This issue featured a lot of images that didn’t really seem to relate to each other. Although the text seemed cohesive from what I can gather, they way the images were inserted in there seemed abrupt and this definitely seems like a progressive magazine where rules are arbitrary.

To relate it to The Waste Land, the phrase that sticks out to me is “a heap of broken images.” That is basically what this issue is about, and from what I read, that is also about what Dadaism is about. Eliot definitely has an artistic style and whatnot, but his poetry is fragmented and doesn’t really have a pattern, with a lot of stanzas from different references thrown in there. Although this can be read as a representation of the confusion after The Great War, it also coincides with Dadaism in a sense that everything is all over the place and in a sense Eliot’s aesthetic is in and of itself non-existent.


Dadaism, war-time art, and Eliot

Looking into Dada and Dadaism reminded me of other war-time art such as Vorticism and Blast. I think that the war and atmosphere of cultures surrounding it affected all these authors in similar nihilistic, disjointed ways. One of the first things that stood out to me was the way that both magazines manipulate their typography to show the disjointedness in their pieces and philosophy. I’m sure that there is more to be said about their relationship between Eliot, Blast, and 291, but I can only repeat what’s been said about the disjointedness affecting Eliot and his poetry. I relate this to Part II, A Game of Chess and the PTSD couple. But, I feel that’s a bit obvious. I’m interested in what comparisons to other parts of the texts other people could draw.

The Wikipedia article offers a link to Hugo Ball’s manifesto. His manifesto is similar to Vorticism, and Eliot, in the way they attempt to make their words on the page, have real significance and context: “I don’t want words that other people have invented. All the words are other people’s inventions. I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own. If this pulsation is seven yards long.”

Tristan Tzara went on to write The Gas Heart as a dada play. The play was supposed to be a rebellion from the standard form and attempted to be something essentially new. Tzara had some similar thoughts on his play that Eliot had about The Waste Land. This is the same bullshit that Eliot did with The Waste Land later in his life referring to The Gas Heart by Tzara. The Wikipedia article about The Gas Heart says: “Tzara, whose own definition of the text described it as ‘a hoax,’ suggested that it would ‘satisfy only industrialized imbeciles who believe in men of genius,’ and argued that it offered ‘no technical innovation’.”

These similar elements manifest themselves in Dadaism, Vorticism, and Eliot. These elements are the real effects that the war had on culture. But, not just the war, in their rampage they also changed the perception of what art was perceived as well.

Conformity in Dada and The Waste Land

One of the main things that struck me in our readings was the Dadaist outcry against conformity. Unquestioned cultural and intellectual uniformity leads to apathy: man becomes mechanical. As Dada writes about psychoanalysis, the “anti-objective impulses of man” are put to sleep. This mentality towards conformity comes as no surprise considering Dada emerged as a type of artistic protest against World War I. A portion of the Wikipedia page for Dada reads, “The dadaists believed those ideas [social, political, and cultural ideologies – all unifying forces] to be a byproduct of bourgeois society, a society so apathetic it would rather fight a war against itself than challenge the status quo.”

In the third issue of 291, there is an interesting passage entitled “Being Human in New York.” This passage ends with: “You have spent a few hours free from rules and conventions. You have had a glimpse at real human beings, who have retained the courage to be their simple selves.” This idea of “real human beings” made me think of Eliot’s Unreal City, the mechanical mass of commuters crossing the London bridge. Interestingly, it seems that Eliot’s Waste Land is in the midst of Tzara’s “great negative work of destruction.” The Waste Land is the old world decaying, like the Cumaean Sibyl. The only hope is in rebirth.


The cover image of Bruno’s Weekly (volume 1, no. 20) caught my attention, and the entry in there I would like to address is on page 15 and is titled Phantasies. I think several comparisons can be drawn between this entry, Eliot’s The Waste Land and the Tzara manifesto. Phantasies opens with a lonely man who is retreating inward after his lover leaves him. He retreats far enough into himself that he seems to live in a fortress. At first he enjoys it, but it becomes corrupted as it is not actually protected from the outside world.

Phantasies has some echoes of part two of The Waste Land‘s “Game of Chess” because inside the speaker’s “fortress” he experiences disgust of fumes of wine, and of lusty laughter. Saying the speaker’s fortress is internal makes sense considering he asks why women bring heartbreak, and answers with because “she lives with us.” The speaker seems to blame himself for his lover’s departure, hence the eventual corruption of his internal fortress. There is also something about this that echoes Tzara because the speaker casually contradicts himself by saying that “Woman is made to please us” and then, “But they do not please us.” Tzara, in his manifesto, seemed uncaring for “science” and finite or set answers. I think the contradiction of the rule “Woman is made to please” in Phantasies, is what echoes Tzara the most.

