The Waste Land as an Archive

Like Kaity, I found in the reading of Foucault's Fantasia of Library that it was not difficult to find comparisions between the archival qualities of The Temptation and similar archival qualities in The Waste Land. Foucault describes The Temptation as "a monument to meticulous erudition"; he may as well have been describing the style and work of Eliot in The Waste Land (Foucault, 89). Just as Flaubert recollected, remembered, and revised a multitude of past works through his writing of The Temptation, Eliot preserved fragments of the European literary tradition that came before him through the poetry of The Waste Land (Voss and Werner, ii). 

In Eliot's capturing and conserving of texts, stories, and songs that came before The Waste Land, however, there is "a history of loss" (Voss and Werner, i). Voss and Werner in their discussion of archives, showed that archives, while preserving, are often fragmented representations of the works they preserve. The Waste Land has this fragmented modern archival quality. Within The Waste Land, Eliot provided a space for various literary works to be preserved and passed down, extending the space the works previously occupied, to paraphrase Foucault (91). However, these works, though preserved through the medium of Eliot's poem, are not whole. The poem is a showcase of Eliot's brilliant ability to take fragments of historical and monumental literary works and "in a single movement... cause them to glitter and disappear" (Foucault 92).

The Waste Land Archive

Like Justin, before reading these articles, I had an outdated idea of what exactly an archive was. In Voss and Werner’s words, I had acknowledged the physical site, but ignored the “conceptual space.” Defining the archive this way made me rethink what exactly a literary work was. Voss and Werner quoted Bornstein saying that “literary work exists not in any one manifestation but in an archive that brings all the versions with claims upon our attention put together.” I think this is much easier to see in the digital age because we can do a quick google search and have tons of different editions or versions of a piece at our fingertips.

Specifically in regards to The Waste Land, I liked where Voss and Werner paraphrased Greetham saying, “that the archive proper is comprised of ‘garbage,’ ‘cultural scraps…leftovers…bits of memory.’ ” This made me immediately think of The Waste Land because of all the fragmentation there is. It’s like there’s these little ‘bits of memory’ put together into one seamless piece. We get biblical allusions juxtaposed with more recent allusions, yet it’s still one coherent piece. I also thought of The Waste Land when Voss and Werner say that each archive, as a construct, “reveals some things while concealing others.” As a part of the multimedia group, I found this to be especially true. When The Waste Land is just a printed text, the different voices that emerge are mostly concealed, but when you see a performance of it, or listen to a recording of Eliot reading it himself, those different characters become revealed.

Poetic Database

When one hears the word "archive", the most likely image they will conjure is one of a library or database. An archive is a mausoleum for artifacts otherwise forgotten by the general public - encyclopedia entries, journal entries, and manuscripts that nobody would read unless prompted by research of some kind.

But, when one looks at the nature of the archive from a broader stance, as Werner and Voss do in Poetics of the Archive, it becomes clear that an archive can be nearly anything: a poem, a book; whatever utilizes past works in its creation. An author who works ancient myths into their story is creating an archive. As Michel Foucoult writes in Fantasia of the Library: "... it recovers other books; it hides and displays them and, in a single movement, it causes them to glitter and disappear." Written about Flaubert's The Temptation, this applies to any work which references works from the past. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land is a clear example of a work of art as an archive. In his poem, Eliot deliberately fills the stanzas with fragments of European culture. From Shakespearean tragedies to 19th century German nationalist opera and everything in between, Eliot archives nearly all of European culture up through the first World War. Eliot's The Waste Land, like Flaubert's The Temptation, utilizes past works "... fragmented, displaced, combined, lost, set at an unapproachable distance by dreams, but also brought closer to the imaginary and sparkling realization of desires." (Foucoult 92).

"At times the archive requires us to read its minimum signs with maximum energy." This sentence, from Poetics of the Archive, to my mind matches Eliot's The Waste Land to a tee. An archive as a stand alone work of art encompasses past works, and gives them new meaning within its own. It requires its reader to dig a little deeper, but once the work has been put in they will find a vast resource of art and history, more permanent than the resources found in a library or encyclopedia. The archive as its own piece of poetry houses historical and cultural works and gives them a place in the minds of its readers, ensuring they will be survived long after the original works have disappeared.

