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TSE  March 2001

TSE March 2001

Subject:

Re: Dans le Restaurant and the Commedia

From:

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Date:

Sun, 18 Mar 2001 23:27:21 EST

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (113 lines)

  I was out all day and missed the interesting discussion concerning a 
possible connection between Dans and the Commedia. I hope it's not too late 
to get back in on the thread, because I have some things to add:

   First of all, about the article itself. I often re-read complex pieces 
because I find I miss details in the first readings. So I was re-reading an 
article by (don't hit me for this, Pat) William Arrowsmith called "Daedal 
Harmonies: A Dialogue on Eliot and the Classics" in The Southern Review, 
January 1977, vol XIII, number 1. In the part of the article concerned with 
Dans and the Commedia, Arrowsmith is discussing the work of **another 
critic**, D.J. Lake, "T.S. Eliot's 'Vita Nuova' and 'Mi-Chemin': The Sensus 
Historicus", Ariel 2, Jan 1971, P 43-57. I have the Arrowsmith article (that 
BRIEFLY mentions Lake's work), but I have been unable (yet) to get a copy of 
the Lake article itself (I'm still trying. And if anyone wants to help find 
it, I've learned that the Ariel's ISSN number is 0004-1327). Pat, I sent you 
copies of some of the Arrowsmith articles that I have, but I haven't sent you 
all of them. If you need a copy of "Daedal Harmonies" let me know. If you 
already have it, the part I cited is in a small section (easy to miss in such 
a long article) starting on page 25. The fact that the Lake article has the 
'Vita Nuova' in its title make me think that Pat is on the right track in 
speculating on Lake's reasoning about the Dans/Commedia connection.

   I want to address Nancy's point about allusion, namely, that a few words 
in common here and there probably means nothing. I agree with this, and it 
looks like Arrowsmith does as well. Arrowsmith writes, (p 37) 

"Implicit in my argument is an assumption which I had best spell out. And 
that is that Eliot's allusions are designed to make **serious** contact with 
the texts they invoke. They are not as it were casual literary allusions or 
poetic name-dropping; they always have structural ambitions and thematic 
import. Indeed, Eliot's contrapuntal craft depends for its effectiveness upon 
**significantly** engaging the text to which it alludes. The allusion may be 
merely to a line or a phrase, but it is nonetheless intended to retrieve the 
whole context surrounding that phrase or line -- the **entire** scene, the 
**whole** work, sometimes even the culture to which the work points. Whether 
the text is the Philebus or Dante's Commedia or Richard III, what counts is 
the quality and significance of its engagement by the poem. Mere mechanical 
identification of allusions is a positive nuisance, an impediment; the 
important thing is that the reader should be in full critical and imaginative 
possession of the text alluded to, and bring his understanding to the poem. 
For unless the reader recognizes the diversity and also the consonance, or 
rather congruity, of the various voices, there is clearly no polyphony. I 
would go even further and say that, unless this crucial engagement between 
poem and text occurs, the supposed allusion is almost certainly either 
coincidence or mirage. There is simply no place in Eliot's poetics for 
decorative allusion."


So, with this as background, let me give you some of the arguments from the 
Arrowsmith article as to why the Commedia is alluded to in Dans. You may not 
find this compelling, but I think it addresses some of your legitimate 
concerns that you expressed today. Let me quote from the article (P 26):

"The echo of Dante [in Dans] provides both the accuracy and the profundity: 
this is **why** Eliot annexes it, not to give his readers a frisson of 
literary recognition. We must not take our cues about the waiter from the 
snobbish diner, but from the Dantesque intensity under the diner's words. 
Compared with the contemptuous diner, the waiter possesses, for all his 
derelict shabbiness, a kind of dignity, an unconscious confessional courage 
audible in his Dantesque  matter-of-factness, and tangible in his pain. The 
pain is **real**. And in order to give it weight and depth, Eliot stresses 
its duration -- a lifetime of pain -- by brusquely enjambing the long years 
("vieux lubrique") of death-in-life with the brief moment of paradisal bliss 
("un instant de puissance et de delire"). This intense mixture of pleasure 
and pain, ecstasy and damnation, life and death, is crucial to the poem. As 
Eliot remarks of Dante's Francesca, "The ecstasy, with the present thrill at 
the remembrance of it, is a part of the torture . . . it is part of damnation 
to experience desires that we can no longer gratify" (SW, 165). The desire 
persists, unappeasable, a vulture gnawing at the vitals. hence the waiter's 
"C'est dommage" is not coarse but a matter-of-fact statement of continued, 
tormented craving. And it is at **this** point that the diner recognizes his 
"semblable" -- "I segni de l'antica fiamma" (Purg XXX, 48) -- and the vulture 
which, however differently, they both possess."

"Earlier on I glanced at the tense irritable relationship between diner and 
waiter, and suggested that the poem presents a sharp contrast of opposed 
types, agent and observer, body and soul, etc. For convenience's sake, call 
the diner a scholar-poet. He has a vulture which **must**, on our analysis, 
represent a form of desire, intellectual perhaps, but desire nonetheless. The 
real **resentment** which the diner feels towards the waiter's undisguised 
carnality tells us, by backward inference, that the diner's lechery is 
renunciatory, ascetic, or simply wistfully timid or impotent Prufrockian 
desire ("I have heard the mermaids singing each to each/ I do not think that 
they will sing to me"). Our scholar-poet, we can assume, has detected the 
Dantesque undertones in the waiter's confession. Feeling it perhaps as an 
affront to Dante, but certainly as a mockery of his own **serious** 
(Dantesque) damnation, he explodes into angry contempt. We are meant to hear, 
I think, first, the diner's pique at recognizing himself -- a true 
anagnorisis -- in the waiter; second, the threat to the diner's sense of 
personal uniqueness (very strong in line 23); and, finally, his gloatingly 
triumphant tone as he tries to turn the tables on the waiter with an 
insulting remark and a scornfully small tip. Loathing, self-hatred, spite, 
anger, pride, embarrassment, shame, and disgust -- but above all pride -- 
crowd in very rapid succession (**very** skillfully handled) through these 
few lines, creating just that concentrated complexity of feelings at which 
Eliot, in these years, thought poetry should aim (SE, 8)"

  Nancy, this is the core of the reasons as to why Arrowsmith agrees with 
Lake's thesis about the allusion to the Commedia's opening lines in Dans. In 
the translation that I posted from Raphael, I noticed that Raphael made a 
special effort to point out that "" 'le fait est dur' sounds artificial in 
French. Literally, it means 'it's a hard fact'. "  It seemed that Raphael 
thought that TSE's French was a bit off-the mark. When I saw the Lake thesis 
it occurred to me that maybe TSE **deliberately** used an odd-sounding phrase 
in French precisely to make a reader ask why that phrase is being used. And 
Lake's answer would be that the phrase is an allusion to the Commedia's  
"Ahi, quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura [Ah, how hard it is to tell what that 
wood was]". So it seemed like an interesting thesis to explore on list.

-- Steve --


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