Disdain for realism in Dada and Eliot


One common thread I noticed running through Tristan Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto 1918” and the magazine I chose to read, East & West, was a negative opinion of art or media that attempts to capture reality as it really is. In Tzara’s work, this is reflected through his distaste for journalism and journalists (“When a writer or artist is praised by the newspapers, it is a proof of the intelligibility of his work: wretched lining of a coat for public use…”), his general distrust of reality (“Everything one looks at is false”), and his belief in relativism (“Some people think they can explain rationally, by thought, what they think. But that is extremely relative […] There is no ultimate Truth”). In “The Artist” in issue one of East & West, this same disdain for art that attempts to capture reality is expressed in the description of a photo-realistic painting in a gallery: “But the position of honor was occupied by a rural scene with a cow painted in what may be called the ‘official’ style […] It was executed with photographic detail that defied all attempt to look at the canvas as a whole, the eye being constantly distracted by minutiae. Thus the hairs at the end of the cow’s tail had been painted with an enthusiasm as touching as it was inartistic” (Kobbé 7). The designation of a photo-realistic painting as inartistic reflects the same disgust for attempts to create art that closely reflects reality that is elaborated in “Dada Manifesto;” Tzara would likely advise the photo-realistic painter that his work is better accomplished by a camera.

I believe this rejection of realism is reflected throughout the poetry of Eliot and other Modernists. There is, in Eliot’s poems, a particular vagueness and obscurity. He does not seek to describe old age as clearly and concisely as he can in “Gerontion;” he does not seek to express his feelings simply in The Waste Land. Instead, Eliot’s poetry embodies this departure from a photographic representation of the world that was celebrated by the Dada movement.

East & West, issue one:



I took a look at a magazine called The Blind Man which can be found in full here.

I almost wrote about another piece in this issue, a letter apparently written by a mother from Minneapolis but then this small visual poem by Robert Carlton Brown caught my eye.

My mind instantly went to Act II of The Waste Land specifically the shell shocked veteran. “I remember / Those were pearls that were his.” (124-125) The parallels with “Eyes on the Half shell” are almost spooky. Both compare eyes with something related to oysters, the pearls being the product of the oyster and half shell referring to a style of oyster dish. Both also have an element of the upper class in them, pearls being an expensive jewelry item and oysters on the half shell being an expensive dish. Lastly both seem to be referring to the war dead. I’m not suggesting that the two lines have any concrete relation or anything (Eliot is obviously pulling the line from The Tempest) but Eliot and Brown do seem to be trying to present similar ideas with scarily parallel imagery.  My rational side wants to chalk this one up to probability and the capacity for the human brain to make connections where none exist but I can’t help but think this is just weird.

As far as how this line applies to Dadaism, I feel it falls under the Dadaist Disgust. The image of eyes on the half shell is reminds me of Lovecraftian horror. It is clearly meant to invoke a very physical reaction in the reader. The drawings of the eyes around the poem are unsettling at best. The pair at the top, although almost childish looking, are filled with more emotion than I think I’ve ever seen in most real humans’ eyes. They really set the tone for the poem. This tone seems to tear down the idea of classical artistic beauty and almost feels like an accusation of the reader. The fact that the poem is in handwriting, and not put to paper with the perfection (or apparent perfection) of printing also seems to rebel against the tradition ideas of art.


Dada, The Waste Land and… Memes?

The issue I picked is another from 291, the April issue. I found a rather interesting image within it that reminded me of The Waste Land as well as some image macros I’ve seen today. Here’s the link and the image: blog post.lpgThe image is largely unintelligible, with seemingly random geometric shapes abound. However, a loose narrative does appear. “It” seems to be about a woman contemplating not only her place in the world and her relationship, but the place of all women in general. The image might be an abstraction of her mind.

I think the image fits the “Active Simplicity” tenant of “Dada Manifesto 1918.” Tzara writes, “What we need is works that are strong straight precise and forever beyond understanding. Logic is a complication. Logic is always wrong” (4). I believe Meyer’s above image perfectly embodies Tzara’s assertion. There is a certain logic and understanding to be derived, enough to evoke feelings and ideas, but portions of it are never going to be fully understood. For example, the jumbled words of “Red dots on whiteness” towards the middle-left of the image. What could that possibly mean? It’s precice, strong, and precice, for sure, but it is still largely beyond understanding and lacking in logic.

