The Waste Land as an Archive

First of all, I was completely distracted throughout my reading of Foucault by how he stole his argument from the Reading Rainbow reel:


Back to the matter at hand, I was intrigued by a few morsels of information I retained from the assigned texts. Foucault's observation that Floubert's The Temptation "opens a domain in depth," (Foucault 105) laconically describes the significance of the archive.  Certainly, Eliot's "The Waste Land" serves multiple roles (if not simply individual pleasure), including this capacity as an archive to past intellectualism and dialogue.  As the Quotations and Allusions group from our wiki project found, Eliot collected fragments of canonical texts to express old thoughts in a modern, erudite way.  Voss and Werner describe the archive as now being an "ex-static" property, thanks to the digitization of prior information, where "the material becomes immaterial" (ii).  We have seen how this shift of preservational theory opens new possibilities for understanding and analyzing a text, yet Voss and Werner are not replete to acknowledge the importance of material evidence (as found by Elizabeth and I during our investigation of the original magazine appearances of "The Waste Land.")

Studying literature that serves an archival function is interesting, yet I sometimes question whether our analyses take the intention of the author out of his or her context; our resources are so amplified and complex that there may be some danger of ascribing anachronistic hypotheses that distract from the purpose of a text.


I completely agree with you that it can be dangerous to impose motives on authors when we read their texts. Still, I don't necessarily think that looking at "The Waste Land" as an archive has to do that. If we set aside analyzing the poem for the time being, and simply approach it as piece containing a wealth of references to other literature, we can use "The Waste Land" as one archive of relevant literature during Eliot's time. We don't even have to make mention of whether Eliot meant to compose such an archive or whether he was just using things he knew/hoped his readers could relate to. This questions depends on the approach you take: do you want to read the poem as a poem, or do you want to observe the poem as an archive?

You're right, and I suppose that that's why it's so important to respect the intention of the reader (who reserves the right to view a text from any number of perspectives).  I guess I get skittish about this sort of stuff because texts have been used (especially by religious zealots) to ideologically oppress readers.  I want to form my own ideas about the author's purpose, but using tools to probe a text from different perspectives is definitely necessary.  In a way, it preserves the integrity of the text by re-evaluating its relevance as may be related to humanity.