Dancing With Myself: Saturday Night Fever

What makes Psyche a goddess for John Keats? One of the contradictions built into the Odal Cycle is that Psyche distinguishes herself, very particularly, as being both close to the earth and down in the proverbial dirt. She lays in the forest with many men, rather than hovering remotely around Olympus; and Keats exalts, in a perversely contradictory way, her very accessibility as part and parcel of her divinity. It all has to do with Keats being something of a born-again Pagan, and a worshipper of Earth Magic; not the Satanic form of Earth Magic (Keats being looped by critics into the Satanic School with Byron and Shelley), but the “happy,” “sweet” form of Earth Magic, whose goal is to unite body and mind, in the manner which (Keats feels) the Greeks had formerly been able to do. Whether or not we buy this— that the Greeks mastered the profound art of uniting body and soul— will determine to what extent we can buy the idea of Keats’ Psyche as a goddess figure. The Dark Lady in Dancing With Myself is certainly down in the dirt and close to the Earth— however, the happy sweetness of Psyche’s layings do not seem to be part of repertoire. In fact, what comes to the surface in Dancing With Myself is the idea of conflating sexual impulses with deathly or lurid ones, so that sex and death become flip sides of the same coin. One of the more droll manifestations of this dichotomy in Dancing With Myself is the protagonist’s association of the situation with the movie Saturday Night Fever, in which characters live their lives on the edge of death and suicide, even as they are enmeshed in unabashed sensuality and carnality. Here is “Splat!”:

What greatness thrust upon
me? Solitary Saturday night
fever, jive talking to myself,
doing lines of Advil, falling
off imaginary bridges: splat!
The familiar trope of falling
endlessly, this is how I stay
alive. All because you are, I
affirm, more than a woman,
but, unfortunately, not just
to me, but to many generally.
I suppose I could blazon you:
rhubarb thighs, persimmon
twat, etc, but not productively,
& what would Travolta say?

All the coyness of the Bee Gees allusions (“more than a woman,” “staying alive,” “jive talking”) is born from the conviction that the protagonist is risking his arms and legs just to re-consummate his relationship with his Dark Lady. The scene in the movie in which one of the characters falls from Brooklyn’s Verrazano Bridge becomes a metaphor for falling into a situation in which it is impossible not to lose, owing to the Dark Lady’s perceived duplicitous promiscuity. Duplicitous promiscuity is something this Dark Lady shares with Shakespeare’s Dark Lady; even if the protagonist distinguishes himself from Shakespeare’s protagonist with a corrosive sense of irony and a willingness to trivialize (sometimes) the situation and thus make fun of it (Travolta). As the protagonist waits to “hit the ground” after falling endlessly, he may or may not wind up down in the dirt with his Dark Lady as he wants to be. He makes fun of poetry, too, and the self-reflexivity and self-referential “meta” moment of “I suppose I could blazon you” takes the baseball bat (in the manner of the Saturday Night Fever thugs) and swings at the idea of complete earnestness in the face of either sex or death. That sex and death should be conflated here, and then dismissed, has to do with a Muse who, herself, has more of a brain in her head then the characters in Saturday Night Fever, and should know better then to jive talk.