Cultural Waste Land

Design by Karela Palazio

Thanks for grabbing coffee with me. I’ll admit, I already feel so energized from my seminar this afternoon that I don’t really need the caffeine. Eliot’s writing is so rich, so elusive and allusive. It’s a dream, spending a whole semester digging into every word of those nineteen pages. And my peers’ comments are just mesmerizing—I had to take them down word for word so I could conduct a close reading later. Let me show you my notes:

1. “The language of shifting voices—the unstable surface of the poem—leads to a sense of consistent unmooring. Just when a descriptive object seems to emerge, Eliot removes it, or renders null all of our prior analysis of it.”

2. “Does anyone else feel deceived by this poem? Eliot seems to dangle meaning before us, then he hits us with an untranslated Italian footnote or an unintelligible incantation. He almost mocks the scholarly reader with his relentless references.”

3. “David Foster Wallace once wrote—” 

4. “Eliot deals with the Western canon in a very nuanced way. He clearly sees it as worth preserving—even quoting from Ovid and Shakespeare directly—but his experimental style obliterates everything that came before it. I wish more young, iconoclastic artists and writers realized just how referential the avant-garde is. To do something no one’s done before, don’t you need to know what has been done?”

5. “I read this essay by Susan Sontag called ‘Against Interpretation,’ and it made me wonder which reading of Eliot we get first: the hermeneutic or the erotic?”

6. “Let’s think about why modernism and classicism might be two sides of the same coin.”

7. “The parataxis in the poem is quite striking. These fragments have nothing in common—the author simply chose to arrange them that way. We can draw parallels to the way film borrows from this collaged aesthetic with jump cuts, snippets, and montages.”

8. “We’ve been talking a lot about modernist aesthetics, but what about the postmodernists? I want to take it back to David Foster Wallace—”
After this quote, I wrote myself a note: “read something by David Foster Wallace.”

Leave a Reply