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  • Writer's pictureM. Laszlo

On the Threshold: the Background

On the Threshold follows from an idea book written while working on an M.F.A degree in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York; c. 1990.

At the time, there were two kinds of poetry students at Sarah Lawrence. The first type wrote in an obscurantist, free-association style. The second type preferred confessional poetry. Alas, neither style of writing really applied to my interests. The thing that did it for me was the philosophical poem—the type of poem that the other students tended to regard as “boring.” No matter what the others thought, though, nothing could shake my faith. What could be more fascinating than a poem that seeks to explain the riddle of the universe?

            Looking back on that era, the thought occurs that this was about the time that my preferences changed from poetry to prose. That would explain why it became necessary to translate all those philosophical poems into one long novelistic work that could bring everything together. Oddly, it was not visionary, metaphysical fiction that sold me on prose. At the time, believe it or not, no kind of prose writing fascinated me quite as much as film theory—particularly phenomenological film theory.

            In the early nineties, my sister attended NYU film school—and she would often tell me about cutting-edge writing that followed from the theories of Walter Benjamin and Carl Jung. Much of these theories show up in On the Threshold—especially the notion that when we watch a movie, only the conscious mind follows the plot. The unconscious mind reacts to the symbols and archetypes and interprets the movie as a reiteration of some primal association of ideas—as if the unconscious mind really does contain within it inborn knowledge, just as Plato had always believed.

            As peculiar as all this might sound, the idea of phenomenological theory soon had me obsessing about The Mary Tyler Moore Show. To make a long story short, in one quirky prose poem after the next, I would meditate on the notion that The Mary Tyler Moore Show contains within it the phenomenology and archetypes that L. Frank Baum put into The Wizard of Oz:

Mary driving to the big city = Dorothy on her way to Emerald City.

Mary fighting over the apartment with Rhoda = Dorothy’s house landing on the Wicked Witch.

Mary’s getting caught between two adversaries, Phyllis Lindstrom and Rhoda, = Dorothy’s getting caught between Glinda and the Wicked Witch.


The Cowardly Lion = Lou Grant and his fear of women in the workplace.

The brainless Scarecrow = the brainless Ted Baxter.

The heartless Tin Man = the insolent Murray Slaughter.

And finally:

Dorothy’s clicking her heels and saying “There’s no place like home” = the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the one in which everyone gets fired and promptly sings a song of homecoming: “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

Perhaps it is no mystery why On the Threshold had to contain a strong, intellectual woman character—and perhaps it is no surprise why that character would be so helpful in bringing about the resolution. All the source material for the book comes from a time when the author just happened to be studying with loads of women at Sarah Lawrence. Moreover, how to deny my sister’s influence? The funny thing, though, is that many a feminist reader might oppose the work on the grounds that the women characters are not independent enough nor do they speak to one another enough with regard to women’s history and women’s issues. Whatever the case may be, the point of my work is not to offend. The point is to resolve the riddle of the universe, and it is my firm conviction that my characters do just that—and they do it for everyone, irrespective of either race or creed or gender.

M. Laszlo lives in Bath Township, Ohio. He is an aging recluse, rarely seen nor heard. On the Threshold is his second release and first with Tahlia Newland’s Awesome Independent Authors.

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