“Shantih Shantih Shantih”

T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is a bleak look at the condition of mankind in the early 20th century. By looking at it through the lens of London, it’s possible to come to new conclusions, or at least different perspectives, about the poem. The fragmented nature of London is cohesive with the fragmented images and voices that Eliot uses to express modern consciousness. Also, by examining London and “The Waste Land” together, it is possible to observe the actual locations that Eliot refers to, such as St. Mary Woolnoth, King William Street, the City, and St. Magnus Martyr. The ability to physically experience the places gives the poem a new dimension.

The main theme of dehumanization in the poem is still relevant today. The machine of modernity still chugs ever-onward burning the same fuel. It is easy to see when walking the streets of London: masses piling onto the Tube– crammed so close, but never further away–, women avoiding eyes as they pass on the sidewalk, men staring blankly and looking back at their newspapers quickly. No one has time or the energy for interaction once they get locked into the monotonous cycle of existing.

Eliot was trying to break that cycle by revealing it. He showed the monotony that modern life can be. While he doesn’t offer an alternative, he does show the end result of living a life in that way. It is up to the individual to find out what there is to live for. The individual has to rise up above the nine-to-five’s and the race to beat the closing Tube doors. Otherwise, he will sink into a self-absorbed despondency and insanity. Once it is realized that the world is burning, then is it possible to get out of “The Waste Land.”

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“Falling towers…”

Another aspect of dehumanization in “The Waste Land” is that of spiritual death, or the separation of God from Man. Throughout the poem, religion is treated with an air of disregard. It appears to be there, but is treated without care or respect. For instance:

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards… (43-7)

It is interesting, and perhaps humorous, to picture the “wisest woman in Europe” as a tarot card reader with a head cold. It seems to undermine the whole idea of connection to the spiritual realm. After all, if people do not understand how to connect to each other, how could they possibly know how to connect to something beyond?

The place where people go to connect to God are addressed too. Two churches are listed specifically in “The Waste Land”: St. Mary Woolnoth and Magnus Martyr. It is an experience to visit these places and fully understand what it was that Eliot saw. St. Mary Woolnoth stands in the City directly across from the Bank of England which makes Eliot’s description much more appropriate:

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine. (64-8)

This is taken from the same scene with the living dead men crossing over London Bridge.

St. Mary Woolnoth church

St. Mary Woolnoth stands at the northern end of London Bridge directly up King William Street. Nine is important because it is the beginning of the work day. The dreaded nine-to-five’s. The church, the place of light, redemption, and holiness, has now become a symbol of oppression for the working-class man. One can only guess how many lowered heads and hurried footsteps run by cursing the bells at the “stroke of nine” (68). The modern world and it’s schedules and deadlines have separated the church from divinity. The City life has taken over a sacred place and is trying to evict God. The church is now simply a landmark for people to pray in.

The other church, St. Magnus Martyr, has a slightly more positive light cast around it:

“This music crept by me upon the waters”
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold. (257-65)

St. Magnus Martyr cornered by King William Street and tall buildings.

Even though St. Magnus Martyr is only a short walk away from St. Mary Woolnoth, it appears that Magnus is more pleasurable than St. Mary. It could be, perhaps, that Magnus is father away from the City and thereby farther from the evil that deadens and hypnotizes the masses. Now, however, the church is being choked out by the buildings around it. Structures from the mid-20th century have sprung up and now choke out some of the light that makes the walls shine with splendor.

The reference to Buddha’s Fire Sermon is also a key aspect in “The Waste Land.” In a summary, the Buddha addresses the bhikkhus telling them that all perception is “burning.” He focuses chiefly on sexual desire saying “Burning with what? With the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion.” The way to overcome the burning is to conquer passion. By doing that, it is possible to overcome lust and desire. After the typist’s husband has his way with her and she resumes life, it appears that self-defeat, or at least acknowledgment, takes place:

“On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest

burning (300-11)

The connecting of “nothing with nothing” is representative of a wrecked mind or a personal breakdown in which the speaker has admitted that everything is burning. It would appear, judging by some of the ramblings in the fifth section: “What the Thunder Said” that it is the former. Some of the fifth section seems to represent a mind that has broken down and accepted insanity:

                                               If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water (346-59)

This is accompanied by the final stanza:

                                              I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon
—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih

The first example seems like senseless rambling, made all the more crazed by the sounding out of water droplets. The second stanza is the same fragmented form that is seen throughout the poem. With the cryptic question, “Shall I at least set my lands in order?” followed by the famous nursery rhyme, the speaker appears to be dying. That assumption is bolstered by the sporadic “last words” in the form of references to Dante’s Divine Comedy, the tale of Philomel, a sonnet by de Nerval, and Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy. The last two lines of the poem are references to the Upanishads in Hindu religion. It seems that, with this reference and the reference to The Fire Sermon, the speaker has lost western religion and is looking for it elsewhere– where he can find peace. Indeed, the last words, as translated by Valerie Eliot, read, “The Peace which passeth understanding.”