The Waste Land as Archive

Throughout my reading of Foucault’s “Fantasia of the Library,” I could not help noticing that nearly every point he made about the archival nature of Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony could be applied to The Waste Land. Foucault points out the myriad of sources that Flaubert drew from while writing The Temptation—everything from Augustine to Spinoza (89). Similarly, Eliot drew from a wide variety of sources in The Waste Land. Another piece of the Foucault’s essay that called to mind The Waste Land was his discussion of St. Anthony acting as a “zero point between Asia and Europe; both seem to arise from a fold in time, at the point where Antiquity, at the summit of its achievement, begins to vacillate and collapses” (103). Like The Temptation, The Waste Land deals with both the East and the West. Over the course of the poem, the reader is taken from Chaucer’s England to the shores of the Ganges (and a multitude of places in between). They differ, though, in the fact that The Temptation highlights the rising of Western European culture, while The Waste Land looks to the East as a site of cultural regeneration.

Foucault states that Flaubert “erects [his] art within the archive” (92). With the above comparisons in mind, I think we can extend this statement to T.S. Eliot as well. The Waste Land borrows from so many different sources, Shakespeare, Chaucer, the Buddha, and the Bible, just to name a few. With all of these works in a relatively short number of pages, The Waste Land functions as an archive. All of these works are stored in its text, but it is up to the reader to search them out, just as a reader must search for a book in the shelves of a library.


The Archive of the Experience

These articles really helped me reshape how I define what an archive is. I admit that I have been carrying around a fairly old-fashioned definition of what makes an archive an archive. I think of this term as referring to a collection of physical objects and artifacts (for example, TU's collection of WWI posters). Honestly, though, I did not even consider a library--a collection of books--to be an archive; I just called it a library. Similarly, I never considered any online database to be an archive; after all, there are no physical objects online. These articles showed me that archives come in many forms, including the form of a singular text, such as The Waste Land.

I think that The Waste Land makes the most sense as an archive when the distinction of narrative voices is understood. While studying the Fiona Shaw performance of the poem, I drew a connection between the performance and a documantary interview. In that regard, I can certainly see the poem as a collection of various accounts of WWI (and many other scenes). Each sene--each moment--in and of itself is a sort of object to be preserved. For example, the pub scene reveals the bleak reality of the women who stayed at home during the war, as well as the challenges they faced. This information is collected and protected in poem itself. The poem could somewhat be considered an archive of moments and experiences; because there are so many present in the poem, it serves as a fairly extensive independent database. This explains how, by reading the poem, one not only enjoys the work but is greatly informed about the psychology of the inter-war period. That mindset was preserved for us.


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.

Digital Archives

I truly enjoyed when the Werner and Voss article began with a comparison of both the physical and imaginative space that defines an archive. While most people picture an old library full of stacks when they hear the word "archive", that is quickly changing. I appreciate that authors and English critics are beginning to notice the change and acknowledge. It does beg the question, however, of how society feels aobut this change. Our generation is so accustomed to technology, that I don't think it's something we often ponder. Are we all okay with digitizing all of our archives? Has anyone considered the possibility that our internet system may fall, and as such, we would lose as many irreplacealbe texts as we lost in ancient socieites. I know that personally i resent the move to digital, yet I am forced to accept it because of the aid it provides to me visually. 

The Werner and Voss article also poses a great question about The Waste Land iPad app that I just studied for our wiki project. Would that app be considered an archive? It has all of the resources of an archive, but lacks the physical space discussed in the article. It is also an expensive application, as far as applications go. Is it fair to have an archive that is not accessible to everyone? I realize my blog post has raised way more questions than it answered, but that's just the kind of mood I'm in tonight I guess. 

First stab at Hieronymo

I found an interesting collection of articles while I was looking for more information about Hieronymous. Here, .

It made a lot of interesting points, what most interested me what the notion of being fruitful in the poetry. Of course on first glance, The Wasteland is overwhleming. You ask yourself, hoow could this even be narrowed to a point, what could Elliot possibly be getting at? That question has lingered since I first read it, and I'm happy to say this Hieronymous snag has brought me to a new level of understanding. 

