19 February 2009

Re: Hi {or "my opinionated ass farts again"}

i've a favored cousin that sometimes eMails me a question or two regarding academic stuffs that may need more explanation. sometimes i doubt my helpfulness but dammit if i'm not honest in expressing my opinions, cuz they're exactly that: my opinions. they may be well-founded, but still are reflective of my specific views and general world-view. opinions are like that; they may be well-thought, but do not represent the entire truth of any one thing.

just a slice of the perspective pie, served up with a dollop of creamy pouf!

follows is my eMailed response to the general question of T.S. Eliot's Wastelands and Other Poems:

WARNING: what follows are my rather acidic views of the man, and his work; but mostly the man. please understand that my views are not at all how the overwhelming majority feels (as evidenced by the oooohhhs and aaaahhs that endure). most likely, your instructor admires the man's work and will not appreciate my views (thank you very much) and might find my opinions to be ghastly. that said, i'm not sure how helpful i'll be.

oh lord, well, sigh. yes, i have read and analyzed and discussed "the waste land and other poems" by t.s. eliot. he is not my favorite person, by a long shot; but i don't suppose that matters much to him, his followers, or other lofty scholars. basically, i think he is a pretentious and preposterous man; tried way to hard to be worthy with the result that he is more english than a true english man. i realize the dude's dead, but since his writing lingers on. and on. and on...i just refer to him as tho he is still producing shit. {gee debra, tell him how ya really feel}

when i was in pennsylvania, a rather academic group of professors and teachers and librarians (and then there was lowly me, having received my bachelors's degrees and working for a dime over minimum wage at the local bookstore~~we all folk-danced together, shrug, they had to let me join the book discussion group) gathered and we discussed this slim volume. i made copious notes in my copy, and have since scoured my shelves for it, but cannot locate it; otherwise, i'd spill all! what i do remember the most is that he routinely references the classics and so there were meanings that others in the group argued that totally escaped me cuz i didn't have the familiarity with those classics. being a name dropper of any sort makes me cringe and when others laud all sorts of praise on someone because they do make academic references...well, i think even less of them for that. it's about the same as having gore vidal or truman capote on your bookshelf but not having read him or formed an opinion of your own, instead speaking in reverently awed tones because he happens to be hot within that crowd, at that time.

i truly think that in order to fully understand anyone and their work, you really need to know their biography and the social milieu of their times. it puts things into context. you get a different feel for something if you know that they are writing in the midst of world war one while living in england. obviously, you'll have a different feel as an author than if you were writing as a young man in the 60's in san fransisco, ya know what i mean? so you might want to take a look see at eliot's biography with the nobel prize committee. it's rather brief and so only covers hi-lites, but is dense and don't let that frighten ya, cuz dude, they have to focus on the uberlofty positive academic merits they assign and not the less desirable aspects that might detract from his polished image. like the fact that he had his wife institutionalized for the majority of her adult life til his death; cuz he was embarrassed by her. oh! and it was using her money and family prestige; that's how he rose thru the rankings. nice guy, huh? (if you've a chance, watch "tom and viv"; yes it is a fictional account, but it is based on fact to a degree~his wife was very smart and it is due to her that he gained the foothold in the english realm that he did; otherwise, i doubt very much that he would have made a name for himself at all)

anyway, about the waste lands (which i truly feel is aptly named, unintended): most of "wasteland" is strongly peppered with references to Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance and Sir James Frazier's The Golden Bough. he also assumes that his readers are going to be awed with his references to "tristan and isolda" (a tale like most other verbal traditions, morphed into many slightly differing versions). oh! and then there is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (another work that many people reference but have not actually read it) right there in the beginning. there are so many other references he makes, that the overall feel is very jumbled and more than a bit nonsensical. it's almost as tho he is a teenaged angst-ridden goth who just no one understands, like, ever. except he's a bit older and it's in academic circles. so think of it like the pouty moping emo kid but as an adult in posh society.

i think eliot wrote and rewrote and slashed and dropped and edited and rearranged and perhaps scrambled the pages and then sick of it all, decided, hell, it's so obscure that i can publish it and let the damned readers interpret it and broadcast the meanings they've projected onto my words. til ya get done reading the numerous footnotes and all (a full one third of the printed work), it reads as tho it is still a rough draft that somehow skipped the slush pile and ended up on the printing press, with eliot rushing too late to halt the release of such a jumbled mass and then covering himself by acting as tho that had been his intentions all along and if you don't get it, well, you must be very dimwitted and not at all intellectually elite. sniff. carry on. is it any wonder that so many rush to say, oh yes, my how powerful with all the reverance of those mystified by the emperor's new clothes. as evidenced by the oft quoted
"april is the cruelest month" seldom understood.

i most likely have muddled things for you even more so. you'd think i might have sympathy for the man, as he himself with dealing with a great man anxieties and also his wife's mental illness of sorts. but i don't. i don't believe that she was nearly as severely mentally ill as he portrayed in order to rid himself of her eccentricities. and i think the man had a truly low sense of self worth and so covered for that by being the smug bastard that he was. his anxieties were more self-caused and perpetuated and yet he made himself out to be the brave man struggling on in the face of such atrocities.

yes, he was living at an awful time in history, in a terrible place. he was seeing the decay of his society's trappings and watching the struggle of so many different levels of his world as he knew it. there was much uncertainty at that time, 1922, england. and his work reflects that general feel. so more than any one specific reference or explanation of particulars, that's the tone of the entire piece. decay, betrayal, adultry, frightened, dread, refuse, stench, chilled, poison, despair, confusion, loss, anxiety, and on and on and on.

gosh, i don't suppose that's been a help at all, has it? if however it has helped and you want to understand anything in particular or if i can clarify anything i've said here, please do not hesitate to ask! i'll try to keep it shorter and more to the point.

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