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“And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit…”

The fragmented imagery and voices in “The Waste Land” are all vehicles for conveying the main theme of dehumanization. Dehumanization takes on two forms: 1. The death of human relationships and 2. Spiritual death.

The refrain of “The Waste Land,” as it could be called, gives an image of dehumanization that those in London are familiar with:

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. (60-65)

The image portrayed in the excerpt above is one that depicts extraordinary isolation. It is the isolation of the working class, confined to the monotony– the hustle and bustle of every day existence. The vast population of a booming city is in a never-ending circle of ins and outs that takes a toll on the human spirit. Ackroyd refers to the dehumanization of London saying:

Ordinary human existence seems uninteresting or unimportant in this place where everything is colossal… Against the magnitude of stone, the city dwellers are like wraiths, replacing others and in turn to be replaced. (589)

He continues to say about Victorian London:

There is an appearance of energy and vitality in the mass, but the characteristic individual mood is one of anxiety or despondency… It has been estimated that, in the 1850s, 200,000 people walked into the City each day. (590-1)

Clearly, the image Eliot describes is not a new one. The masses have always been seen as downtrodden individuals, slaving away toward the sunset – waking up and starting all over without any change in scenery or routine. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

London Bridge with The Shard towering over.

If you walk on London Bridge today, you may find yourself fairly disappointed. Because of the nursery rhyme, you may expect a large, elaborate piece of engineering, commemorating what has become a legend. What you will get is a wide, four-lane fairway connecting the City to Southwark. It is a large piece of concrete emptiness, which is a good representation for the dehumanization being discussed. It is very clearly a road meant for human transport and nothing else. Tower Bridge, watching menacingly from downriver, has smaller roads that are more conducive for pedestrian travel. London Bridge, however is meant for transporting a large amount of people efficiently. It is a representation of the desperate need of fuel for the machine of modernism that was, and is, London.

The dehumanization of the modern world is because of the monotony of the work place which, naturally carries over into personal life. The sexuality of “The Waste Land” is an important aspect of its spirit.

The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins. (222-3)

He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire,
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference. (231-42)

The scene is one of a typist preparing a meal for her husband who is on his way home from work. The sexual encounter here is representative of the relationship that man has with woman in a world where all are dead and dying. The only attempt he can make to connect with her is the one that comes most natural to him– the most primal urge. This may arouse some contempt in the female population, but what causes the real dismay is her response:

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone. (249-56)

The urge to move on and forget it ever happened is just as immediate as the man’s urge to have sex with her. Eliot shows that this feeling of despondency that wrapped itself around the modern world pervades into the most intimate corners of life. Both men and women are wrapped up in the same monotony without thinking. Burton Blistein writes:

Men and woman are in [Eliot’s] view hardly more than automata or ‘crawling bugs’ that spawn and die… Just as a record always repeats the same tune, so we encounter repeatedly ‘Birth, and copulation, and death.’ Sustained by craving… (Design of ‘The Waste Land’ 241-2)

As Blistein says, there is no love involved in the exchange. It is also primal cravings and urges that even the most basic forms of life understand. We follow, in this view, a very strict form of life that never changes, especially in a world that is constantly pulling individuals apart.

It is also interesting to note the structure of this section as well. The rhyme scheme was awkward and disjointed in the first excerpt, but now– after the deed has been done– the rhyme scheme is a structured a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d. The form of the poem itself is just as rigid and precise as the woman’s hand placing the needle on the gramophone.

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“And voices singing out of empty cisterns…”

The second aspect of fragmentation in “The Waste Land” I’m focusing on is that of voice. One of the most distinctive and astounding elements of Eliot’s poem that has confused scholars and critics for almost one hundred years is the question that I asked earlier in this blog: “Who said that?” There are very view identifiable speakers throughout the entire poem. The others are shrouded by blurbs of speech, accompanied by obscure images that fill the borders with well-defined cobwebs. Voice and image become a similar function, in this case. The voices themselves are images of whoever is speaking– the speaker concealed in the same mystery as the dreamlike scenes I discussed in the previous post.

