Through the readings, I was largely struck by the nonsensical nature of the Dada movement, even the name. From Tristan Tzara’s words in the Dada Manifesto, “I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestoes, as I am also against principles,” to the descriptions of the Cut-Up Technique (cut all the words out of an article, shake them up, and the order that you put them bak down on paper will not only create a poem, but will reflect something about yourself), all add up to nonsensical theories.
The periodical, Cannibale, was published in Paris in 1920. Though I didn’t have time to fully read the whole thing (my French reading brain is much slower than my English one), I thought that what I read seemed to accurately depict what was stated in the Manifesto. One “poem” in particular stuck out to me, as I could make neither head nor tail of it.
Titled “Suicide,” the poem is just a listing of the alphabet. I suppose the point of the poem could be that it has no point, in the way that people who feel forced to take their own lives likewise feel that their lives have no point? But beyond that, I have few guesses.
Other phrases in the journal stuck out to me as well, such as small collection of sentences (shown below) that begin with the phrase “Dada is a dog” and describe Dada as being “brutal.” Why?
The first thing that I noticed about That Shakespearian Rag is that it uses the same technique that Eliot is very fond of: melding the ancient with the modern. In the case of the song, Shakespeare’s tales are applied to a modern form of music (ragtime). The song transfers the great passions of the ancients into cheap entertainment.Though I could not find That Shakespearian Rag online, I listened to some other ragtime songs to get a better idea of where Gene Buck and Herman Ruby were coming from. I liked that the song referred to itself in the lyrics (“That Shakespearian rag, most intelligent, very elegant, that old classical drag” (52)), words that Eliot later uses in The Waste Land. It is very interesting to me that Eliot used the song in the conversation between the shell-shocked man and his wife. Though the book does not say when the song was first published, I am assuming that it was popular in the post-war era that most people would have known it. Therefore, the use of the song essentially implies that the couple can stand for any other couple suffering from PTSD.
Also, the man is obsessed with noise. He repeatedly asks, “what is that noise?” (9), and after many responses of “nothing” (9) eventually, the song serves as something to fill the emptiness in his mind. After he sings the song, he is at least able to speak in complete sentences, even if they don’t quite make sense.
From the very first lines of Women Beware Women, I knew that this play by Thomas Middleton would deal with fertility and marriage. The lines, “Welcome with all the affection of a mother / that comfort can express from natural love: / since thy-birth joy, a mother’s chiefest gladness ” (Act 1, Scene 1. l.2-4) introduce the themes of fertility and love. These lines too immediately brought me back to Part Two of The Waste Land, where, instead of seeing a mother’s love for her children, we see her life after she was effectively forced into getting an abortion. Effectively, even from the begging, Middleton appears to be recreating the natural cycle, whereas in Eliot’s poem, the cycle is broken, as we have discussed frequently in class.
As I read further into the play, however, it became more apparent that there were issues in the matters of love and marriage. The marriage that at first seems so full of love between Bianca and Leantio is actually a marriage of necessity, as it appears that Bianca got pregnant out of wedlock, as Leantio’s mother will be made a grandmother in forty weeks (Act 1, Scene 1. l.109), the exact length of the average pregnancy. It seems that the pair found out and immediately married, to avoid being “undone” (Act 1, Scene 1. l.109). However, the pair does genuinely seem invested, not only in this pregnancy, but in the possibility of many more, despite their relative poverty. More problems are introduced between Isabella, her father Fabritio, the simple man that she’s supposed to marry, Ward, and her uncle, Hippolito, who happens to be in love with his niece. In Act Two, Isabella is persuaded that Hippolito is not her actual uncle, and kisses him, proposing that he become her man on the side, visiting her whenever her “young waiting gentlewoman” falls ill or leaves the house. This example of incest seems to better fit into the corruption of the love in Eliot’s poem. The rape of Philomela is very easily incorporated into the fold with Thomas Middleton (or vice versa). Eliot emphasizes love gone wrong, or the sex-act without real love, dancing around, like love is a “game.”
More than the background regarding the Fisher King as a symbol, and his recreation in The Waste Land, Weston’s information regarding the historical importance of the fish as a “life symbol” (119) illuminates the connection between arthurian legend and modernist poet Eliot. Weston discusses the fish symbol being used to represent life, and sometimes even fertility not only across religions, but cross-culturally as well, citing multiple tales In the chapter regarding the Fisher King, Weston quotes an unknown author saying, “‘the Fish was sacred to those deities who were supposed to lead men back from the shadows of death to life'” (120). This concept, I think, is key to understanding the link between The Waste Land and Weston’s writings. Here, we see the idea of something (or someone) being brought from a state of limbo, a state very much like death, back to life, one of the main themes of the Fisher King legend and the Waste Land involved. Eliot’s Waste Land is similarly in a state of limbo, where rats are more free than humans. A direct reference by Eliot to this chapter of Weston’s says, “I sat upon the shore / Fishing, with the arid plain behind me / Shall I at least set my lands in order?” (423-425). This quote has the elements of the the infertile land (“arid plain”) and the fishing that Weston discusses so enthusiastically. It also implies that, perhaps, there is a way to heal the damage that has been done to the land.
An interesting contrast is that, with the symbol of the fish and the Fisher King, it is implied that “all life comes from the water” (126). Here though, Eliot seems to disagree, or at least offer a contrasting view. As has already been discussed in class, Eliot frequently invokes references to drowning, beginning with Madame Sosostris’ prediction, to “fear death by water” (l.55), and continuing with the later image of how the “last fingers of leaf / Clutch and sink into the wet bank” (l.173-174). Contrasting the idea then, of a life-giving water, Eliot emphasizes the dangers of water. Why would Eliot have repeated this, when so much of the rest of the poem backs up Weston’s writing?
(Answer: a fsh (sorry I must admit I stole this from How I Met Your Mother))
Perhaps it is due to the background discussed in class, but in “The Burial of the Dead,” I couldn’t help but notice the repeated allusions to a state in between life and death, a state of perpetual shock and mourning, caused as we know by WWI. Without the background given, however, I must admit that I probably would not have necessarily associated this part of The Waste Land with the war, but rather with some great vague End Times, especially in regard to the cyclical theory of history discussed in class.
Eliot is undeniably apocalyptic. He writes, “Your shadow at morning striding behind you / Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; / I will show you fear in a handful of dust” (5-6). Here, the term “shadow” emphasizes the liminal state in which the world is existing, neither here nor there, almost waiting for something even more horrendous to occur. Eliot becomes even clearer later on, going as far to say, “I was neither living nor dead, and I knew nothing” (6). Though this first section of the poem is most clearly about dying, it is mostly about the process, the burial, the mourning, the movement of the soul. In the last stanza of the section, though discussing the dead, Eliot does not describe them in their final resting places, but rather in phases of movement, or perhaps even stuck in Limbo. It recreates the earlier phrase from stanza three, “neither living nor dead” (6), and seems to defend quote taken from Wagner’s Tristain und Isolde (translated from German), “desolate and empty is the sea” (6). Eliot’s world here is one of emptiness, a stage of ignorant waiting, rather than of violent action or peaceful diplomacy.
A final note: the footnotes to the text display the myriad of writers that Eliot draws from, making more clear why Eliot’s writing seems to flow across times, rather than fit neatly into a post-WWI discussion.