Stuck in the Past and Breaking into the Future

In the introduction to Toward a Poetics of the Archive, Voss and Werner describe an archive as “both a physical site . . . and an imaginative site,” a “space [that] . . . creates a system whereby an official record of the past may be preserved and transmitted intact” (i). However, they also note the “paradoxical logic” inherent to the system: “The archive preserves and reserves, protects and patrols, regulates and represses” (i; my emphasis). In The Futurist Manifesto, Marinetti holds contempt for this past, the “[m]ythology and the mystic cult of the ideal” that he and his compatriots are leaving behind, perhaps for this very reason. Instead of the “magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber” of the existing body of literature—a description that might very well apply to J. Alfred Prufrock of Eliot’s poem—he wants “movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.” Later, he also expresses a desire to “demolish museums and libraries” and “deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides, and antiquaries,” and instead embrace industry and “eternal, omnipresent speed.”

Meanwhile, T. S. Eliot seems to hold a much more positive opinion on the existing body of cultural memory, at least on the surface level. As Mohamad noted in the previous post, Eliot includes many references to other literature and art in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Throughout the poem, he refers to Michelangelo and alludes to Dante’s Inferno, Shakespeare, and the Bible among other authors and works. Along with Prufrock himself, who, as I mentioned previously, seems to be stuck in the past, the poem acts as a container of the past. Moreover, the phrase Prufrock keeps repeating—“there will be time”—echoes the preservative nature of the archive that Voss and Werner discuss. However, just as Marinetti believes the archive to be a source of stagnation and gangrene, Prufrock might be hindered by the abundance of cultural memory within Eliot’s poem. Rather than daring to “[d]isturb the universe,” Prufrock turns to the past, “the evenings, mornings, afternoons” that he knows well.