Bornstein and the Experience of Reading "Prufrock"

It was supposed to be posted a week before, but it took me some more time to finish it after I started drafting last week. 

Bornstein’s article enlightened me about how the work of literary art can be interpreted better and more affluently by considering the whole context in which the text is placed. In “How to read a page: modernism and material textuality,” he breaks down the main ideas of recent editorial theory for page reading into several aspects: “awareness of its constructedness and of multiple alternatives” (6) and the recognition of “bibliographic code” along with “its linguistic code” (6). He then demonstrates through his reading of four sonnets by John Keats, Emma Lazarus, W.B.Yeats, and Gwendolyn Brooks how interpretations and readings of the same linguistic codes are changed by the different bibliographic codes. He shows that studying the multiple sites of appearance for the literary work enables the reader to see what’s been emphasized/erased from the work in each site and to read historical, political, or aesthetical context of the work.


His demonstration of reading sonnets reminded me of my experience of reading “Prufrock” last week. I first read it in The Norton Anthology and then the Catholic Anthology “Prufrock” and the comic version of it. When I read the poem from The Norton Anthology, it was like the poem was standing alone even though there were several other pieces that follow by Eliot because I didn’t read the introductory note for T. S. Eliot that comes beforehand as well as other works that come afterwards. So, my experience of reading “Prufrock” from the Anthology was to pay close attention to its aesthetics and message, connecting it to the other works by Eliot that I have read before. However, when I read it from the Catholic Anthology, it created a whole new story, totally different from what I got from The Norton Anthology. Yeats’s “The Scholars,” at the beginning of the book, opens a way to Eliot’s poems, and his poem sarcastically emphasizes the disparity between the poet and the scholars’ understanding of a love poem, which kind of sets a very different tone for reading Eliot’s poems from what Norton Anthology creates. And the collection of Eliot’s poems interacts with each other as if they were written as a set that provides both man and woman’s view respectively in a love relationship. Other poems by other poets in the Catholic Anthology after Eliot also add the similar tone to each other, which helps the readers to see more of an atmosphere shared by the contemporary writers than just the aesthetics of one poem. In the comic version, on the other hand, the background scenes I only vaguely imagined, such as the street scenes, personified “yellow fog” and “yellow smoke,” and the tea cups, caught my eyes and was lifted to the extent that has an equal importance as other things in the poem. As Bornstein demonstrates that “[t]racing the multiple sites of the poem reveals alternate material components of meaning” (31), reading “Prufrock” from different sites proves the possibility of varied interpretation of the poem depending on which site one encounters it.