, M.D., was in his 57th year at that time.

I used to be crazy!

Gary Freedman said...

In Act 2 of Paradise Lost, Sam Katz proposes to his business partner Leo Gordon that they hire a professional arsonist to burn down the Cameo Shop for the insurance proceeds.

Maybe this is something I heard about as a child in Atlantic City. I don't know. "Jewish Lightening." (Get Met, It Pays!!)

Submitted by Bill Amadeo from Daytona Beach Fl. Entered on September 18, 2010

"To Eddie Lischin, Im sorry if I offended my many Jewish friends by using the term Jewish Lightening. It was a common phrase in Atlantic City. I guess in this world of Political Correctness, it is not the best choice of words. I would gladly call it Italian Lightening but not too many Italians owned the hotels or businesses that burnt down. Maybe they shouldve called it After Labor Day Lightening, because it mustve been with the Grace of God that none of these fires ever happened during the Season. Enough already with that, Seaside Ave. Ginger Williams was beautiful and her red headed brother Ricky was ok too. Do you remember Carol Neff? Her dad Harry had owned The Beer Barrel at Va & Atlantic and when he sold it opened a liquor store in Ventnor where he was shot to death. Keep those memories coming and dont sweat the small stuff. Abi gezind."

Submitted by Eddie Lischin from Santa Cruz. Entered on September 16, 2010

"WOW!! You guys are a Wealth of Information. 1957 would have made me 11 years old and still in 6th grade with Mrs Palmer at good old Mass Ave. I remember the game of "Knights and Ladies" she created to get boys and girls to sit next to one another in class. I was lucky enough to somehow get Elizabeth "Ginger" Williams of Seaside Ave fame and beauty. She was just about the cutest girl to me at least by my way of looking. When I go visit my brother every year or so, we play a game to name all the households up and down Seaside and Vermont Aves from Oriental to the "Boards". We know these because we delivered groceries from the store regularly. I always remember there were few if any credit cards among our customers and my mom used to keep a little metal box with index cards and bills kept by hand entries. People would come in every month to settle up. At least most did. Blum's was open 7 days a week 364 days a year (closed for Yom Kippor)from 7AM til 9:30PM. Sometimes we would open a few minutes late and customers would be clamoring to get in for their morning milk or bread and danish from Ginsburg's bakery. I wish I had photos of the inside of the store. Every single inch of that place was packed with merchandise. I can never forget the penny candy case, the Ice Cream refrigerator or the soda boxed filled with cold water to keep the drinks cold. I watch "Antiques Roadshow" sometime and see things that are very valuable to collectors now that we had as a matter of business back then. Anyway, its back to work on Ebay. I hope maybe some of you have enjoyed my ramblings. For now peace and La Shana Tova to my Jewish friends. I don't really take offense but calling it Jewish Lightning is not the best way to put it. Keep those memories alive!" Edit Entry

Gary Freedman said...

Odets -- the family name had been Gorodetsky.

The theme of name change is prominent in "The Dream of the Four Miltons."

Gary Freedman said...

Talk about Jewish Lightening!

I torched my entire career for the insurance proceeds!!

Gary Freedman said...

Oddly enough, my friend Craig W. Dye is married to the author Alexandra Zapruder who wrote: "Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust."

Gary Freedman said...

"He brought a man to make a fire in the shop."

Gary Freedman said...

Schiller writes:

Joy, beautiful spark of divinity
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Into your sanctuary, heavenly (daughter)!

(Compare the theme of "fire" in the play Paradise Lost.)

Gary Freedman said...

