Eliot

Archives

I'm without a doubt a dumb blonde when it comes to technology.  I have never really taken the time to understand why computers work, or how a thumb drive can store my documents and pictures.  Werner and Voss's article about archives helped to illustrate technology for me at least a little bit.  When I hear the word "archive" I generally think of really old manuscripts or really long lists of things from an archeological dig.  Archive just sounds like a word to describe old things.  It doesn't sound like a tech-y word at all.  But archive can describe so many things, from libraries full of old books to everything I've ever written or stored on a computer.  Werner and Voss speak of lost archives, "when the leaves of hundreds of illuminated manuscripts, loosed... like butterflies in the courtyard of Oxford", and I can't help but think of the Library of Alexandria.  When the library was burned down, there were so many manuscripts and scrolls that were lost to the world because there were no other copies.  To think that we could be facing that kind of intelligence loss due to internet failure had never occured to me before reading this article. 

The Waste Land is an archive in many forms.  It has been printed as a book, it has been digitized on numerous websites, ebooks, apps, etc., and reading each one is different.  Reading The Waste Land in printed book form gives the poem a physicality that it doesn't have when reading it on a screen, while reading electronic versions of the poem gives it an accessibility and new life that it doesn't have on paper.  Different mediums have different effects on a work, even if the exact same words are used.  The fact that Eliot's poem is archived in numerous different ways, I think, links to the importance of his work.  Should the internet fail, there are still printed copies of his work and similarly, should libraries be burned like Alexandria's, the poem is still archived electronically.  

We live in a world of so many different technological opportunities, and I'm really excited to continue learning more about them this semester.

Eliot anticipating the Roaring Twenties

As I read The Waste Land, I was interested in the poem's historical position between WWI and the "Roaring Twenties" (Wikipedia).  I often consider these two time frames to be cleanly separate from each other as if the War ended and the Roaring Twenties began without any overlap.  Although I usually read Eliot's poem as an attempt to cross the body hewed No-Man's-Land of literature, I read it this time as a pivot between the trauma WWI and the guilt of surviving and prospering after WWI.  "A Game of Chess" turns away from the unearthed corpse "planted last year in your garden" towards the "burnished throne / Glow[ing] on the marble" (71-78).  The first stanza of this section catalogues a nauseating amount of commercial items.  Eliot intensifies the commerciality here as the "flames of the sevenbranched candelabra" and the "strange synthetic perfumes" fumigate the scene.  The neurosis of the woman whose "nerves are bad tonight" exposes the toxicity of using materials and items to suture the post-WWI societies of England and Europe.  

"A Game of Chess" concludes with a similar scene of decadence.  The speaker at the bar gossips about Lil's appearance.  Clint has discussed the misogynistic rendering of these women and has linked the deterioration of nature (figured as the female body) with pharmaceuticals and the "chemist" (161).  To add on to this, I think the references to medicine doubles as a symbol for a commercially driven society.  The speaker criticizes Lil for looking decayed and "antique" (156).  This critique also serves as a criticism of Lil's (mis)use of money.  The speaker says, "Now, Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart. / He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you / To get yourself some teeth" (142-144).  This passage conflates money (materials, like the "hot gammon") and appearance (beauty/health, reproduction, decay).  Eliot opens this passage with Albert's demobilization, which (if Wikipedia is right) instigated the economic boom.  Soldiers, unable to spend their wartime wages during the War, returned with a lot to spend.  I think the objects that litter this poem not only mingle myth with modernity, but cautiously warn against materialism as a coping mechanism.  Eliot seems to anticipate Fitzgerald by imbuing this literary No-Man's-Land with commerciality.    

  (The first upswing is the middle of 1921.)

Opposing Factors: Network Graphs and the Themes of Joyce and Eliot

While I was toggling between filters on Gephi, I found the most interesting information to be the sort of "over-arching" themes of Joyce and Eliot.  When you select the filter "Eliot,"  the words "immortality" and "aesthetics,"  and the words "death" and "religion," oppose each other on the graph.  Alternatively, using the "Joyce" filter, the graph formulated creates a triangle of "irony," "greatness," and "mediocrity."  

By looking at how these words are related to one another, comparing Joyce and Eliot, one can "read" the major concerns, and the interior conflicts, of their work.  For Eliot, he is concerned with each of the four terms described, but he is also interested in their relationships.  He wonders, in many of his poems, if aesthetics are immortal, and he wonders if religion is dead.  Further, can his aesthetics immortalize him, and can the lack of religion, or too much religion, kill?  

With Joyce, it seems that the irony of his own greatness is his exposure of mediocrity, especially in Bloom's life.  OR, that the irony of life is that everything great is truly mediocre and vice versa.  Perhaps, because this data is subjective, this is more of a reading of individual students' readings of the work, but it nevertheless indicates to some degree the message that these works create.  

