21 February 2009

The Waste Land

I'm scheduled to "teach" the poem for the first time ever this week, and I'm also currently involved in my TWL chapter. In other words, I'm so inundated with TWL I'm all a-tremble at not being able to see the forest for the trees. I don't want to overload the poor souls with ten years of accumulated TWL-related trivia (even if some of it is significant trivia).

Additionally, I think I've taken a shift in how I perceive the poem, and it's freaking me out. I 've always been one of the allusion afficianados, a hunter of literary clues--but I'm transforming. After reading and re-reading TSE's 1920 essay on Dante, I'm starting to wonder if any of those allusions truly adds "meaning" to the poem--whether identifying the Elizabethan plays, metaphyscial poems, or German operas etc. that are in the poem and considering how they "illustrate" its meaning is all bullocks.

In his work on Dante, TSE insisted that readers don't need to know Dante's philosophy in order to appreciate the Commedia on aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual levels. We don't need to read it in the original. We just need to read it. So now, after all these years, I'm looking at TWL as a cubist work. It doesn't need to have a unifying "meaning." It doesn't need to maintain a "thread." It just needs to be.

I think about reading it for the first time. I didn't bother with the notes until after I'd completed the first reading (they just got in the way). What was the result? I felt like something had kicked me. Hard. I was anguished, horrified, awestruck. Then I read the notes and decided that, rather than an emotional exercise or a perception of modernity, the poem was a puzzle for me to figure out. And lo, these many years of "figgerin' it out," TWL has become an intellectual exercise alone. Sure, at times I'm struck by the beauty of some lines, shock at some juxtapositions, but it's become dry in many ways--stripped of its power.

So, what do I do with my realization? Do I abandon my project, or do I fish about finding ways to recast it? Of course, the answer is obviously the latter; I've spent the day over this. The "right" response has yet to arrive, but, I'm sure, it will.

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