TABLE 1. SWAP-200a Items That Best Described Eating Disorder
Patients in the High-Functioning/Perfectionistic Personality

Is articulate; can express self well in words. 3.09

Tends to be conscientious and responsible. 3.05

Tends to be self-critical; sets unrealistically high standards
for self and is intolerant of own human defects. 2.61

Expects self to be “perfect” (e.g., in appearance,
achievements, performance, etc.). 2.53

Tends to elicit liking in others. 2.35

Tends to be preoccupied with food, diet, or eating. 2.32

Is empathic; is sensitive and responsive to other peoples’
needs and feelings. 2.29

Is able to use his/her talents, abilities, and energy
effectively and productively. 2.28

Has moral and ethical standards and strives to live up to
them. 2.13

Appreciates and responds to humor. 2.10

Enjoys challenges; takes pleasure in accomplishing things. 1.98

Tends to feel guilty. 1.98

Is psychologically insightful; is able to understand self and
others in subtle and sophisticated ways. 1.96

Has the capacity to recognize alternative viewpoints, even
in matters that stir up strong feelings. 1.87

Is capable of hearing information that is emotionally
threatening (i.e., that challenges cherished beliefs,
perceptions, and self-perceptions) and can use and
benefit from it. 1.86

Is creative; is able to see things or approach problems in
novel ways. 1.76

Tends to be energetic and outgoing. 1.69

Finds meaning in belonging and contributing to a larger
community (e.g., organization, church, neighborhood). 1.56

Tends to express affect appropriate in quality and intensity
to the situation at hand. 1.55

Tends to be competitive with others (whether consciously
or unconsciously). 1.54

Is able to assert him/herself effectively and appropriately
when necessary. 1.52

Tends to be anxious. 1.48

is able to find meaning and fulfillment in guiding,
mentoring, or nurturing others. 1.46

Is capable of sustaining a meaningful love relationship
characterized by genuine intimacy and caring. 1.44]

Gary Freedman said...

The dream thought of the name "Palombovsky" is apparently a reference to "water ski"

Gary Freedman said...

A postcard from Killington, Vermont addressed to Constance Brown at Akin Gump from Jesse Raben reads:

"Dear Constance & the file room -- Skiing is wonderful. Vermont is beautiful. I really hope you guys are not working too hard while all I do is sleep and ski and eat. Anyway -- I hope to see you Tuesday -- Jesse"

(see comment above)

Gary Freedman said...

The following reading is drawn from Maynard Solomon’s biography of Beethoven (Schirmer Books: 1977) and sets forth the basic elements of the so-called Family Romance.

In the fantasy which Freud and Otto Rank named the “Family Romance,” the child replaces one or both of his parents with elevated surrogates--heroes, celebrities, kings, or nobles. Freud found that the fantasy, which is universal in myth, religion, fairy-tale, and imaginative fiction, was widespread in the daydreams of ordinary people, and appeared in a more intense and enduring form among the creative and talented. Usually it is a fantasy which arises during childhood or adolescence and thereafter recedes into an amnesia, from which it can be recovered only by analysis. With Beethoven it if anything gained in strength and tenacity as he grew to maturity. But its roots were in the conditions of his childhood.

In Beethoven’s Family Romance, as with many others, only the father is replaced by an elevated substitute, while the mother is retained. This is for several reasons, but primarily because the identity of the mother is, as a rule, readily ascertainable, whereas, as Bachofen wrote, “the father as begetter presents an entirely different aspect. Standing in no visible relation to the child, he can never, evening in the marital relation, cast off a certain fictive character.” Pater semper incertus est. Or, in Telemachus’s words to Athene, which Beethoven underscored in his copy of The Odyssey and transcribed on another occasion.

My mother saith he is my father;
For myself I know it not,
For no man knoweth who hath begotten him.

Gary Freedman said...

And, by the way, they say I attribute a negative meaning to trivial events. I find that insulting! It misrepresents who I am.

I attach several negative meanings to a single trivial event.

Gary Freedman said...

On December 25, 1989, just a few months before I had my dream in March 1990, Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin's Schauspielhaus (Playhouse) as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He had conducted the same work in West Berlin the previous day. I later purchased a tape of the performance.

The concert was broadcast live in more than twenty countries to an estimated audience of 100 million people. For the occasion, Bernstein reworded Friedrich Schiller's text of the Ode to Joy, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy). Bernstein, in his spoken introduction said that they had "taken the liberty" of doing this because of a "most likely phony" story, apparently believed in some quarters, that Schiller wrote an "Ode to Freedom" that is now presumed lost. Bernstein added, "I'm sure that Beethoven would have given us his blessing."