Stephen Sicari writes in his book Modernist Humanism and the Men of 1914: Joyce, Lewis, Pound, and Eliot:

“The Burial of the Dead” is indeed a cacophony of voices mixed together in no apparent order with no apparent organizing principle: we jump from one distinct voice to another without narrative transition or stylistic glue. (162)

Sicari’s statement isn’t confined to the first section of the poem. From the beginning to the end there are many voices clamoring to be heard. There are many uses of “I,” but the identity of “I” appears to change through the entirety of the poem. It takes on the voice of an upper-class man or woman (it’s hard to tell) at one moment, the blind prophet Tiresias at another, and fading into what may be inferred as madness at the end (which I will address later).

In “The Burial of the Dead,” the question of identity is raised starting in line 8:

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar kine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter. (8-18)

The speaker has been identified as Marie, but it is impossible to say if the same speaker exists at the end of the poem. And is the Russian from line 12 the same as the sled rider in line 14? Moving further in the poem, who is being entreated to “(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)” (ln 26)? Because this type of question can be posed almost at any given point in “The Waste Land, it almost seems sophomoric to ask. I’m not sure if it can ever be pin pointed, and I think to try may be a waste of time.

The gate blocking off the site of Cross Bones Graveyard. The wall is filled with tributes to the people who rest there. The sign on the door at the end of the gate reads: "Sleep well you winged spirits of intimate joy."

Think about Eliot’s use of voice in the context I introduced in my last post– that is through the lens of Cross Bones Graveyard in Southwark, London. Cross Bones has been around for an estimated 500 years. Imagine the layers of corpses that are stacked into the stone and mud. Imagine all of the voices that could be heard deep down below the surface. Think then about all the layers that exist throughout London. The oldest part of the city was settled by the Romans in the first century, but, according to Ackroyd, “the region has been continually occupied for at least fifteen thousand years” (10). T. S. Eliot may not have known London’s history to that extent, but he was aware of the ancient beginnings of the city. “The Waste Land” is similar to London in that there are so many levels of voices that echo everything from Greek myth, to Dante, to conversations in an early 20th century pub. The voices become images of the people in the city– a mix of culture, race, and language– all exemplified by references to the past and fragments of quotes in different languages. It is natural, then, that all of the voices won’t have names.

The fact that the voices do not always have speakers has another effect on “The Waste Land.” It brings about the idea of dehumanization. All of these disembodied voices floating up and down London Bridge is assigned to a concrete image that can be physically observed on, and under, the streets of London.

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“A heap of broken images”

So we’re jumping right into this one while the presses are still hot.

View of rooftops from St. Martin's showing shards of the whole. Notice the different styles of buildings with different shapes and colors. Also notice the London Eye watching from the background.

I just discussed how The Shard is the perfect image to describe the fragmented nature of London and how the unknown, confused layers the city is built upon carry the voices of those that were lost. I’m suggesting that, by looking at ‘The Waste Land” through those frames, a new light can be shed on the way T. S. Eliot uses fragmented imagery and voice.

The title of this post comes from “The Waste Land,” line 22. To use an example of Eliot’s imagery, lines 19-30 read:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
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.

From the very beginning of the poem, the reader comes into contact with a barrage of images. What is interesting about the images themselves is that they combine concrete with the abstract to create a montage that evokes an overall picture in the reader’s mind. The sun beats on what? The dead tree is sheltering what? What is the cricket relieving? There is no center to the images, thereby making them “broken” (Waste Land 22). By using a specific image and giving it no particular action or purpose, Eliot simply suspends the image in abstraction until others are pasted around it, thereby creating a dream-like scene. He uses this technique of concrete abstractions throughout the poem in order to piece together a setting and convey more abstract or lofty meanings.

Lawrence Rainey, author of Revisiting “The Waste Land,” writes about the effect of the fragmented imagery:

To read the poem was to plummet through a series of broken sketches, antic turns, and fitful moments of oracular solemnity and lyrical intensity—a dreamworld experience that startled and disturbed. (111)

“Startled and disturbed” is an accurate way to describe the feelings that take hold when reading “The Waste Land.” All of the images scattered across the page intimidate and inspire, confuse and enlighten.

For instance, in “Part II: A Game of Chess,” Eliot uses fragmented imagery to create the setting of a wealthy woman’s bathroom:

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of seven branched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling. (87-93)

This example differs from the first in that the images are all interacting with each other. The motion of the words give the feeling that the whole room in undulating in the candelabra flames, while the descriptions themselves set up a very dreamy, dark, and mysterious mood: one Cupidon peeking while another hides, perfumes lurking around the room, drowning out other senses; and the very pattern on the elegant ceiling being churned. It’s impossible to feel as if some dark secret isn’t being hidden here, tip-toeing in the shadows. Although the images are not as isolated from each other, as they were in the first example, they still act individually as contributors toward the whole. Each shard has its own action that interacts with another one so that they all set up a scene in a fragmented and broken, but cohesive form.


