Prufrock’s paralysis follows naturally from this subjectivizing of everything. If each consciousness is an opaque sphere, then Prufrock has no hope of being understood by others. “No experience,” says Bradley in a phrase Eliot quotes, “can lie open to inspection from outside” (KE, 203). Prufrock’s vision is incommunicable, and whatever he says to the lady will be answered by, “That is not what I meant at all./That is not it, at all” (CP, 6). The lady is also imprisoned in her own sphere, and the two spheres can never, like soap bubbles, become one. Each is impenetrable to the other.
If other consciousnesses exist only as opaque objects for Prufrock, he has an equally unhappy relation to time and space. One of the puzzles of the poem is the question as to whether Prufrock ever leaves his room. It appears that he does not, so infirm is his will, so ready “for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions,/Before the taking of a toast and tea” (CP, 4). In another sense Prufrock would be unable to go anywhere, however hard he tried. If all space has been assimilated into his mind, then spatial movement would really be movement in the same place, like a man running in a dream. There is no way to distinguish between actual movement and imaginary movement. However far Prufrock goes, he remains imprisoned in his own subjective space, and all his experience is imaginary. It seems to be some perception of this which keeps him in his room, content to imagine himself going through the streets, ascending the lady’s stair, and telling her “all,” like Lazarus back from the dead. There is no resurrection from the death which has undone him, and this is one meaning of the epigraph from Dante.
Time disappears in the same way. Space must be exterior to the self if movement through it is to be more than the following of a tedious argument in the mind. In the same way only an objective time can be other than the self, so that the flow of time can mean change for that self. But time, like space, has only a subjective existence for Prufrock. As a result, past, present, and future are equally immediate, and Prufrock is paralyzed. Like one of Bradley’s finite centers, he “is not in time,” and “contains [his] own past and future” (KE, 205).
Essays on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:Tthe Missing Female
The Missing Female in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
For Eliot, poetic representation of a powerful female presence created difficulty in embodying the male. In order to do so, Eliot avoids envisioning the female, indeed, avoids attaching gender to bodies. We can see this process clearly in “The Love Song of J. Prufrock.” The poem circles around not only an unarticulated question, as all readers agree, but also an unenvisioned center, the “one” whom Prufrock addresses. The poem never visualizes the woman with whom Prufrock imagines an encounter except in fragments and in plurals — eyes, arms, skirts – synecdoches we might well imagine as fetishistic replacements. But even these synecdochic replacements are not clearly engendered. The braceleted arms and the skirts are specifically feminine, but the faces, the hands, the voices, the eyes are not. As if to displace the central human object it does not visualize, the poem projects images of the body onto the landscape (the sky, the streets, the fog), but these images, for all their marked intimation of sexuality, also avoid the designation of gender (the muttering retreats of restless nights, the fog that rubs, licks, and lingers). The most visually precise images in the poem are those of Prufrock himself, a Prufrock carefully composed – “My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, / My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin” — only to be decomposed by the watching eyes of another into thin arms and legs, a balding head brought in upon a platter. Moreover, the images associated with Prufrock are themselves, as Pinkney observes, terrifyingly unstable, attributes constituting the identity of the subject at one moment only to be wielded by the objective the next, like the pin that centers his necktie and then pinions him to the wall or the arms that metamorphose into Prufrock’s claws. The poem, in these