The play that he references in the final stanza

 These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
 See, Hieronymo was commisioned to design a play, and it was this that he used to exact revenge for his dead son. We have here a familiar theme, a play within a play, this is the protoype, or rather probably just a prototype of the play Hamlet. 
This theme that Elliot is picking up is the most real theme. By which I mean, it is one of the few themes of the human experience that all people share. The play is our culture our history, all of the events that have lead to our lives. The play within this play is what we do with it.
The reason that Elliot chose Hieronymo to reference instead of Hamlet is hard to put a finger on. I would say that the key difference is that Hamlet is Avenging is father, whereas Hieronymo is avenging his dead son. I think Elliot is warning us against a desolate point of view wherein we think the future is already lost based on the fact that history is bleak at best. Because while we are reacting to the tragedy of the play outside of our own play, that tragedy is the only thing we have. The cycle of death and rebirth is depressing, true, but it's all we've got.

Themes of an Ironic Postmodernity

I've had to read this particular text several times in my English and Literature career but this has been the first time I've personally been asked to attack the reading myself. 

What struck me most about the poem is the intial big picture stance that Eliot makes at the very beginning. He opens with an all-encompassing thematic map for the reader; like an grand intro that shows the reader what path he's about to embark on.

 April is the cruellest month, breeding
  Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
  Memory and desire, stirring
  Dull roots with spring rain.
  Winter kept us warm, covering
  Earth in forgetful snow, feeding


We open with juxtapositions of our preconceived notions. April, the month of spring and renewal. Yet Eliot proclaims thaht it's the cruelest month, bringing lilacs from the dead revitilizing old memories and desires.  Eliot then describes winter as warm, "covering Earth in a forgetful snow".

Eliot uses the reversal of our cultural connotations of the seasons to bring his metaphor of memories as painful to light. This is a specifically postmodern perspective; the ironic retrospect through which nostalgia is criticized. Eliot illustrates the agony of over-romantisized nostagia and specifically how it's blanketed by 'forgetful snow.' These contradictions also highlight the seemingly paradoxical values that are at the base of our basic existential struggle as humans.


What a Waste

To all those self-proclaimed "poetry haters" out there -- those who think poetry is all just a bunch of fluffy dead people writing about love and religion and things that don't apply to the modern reader -- I defy you not to be moved by the poetry of T.S Eliot. When I think of "modern poetry", or really anything in the realm of modern literature and art, no one strikes a chord that resonates quite as truly with the modern spirit than T.S Eliot. In a modern age where the human experience is forgotten in pursuit of wealth, status, or "a cause", it's hard not to be moved by motifs as striking and beautiful as those which appear in Eliot's The Waste Land.

One passage which really struck me was that of the opening paragraph, before Part I even begins. Eliot quotes a line from the Satyricon of Petronius in which he (the writer) sees the Sibyl of Cumea, who, when asked what she wants, says, "I want to die". This line alludes to the driving theme behind the opening lines of Part I - The Burial of the Dead, which states "April is the cruellest month" for bringing the dead earth back to life, upsetting the forgetful sleep of winter and stirring things into a painful reawakening. However, while these first few lines suggest a feeling of pain in relation to living, Eliot also evokes a sort of bitterness and passion through the last few lines of Part I, in which he sarcastically calls to a man on the street, "That corpse you planted last year in your garden / Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?" This part provided some difficult for me, as well as the stanza before in which a clairvoyant gives a horoscope warning of "death by water." I'm not exactly clear on the relationship between the first and last halves of Part I. While Eliot's dedication at the beginning would seem to foreshadow a mood of angst and apathy, there are lines both in the first few stanzas and especially in the last two which suggest a completely different mood. A comprehensive analysis of Part I would suggest an overall allusion to WWI and the anxiety surrounding it, as well as the modern age itself. A motif in the modern age is a sense of lost identity, or perhaps a forged identity, suggested by the line "Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.", translated by Eliot as meaning, "I am not Russian at all; I come from Lithuania, I am a real German." This line, as well as the line in which Eliot calls to the man on the street, allude to a feeling of pain and bitterness in relation to one's national identity and exactly what lengths one would go to in order to protect it. "That corpse you planted last year in your garden..." is a bitter exclamation of loss and frustration, asking if that death was really worth it when he says, "Has it begun to sprout?" The connecting motif, perhaps, is that life is painful, and consciousness is a curse, but man endures it all the same. Passion and fervor are painful emotions to have, but they're all we have until we're dead. It's important to live truly, so if someone dies for a cause they may or may not have truly believed in -- as we can assume the corpse buried in the garden did -- it's important to ask if it really was worth it.