Brodie Austin

Common People and Trees

Posted in Thinking by Brodie Austin on November 11, 2010

Flyer for the Pulp single The Trees

I had seen mention made of this essay about Pulp’s song “Common People” made on Twitter today.Tim Carmody responded to the original blog post:

The anger and honesty in Pulp’s “Common People” comes from a heady mixture of self-conflict and nostalgia.

This turned my mind immediately from “Common People” to the Pulp song that I love even more, which is “The Trees” from We Love Life. I like that in “The Trees” the problem of self-conflict, or inner divisions turns from being an internal, personal problem and becomes an external, ecological problem.

In the song, the singer sings:

Oh, yeah the trees, those useless the trees
produce the air that I am breathing
Oh yeah the trees, those useless trees
They never said that you were leaving

The singer basically blames the trees for not being more emotionally attuned to his needs, for being hostile to his emotional life. Of course, the irony is that the trees are absolutely essential to his life. They sustain the world, but are useless for sustaining the singer’s world

What I find really interesting about this ironic contradiction is that the singer isn’t projecting onto the trees, or anthropomorphizing them. Similarly the pathetic fallacy is not at work here (“According to Ruskin, grief has so affected this speaker’s mind, so distorted his vision of the world, that he attributes to the foam the characteristics of a living being”). The trees really are hostile to the singer’s emotional demand; his emotional life has no home in the natural world and is at odds with it. The division and contradiction that lead to grief and anger and alienation are not self-produced or by-products of some off-kilter world, but are, in fact, constitutive of the world itself.

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