Should There Be Meaning?

BALLOON. By Padraic Colum. (Macmillan.)

THE reader is informed that this “is the first play to be based on modern philosophical ideas,” and it is further stated that “the [?] takes place in a Spenglerian world in which life has become externalized and where the idea of height and distance is dominant.”It would be mildly interesting to know just what, if anything, was meant by the first half of the statement. If there are any philosophical ideas, modern or otherwise, anywhere in the book, they utterly escaped one sincerely eager reader. As for the reference to Spengler, the action, such as it is, does seem to be concerned with our “megalopolitan” civilization, and one suspects that the play, if it may be called a play, is somehow intended as a burlesque on the modern scene. But one can not be sure just what, if anything, is intended, for the composition, if it be in any sense a composition, seems to lack creative pattern. The characters, if they can be called so, seem to act utterly without motive and to speak without coherence. Now and then it seems that some meaning is just about to emerge, and thus expectancy, based more upon respect for the author than for what had been read kept this reader in an odd state of troubled hope until the last page killed the hope. The whole affair seems like the product of delirium.

It might be said that if the author intended a burlesque on the modern scene, he has succeeded by reproducing the essential mood of a time that some have described is mad with purposesless activity; but can one who sets out to discuss [?] afford to relinquish the [?] co-ordination and inter-[?] that distinguish sanity?

[?] enough, when very[?] described “Balloon” can be[?] to seem significant, for there[?] the book a vague hint of a [?] idea. If only it had been[?]! The scene is the “Ho-[?] Daedalus,” a lofty, luxurious[ ? ure ] frequented by those who[?] succeeded, by one means or [?] her, in becoming conspicuous[?] world. A man of the com-[?] world, who for some unkown[?] has a brass telescope and[ ? tantly ] muttering something[?] “mountains extinct vol-[?] empty seas,” longs to live[?] the hotel. He succeeds for[?] but no discoverable meaning of any sort is deduced by the author from the fact. There are prizefighters, movie stars, and doubtless trans-Atlantic stowaways, grea-a-a-t statesmen, Chicago bootleg kings, etc., in the hotel. There’s a lot of utterly incoherent babble, concerned somehow with going up in a balloon from the roof. By and by the play, if it be a play, ends like this: “To crash into things you need a good nerve, and a good get-up and a good motor car, sometimes. That’s all you need — absolutely all. But most of the people in the world haven’t enough nerve or enough of an appearance to crash into any party. I’m ready to tell the world that everything that’s going on is [?] the crasher-in.”

Perhaps, after all, this is the meaning of the book; and to a very great and steadily increasing extent the statement does seem to be true. But what is all the rest of the book for?

However, on second thought it must be allowed that one who still persists in seeking for meaning in literature and in life may be simply an old fogy, hopelessly out of touch with this progressive world.