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Layers upon layers of broken glass.

One of the key characteristics of art in the early modernist era (post-WWI) was that of fragmentation. As I said in my last post, modernist artists– both literary and visual– used fragmentation in their works to help convey their views on the world. What I’ll be exploring in this post is how looking at the fragmented nature of London can put “The Waste Land” in a new perspective. Since Eliot did a good deal of writing here, it is only natural that he absorbed scenes from his location. These scenes naturally include actual physical place, conversations, people, and other forms of inspiration.

Peter Ackroyd, a well-established biographer and historian, writes about the hodgepodge of culture and history that is London:

[The City] was continually recreating itself in each generation… London was too large to be dominated by any one style or standard. Of all cities it became the most parodic and the most eclectic, borrowing architectural motifs from a score of civilisations in order to emphasis its own position as the grandest and most formidable of them all. Indian, Persian, Gothic, Greek and Roman motifs vied for position along the same thoroughfare. (519-20)

Tower Bridge

To make a quick distinction, The City is different than the city of London. The actual city of London is made up of many boroughs and districts. When I, a source, or Eliot write about The City, it is a reference to the center of the city which is only about one square mile on the north side of London Bridge. It is the center of almost all the commerce that takes place in London and is also the oldest part of London.

After walking the streets of London, and witnessing Ackroyd’s subject first-hand, his idea of London as pieces that are constantly redefining themselves, and therefore the whole, couldn’t be more true. It is interesting to see the Gherkin, a large, distinctive office building, sharing the same skyline with that of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Or The Shard building, which is still under construction, being viewed from Tower Bridge. The functional replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre sits directly next to the Tate Modern art museum. These sites are easy examples for how fragmented the city actually is. It is when you walk down cobblestone streets that run into asphalt, or walk beside stained brick walls that conjoin with sun-bleached marble, that the real nature of its fragmentation can be felt.

View of The Shard from Tower Bridge. The Shard is still under construction, but, upon completion in 2012, it will be the tallest building in Europe.

What creates this fragmentation? The answer is an obvious one that any city with a history has: the combination of old and new through time. Although many other factors play into the design of London– changing ideals and philosophies, new leaders in power, and the conquest of new colonies or, in a more distant history, of London itself– all of them are summed up in the passage of time. Old buildings are torn down and new buildings spring up. Consider the church of St. Magnus the Martyr, which Eliot mentions specifically in “The Waste Land and I will be discussing later. While it once stood at the southern end of London Bridge, imposing on the landscape, it is now cornered by 20th century style office buildings and apartments. The “Inexplicable splendor” of the walls that Eliot describes is only visible for a limited time when the sun peaks through the buildings (Waste Land 65).

Going back to the example of The Shard, take a glance at the picture above. There is something incredibly interesting about the building that will soon tower over London and, indeed, Europe. For a city that is fragmented, that has borrowed from so many architectural styles, that has tried to recreate what the rest of the world has done from Italy to India, it is very fitting that the most dominate building should be a multifaceted “shard.” The Shard is a perfect symbol for how all of the tiny slivers of London all come together to make up one brightly shining whole. Pieces of the city are reflected in the glass of the building that will soon come to epitomize the London skyline.

Plaque remembering the prostitutes and paupers buried at Cross Bones Graveyard. The gate that closes off the lot stays decorated with flowers, ribbons, poems, and other items to remember the ones buried there.

There’s something else that should be seen as well. If you look at the picture, you’ll notice the modern shape it is slowly taking. You’ll also notice the modern glass building in front and the more than slightly disgusting brown, 1960s building to the left. What you won’t see are the winding streets and alleys behind it that are called Southwark. This area of London is almost as old as The City itself. It has historically been associated with death, dirt, and demise– one explanation of its origins is that it was used as a Roman burial ground (Ackroyd, 689). There is actually an area, just out of the shadow of The Shard, known as Cross Bones Graveyard that has its own dark history. Encased in a labyrinth of 19th century buildings is a gated parking lot that covers the bodies of innumerable prostitutes. In turns out that, in medieval times, the church hired prostitutes to gain additional funds. However, since their occupations were sinful, they couldn’t be buried on consecrated ground. By the 18th century it was forgotten about and used as a paupers grave. Then that was covered up and only discovered in the 1990s when construction for the Jubilee tube line began. So far, they have uncovered 146 bodies and that is only estimated to be less than 1% (Cross Bones Cemetery Tour).

