“I can connect / Nothing with nothing.”

Oh, The Waste Land… where to start? I have read this poem a few times before, and I think that my appreciation for it grows with each subsequent reading. To start out, I wanted to discuss the malaise, the collective shellshock, so to speak, that permeates Eliot’s depiction of London in The Waste Land. While reading, I thought back to one of my favorite novels, Mrs. Dalloway—a novel that so effectively portrays this collective shellshock. While reading Eliot’s poem this week, images of Mrs. Dalloway kept surfacing in my mind—her jumping at the backfiring of an automobile, or her stopping by the church. To my amusement, the Norton Critical Edition of The Waste Land includes the following note from Virginia Woolf about the poem: “It has great beauty & force of phrase: symmetry; & tensity. What connects it together, I’m not so sure. . . . One was left . . . with some strong emotion. The Waste Land, it is called; & Mary Hutch, who has heard it more quietly, interprets it to be Tom’s autobiography—a melancholy one” (137).

In any case, because of our archival exercises and the preparatory discussion at the end of class last week, I was eager to view The Waste Land as an archive in itself. The reason I brought up Mrs. Dalloway, besides, of course, to briefly discuss shellshock, is because I think it serves as an excellent foil to The Waste Land in terms of how each work portrays a society attempting to find meaning after the war. Mrs. Dalloway looks for meaning in her parties and her high-society lifestyle, while Eliot portrays a desperate turn to the past, to the literary and artistic works that came before the war. The Waste Land furiously archives and juxtaposes everything from Dante to Wagner, from the Bible to the Brihadāranyaka Upanishad, from Baudelaire to Shakespeare, but struggles to find meaning in any of it, just as Mrs. Dalloway’s party is once again interrupted by the war through news of Septimus Smith’s suicide. Ultimately, the juxtapositions fail to illuminate meaning, leaving behind only the “strong emotion” that Woolf notes. Eliot provides “[a] heap of broken images,” but in the end, one can only “connect / Nothing with nothing” (15).