Poetic Archive

As Voss and Werner worded in their essay, “Archives appear in the most unlikely places” (vii).  The Waste Land certainly defies the physical attributes of what we consider an archive, but archives are vastly evolving to encompass even those “conceptual space[s] whose boundaries are forever changing” (i). Eliot incorporates fragments of significant historical events and mythological and literary allusions into his poem, essentially constructing a unique archive that utilizes elements of the past to sustain the mentality of the present and allow modernity to take root in literary history.

 
Shakespeare, whom Eliot refers to quite frequently throughout his poem, himself created an archive of sorts. As the essay discloses, “Shakespeare uses Ovid as an archive—both as a source of inspiration and a repository of information” (vi). This statement redefines The Waste Land as an archive, as its magnitude of subtle historical and literary references suggests, and identifies the alluded-to works as the archives. The interconnections between one work of literature and another cause both to operate as archival databases, by which I mean one work, such as The Waste Land, contains referential information extending as far as the birth of Buddha to as current as the publication of his poem, while the other, such as Shakespeare’s The Tempest, stores the tragic emotion that Eliot captures and reinstates hundreds of years later.
 
The fragmentation in The Waste Land functions as a poetic archive, interweaving historical elements throughout the work to compliment and support the psychological trauma expressed in Eliot’s poem. But, the archive works both ways, and the other works, in turn, being connected through The Waste Land, become archives as well. The archive is an expanding genre, if it can be called that, and can now be a defining quality in media never before considered, such as poetry.

hurry up please its time

I find the final stanza of section II (ln 139-172) to be quite intriguing. The vocabulary and grammatical structure are less lofty and therefore easier to follow than the rest of the poem so far. While earlier stanzas may have had sentences of description that take seven lines of poetry (for example, ln 97-103), this stanza is conversational, and the language is colloquial: “He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you to get yourself some teeth” (ln 143-144). The setting of this excerpt is also new; I learned from the footnote in the Norton anthology that “HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME” refers to the “routine call of British bartenders to clear the pub at closing time,” which implies this retelling of a conversation is taking place late at night at a public house—quite the change from the marble-floored, glass-tabled, fireplace room we just came from.
 
Now, the more interesting thing I noticed comes at the end of the stanza, when the assumed bartender announces “HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME” twice in a row, which cuts off the conversation in mid-story and gives way to the night’s good-byes. We, as readers of Eliot’s poem, do not have the luxury of knowing what happened after our narrator was asked in to dinner. We are left in suspense. Keeping in mind the context of the poem that we talked about last Wednesday, and the fact that the narrator is talking about an Albert who was “in the army four years…” (ln 148), caused me to wonder if the abrupt termination of the story here could be a sort of parallel to the way life was affected by WWI. People’s lives were interrupted by the war, and all too often they ended up being cut off forever. The people involved in the conversation of this stanza seem to be happy spirits when they said good-bye, as though they believe there will be another time to hear the rest of the story, but we see it as having ended, period, unfinished.

 

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Divining the Fate of the Waste Land

         

Lines 43-59 of “The Waste Land”—Madame Sosostris

First of all, I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to this excellent, interactive, online version of “The Wasteland”. It offers translations, notes on his many allusions, as well as an audio track for the whole poem. This awesome resource is provided by the T.S. Eliot Hypertext Project, which is relevant to our investigation of online archives. 
Unfortunately, it looks like “The Waste Land” page is still in progress (or so the home page states), but I still think it provides an incredibly useful online tool for further investigation of the poem.
 
The section that I found to be the most interesting, and problematic, was the section with Madame Sosostris. In all the classes that I have read this poem, my curiosity was never fully satisfied.
So, directly from the Hypertext Project page:
 
“ Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,  
Had a bad cold, nevertheless  
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,  
With a wicked 
pack of cards. Here, said she,  
Is your card, the drowned 
Phoenician Sailor 
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!) 
 
Here is 
Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks 
The lady of situations.  
Here is the 
man with three staves, and here the Wheel 
And here is the 
one-eyed merchant, and this card,  
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,  
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find  
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.  
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring,  
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,  
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:  
One must be so careful these days.”
 
Important references include Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, the Major and Minor Arcana of Tarot, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” also known as the “Madonna of the Rocks,” botany, religion, and classical figures/allusions. 
Sosostris is meant to be a mock-Egyptian name, alluding to the common practice in mysticism of renaming oneself a “spiritual name.” Since Eliot proceeds to talk about how the “famous clairvoyante” had a bad cold, he seems to undercut this mysticism, drawing Madame Sosostris in pitiful and somewhat desperate lines. In fact, it appears that she fears her reception by the general public, telling the narrator (Marie?) to inform Mrs. Equitone that she brings her own horoscope to mystical meetings, because “One must be so careful these days.” Perhaps this refers to the complete saturation of the mysticism market during the first half of the 20th century, or perhaps this refers to the deterioration and crock-pottery of the trade in general, whereas Madame Sosostris considers herself authentic. 
The pack of cards that she has is “wicked,” which, although I am inclined to say that it means “really cool,” retained a more sinister meaning in 1922 when this was published. According to the OED, it meant :
Bad in moral character, disposition, or conduct; inclined or addicted to wilful wrong-doing; practising or disposed to practise evil; morally depraved. (A term of wide application, but always of strong reprobation, implying a high degree of evil quality.)
 