I hope I satisfied your morbidity enough keep you interested. The example of Cross Bones Graveyard should give an idea of the layers that exist in the depths of London. It is a city that in constantly dying, being covered up, and built upon again. The layers are stacked and interwoven to make a vast fabric of history that is only getting thicker with passing years. The voices that lie wrapped in that burlap sack of time under the city streets are all constantly speaking for anyone who cares to listen.

So how do these observations of London have any effect on “The Waste Land?” When you look at London in the context of The Shard– that the city is characterized by all of the pieces, old and new, that make up a whole—and the voices that are wrapped in layers under the city, it puts “The Waste Land” in a different light. By understanding London as many layers of old and new crammed together into one somewhat cohesive whole, it is possible to gain some insight into why Eliot wrote in such a fragmented style. My next post will relate “The Waste Land” to the broken images and the unnamed voices that fill streets of London.

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Some Notes on Modernism

The notion of Modernism is not an easy one to explain, and it is not the nature of this blog to attempt a thorough explanation of it. However, to fully understand the nature of T. S. Eliot’s writing, the reader needs to have at least a sampling of post-WWI modern thought.

“It is crucial,” writes Stephen Sicari,” to make a firm and clear distinction between modernism in the arts and modernity in the general social life of the West. The Men of 1914 [James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot] responded to the degrading effects of the modernizing world. Modernism is an artistic response to the negative effects of modernity” (8) (Italics mine).

So, then, what is modernity? That is a rabbit hole that a doctoral thesis would take a tumble down, so I won’t be focusing on that here. To use a very brief definition, the Oxford English Dictionary defines modernity as:

1. b. spec. An intellectual tendency or social perspective characterized by departure from or repudiation of traditional ideas, doctrines, and cultural values in favour of contemporary or radical values and beliefs (chiefly those of scientific rationalism and liberalism).

Basically, modernity is “modernness”– that is, the intellectual and social state of being modern. What this means is that the actual notion of modernity is changing all the time, because traditional values are continually undergoing a process of reappraisal that determines their permanence in a social context.

Now, before I go too far down that rabbit hole, let me bring it back a bit.

The “negative effects of modernity” that I will be focusing on will be those concerning dehumanization. The modern world is one that is always changing and updating and discovering– often leaving the individual self behind. The writers of the early 20th century were trying to express what it meant to be caught in that place and time. Norman Pearson writes about what this meant for the early modernist writers, pertaining specifically to Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot:

Fresh metaphors demanded fresh language taking in a new measure of reality. Fresh language, of course, conversely demanded fresh metaphors… Twentieth-century man learned to see differently, as Cezanne showed him. He learned to hear differently, as Schoenberg did. he learned to think differently, by means of symbolic and non-Aristotelian logic, as Whitehead taught him. Given these parallels, the 20th-century writer had to learn to communicate differently if he was to represent the nature of what was now universally regarded as true… Their [Stein, Pound, and Eliot] syntax is an expression not simply of the 20th-century mood but of the 20th-century mind. (2)

"Monte Sainte-Victoire"-- Paul Cezanne, 1900

What the writers strove for was immediacy. Immediacy creates an intensity that “draws the reader into the immediateness of the composition. To be immediate is not to be separated in time; it is to be closely related to whoever feels immediateness. It cuts a path towards the universal” (Pearson 5).

In my analysis, it is the fragmented imagery and abstract metaphors that brings this immediacy to the early modernist writers. However, I think that it does not necessarily draw readers in, as Pearson says, but rather puts the reader at a certain distance where he has to decide for himself what is going on. What the writers of the early 20th century did seems to be a continuation of what the Impressionist painters and writers did in the late 19th century and what their contemporaries, the Cubists and Dadaists, were doing. The subject of a work was left open to the viewer or reader to determine. By using expression that was abstract and not necessarily human, they were giving the power of interpretation to the viewer, thereby making him more of an individual.

"Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" - Duchamp, 1912

One classic example is Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.” The subject of the painting itself is completely shattered, or fragmented, and in complete chaos. But the motion of a figure descending a staircase is still evident. The style of the painting was a direct contrast to the previous style of realism, and was a more extreme version of the Impressionist ideal of capturing what happens inside the moment. The viewer is both connected to the motion of the painting, but disconnected with its portrayal.

While a thesis on modernism would be a great project, it is way out of range of mine. To recap: The early modernist writers used abstract metaphors and fragmented images in order to express their consciousnesses. In my next post I will focus on how London is a model for the fragmented form of “The Waste Land.”

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