I do see elements of this image in The Waste Land. For example, the intrusion of art and objects into conversations and trains of thought. The Shakespearian Rag infiltrating the conversation in A Game of Chess reminds me of the line, “Whenever I pass that canvas I want to put my foot through it” at the bottom left part of Meyer’s image. The freeform insertions of these moments deny a certain logic and make them much harder to understand. They also serve to demonstrate the overstimulation of the modern world. The debate that the Shakespearian Rag caused in class is a fine example of how it’s difficult to ever fully pin down, just like how Tzara wants art to be. And in Part III, we get fragments of words and phrases thrown at us just like in the image, on lines 266-291. Both in the image and The Waste Land, we get intentional disorder, and an arguable lack of logic.

Now for fun, I think there are some distinct parallels between the time of Dada and today. There seems to be skepticism, especially among younger, educated people, that liberal democracy and market capitalism are not the best of all systems. Some of the internet content I’ve seen is becoming more and more disordered and Dada-like to the point of Tzara-esque nihilism, and it even resembles Meyer’s image. Here are some funny examples that clearly aren’t intended to be high art, but may mirror some Dada sentiments.

modern dada 1dada 2Is Dada really just dank memes? Here’s the link to the Facebook page these images originated from:

Eliot and (Joseph) Conrad

Heart of Darkness is my favorite novel of all time, so I find it interesting that Eliot tried so hard to incorporate it into the first drafts of The Waste Land, as Hugh Kenner points out (2). The epigraph for the poem was originally Kurtz’s famous last words, “The horror! The horror!” and imagery of the boats on the Thames that appear early in Conrad’s work were to be incorporated into the poem. These allusions were eventually edited out by Pound’s insistence, but a Heart of Darkness reference does appear in Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men. (Kenner 4).

Why Eliot’s fixation on Heart of Darkness, and why did it have such a major influence on early drafts of The Waste Land? I think the answer may at least partially lie in Eliot’s previous philosophy work. Eliot wrote of “mad and strange” experiences which are private and incommunicable, in the words of Ackroyd (70). Eliot’s view of the isolation of man within himself brings to my mind a passage in Heart of Darkness: “… No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone….”  (Conrad 18). Conrad explores the same idea about psychological isolation that so intellectually interests and personally tortures Eliot, and I believe that is the principle reason it is included in early drafts of his poem. Conrad’s novel is much more known for its anti-imperialistic message, however, and I believe this could also play a role in Eliot’s early decision to include it, as World War One was at it’s core an imperial venture; The Waste Land of course, is partially about the war.

Why Pound insisted on cutting it and why Eliot acquiesced, however, are much more open questions.

An Artist’s Struggle

Although Eliot’s work cannot be oversimplified into two main themes or ideas, there is a sort of duality and contrast that has faced in The Waste Land, the more that we read through it and about it. It is definitely making the bigger statement related to the world and the bigger intellectual/literary world in a sort of parable-like manner, or a warning, if you will. On top of that, there are definitely snippets and an overall undertone or a serious personal level from Eliot’s point of view that he has splattered on to the piece. Through the readings for today, we see how his transition into the UK and through people like Pound, how he has come to experience and greatly impact the literary scene during the war as an intellectual and an integral part of the world of literature. However, as the ending notes of Chapter 4 states, although him meeting his wife, Vivienne was a great thing, their relationship and Eliot’s mental breakdown as a writer makes The Waste Land both interesting, autobiographical, and just utterly confusing. When is he talking to a larger us? When is he just meditating through his lines? When is he trying to outreach to the society he has ascribed to in the UK? The world may never know. After all, we don’t know if he was entirely sure of anything.

Taking a Step Back From Historicizing

I’m not usually one to read too much of the author’s biography into his work; however, upon reading Akroyd’s sketch of Eliot, I definitely see parallels between the poet’s personal demons and his treatment of emotional and physical sterility in “The Waste Land.”  In “Game of Chess,” Eliot explores marital breakdown, mental illness, and sexual incompatibility, issues he personally suffered through during his relationship with Vivien Haigh-Wood.  Before reading Eliot’s biography, it was easier to historicize the poet’s treatment of sterility as a reaction to the war’s aftermath, yet now the topic becomes more complex and intrapersonal.  I wonder whether the shell-shocked soldier bears any semblance to Vivien in the sense that both are neurotic and disengaged from their spouses (Vivien- sexually and the soldier-emotionally) and Eliot subsumes the wife’s role of the frazzled yet more stable marital partner.  We obviously will never know Eliot’s true intentions; however, recognizing the parallels that can be drawn between Eliot’s personal life and the poem adds a greater sense of depth to the work.

On a completely unrelated side note, I would like to know more about Eliot’s intentions for “The Descent of the Cross” since it thematically seems to share several parallels with “The Waste Land.”  Akroyd mentions that the work never came to fruition due to Eliot’s lack of inspiration.  If this was truly the case, does the poet ever claim to have achieved a necessary level of inspiration for creating “The Waste Land”?