In this way, it appears that the narrator believes the cards to be evil, or morally depraved. And yet, the narrator comes to Madame Sosostris to get a reading, implying that the narrator must be truly desperate to know his/her future. 
Madame Sosostris uses a six-card reading. In order to understand the fullest extent of this reading, an understanding of the most popular six-card spread is useful: the Celtic Cross. Here I use a Tarot Teachings website, which, if you are interested, provides other six card spreads.                                                                                                            
 
 

1. The Drowned Phoenician Sailor: the “You” Card. Indicates the person’s current situation. Phlebas the Phoenician and Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant are both possible candidates for this position. Whether the client is literally one of these figures, or whether the client is like one of these figures, is unsure. 
                                                                    


2.    Belladonna, or the Lady of the Rocks: the “crux” of the issue. The conflict.      “Belladonna” means “beautiful lady” but it is also a poisonous plant. And the Lady of the Rocks is most probably the Virgin Mary—Belladonna or Madonna. Sweet poison or sanctified chastity. She is the “lady of situations” because she is the conflict, the decision to be made (line50).
 
 
3. The Man with Three Staves, or, the three of wands, or, according to Eliot, the Fisher King: the challenge. The Fisher King is a symbol of life, but is wounded, incapable of moving on his own. His weakness as king reduces his kingdom to…a Waste Land! The Three of Wands, however, symbolizes the beginning of an enterprise, looking forward to a journey or task. There is hope for the dead land, if only the Fisher King can be helped to heal. Perhaps the Fisher King is western culture?
 
 
 

4. The Wheel (probably the tarot Wheel of Fortune, but also the sign of man’s invention): Conscious—what you have control or awareness of.   Really, this indicates that the client has control over the whole situation, as well as how she/he understands and acts upon the reading (of six cards, like the six spokes of the wheel). Additionally, the client (possibly Western Culture) has control over their own ingenuity (the object of the wheel-invention) and so, can use their skills to better the situation.


 

                                                        
5. One-eyed merchant: the Unconscious/Subconscious.  Our unknown, internal ally.  While there are several possible interpretations of the one-eyed merchant (available here), I find Odin to be the most productive, meaningful explanation for this particular card.  He is associated with fury, excitation, prophecy, magic, the hunt, the mind, and poetry—the working of the Cultural mind.  We should listen to art, because it is the way out of the Waste Land and to cultural fertility.


6.  Blank card: Outcome—ties up loose ends.  It is appropriate that this be blank, but it is on the back of the subconscious, and relies on the work of the subconscious.


The fact that she does not find the Hanged Man, who to Eliot represents the self-sacrifice of a fertility god to bring the Waste Land back to life, possibly indicates that it will not be like the second coming of Christ—there is no one distinct savior.  I am unsure as to what “fear death by water” means, but water without growth to feed becomes a killing rather than nourishing force (like a flash flood, in a sense).  SO GROW!  THINK!  CREATE!  The end is possibly positive.  Sosostris sees people walking around in a circle—perhaps they ring around the maypole celebrating fertility and the coming spring.                                                                                                                                                                 


                                                                                                       

 

 
 
 

 

Remember My Name

I found the section "Death by Water" quite interesting for a few different reasons. The first thing that struck me, in fact throughout the entire poem, is the references to various faiths. There are many allusions to Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and perhaps others. One thing that wasn't mentioned in Eliot's notes was the wheel, "Gentile or Jew/ O you who turn the wheel and look to windward / Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you" (319-21). I understand that this is talking about the wheel of a ship, the death is by water after all, but I think there could be a reference to the Buddhist prayer wheel here as well. According to Wikipedia, that arbiter of academic verity, the prayer wheel, with a prayer written upon it, is spun and pruduces the same effect as saying the prayer. If you agree with this reading, it makes the rest of the section even more interesting, for if turning the wheel of a ship is akin to a prayer, then Phlebas's prayers (his turnings of the wheel) did no good - he's dead.

I also found the fact that the death occurs in the water and is activated by the water. Traditionally, water is seen as a generative place, a locus of birth. Water also plays a part in some religious traditions; for example, in Christianity, a baptism by water is seen as part of the salvation experience. It is telling that Phlebas's encounter is not quite so restorative. 

Finally, the death of Phlebas, a name that I did not find as belonging to anybody important in history, is suggestive from a carpe diem perspective. This segment suggests that the reader, no matter his or her skill at the wheel of the ship of life, will end up in the same manner as Phlebas - dead. The interesting thing is that, in one manner of speaking, Phlebas lives on, immortalized by The Waste Land.