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.