I confess myself utterly puzzled by "many or most people." Who might
they be? Books have been written for 76 years now on TWL, and I don't
think any of them failed to note that it is full of speeches, and many
focused explicitly on that: Calvin Bedient, for example.
Given the incredible variety of playscripts and librettos, I also do not know
what the "exact form" is, but I do not see any version of it in TWL, which,
unlike most plays (though not all) includes a recurrent narrator and
sections in a third person voice not identified. Operas are sung, so the
relation of arias and recitative is rather different. What is this "exact form"?
Date sent: Wed, 28 Mar 2001 13:56:50 EST
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From: [log in to unmask]
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Form in TWL (was Re: Stetson in The Waste Land)
In a message dated 3/28/01 12:04:28 PM Eastern Standard Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:
> Nancy has alluded to her problems with finding structure in TWL. ( I
> hope I'm not putting words in her mouth but that has been my sense of
> what she has said in the past. ) An ideogrammic poem would properly
> have a very special structure that would fit no norms for literary
> structure as the word is commonly used by critics.
I think many or most people just don't notice that TWL has the exact form
of a playscript, or a libretto for an opera. The one proviso is that there
are no stage directions, leaving the question of whether the stage
directions are implied.
I think people realize, or one can maybe get them to realize, that what
one actually sees on the page in a playscript or libretto is a series of
annotated speeches (the annotations are the stage directions). But then if
one says "doesn't TWL, too, consist of a series of speeches?" they either
don't see it, or say it doesn't matter, or don't understand that a series
of speeches is a form (they think of form being limited to metrical forms
like iambic pentameter).
It's maybe a good argument for the proposition that we do indeed make our
own realities. If, for whatever reason, one can't or won't recognize that
a series of speeches is a form (the form used, for example, in playscripts
and operatic librettos), then one is always going to regard TWL as
formless. It's a different proposition if a person can say, "O, of course
TWL is a series of speeches. I hadn't noticed (and of course a series of
speeches is a form)."
This suggests to me that the question of whether TWL is "formless" gets
sandbagged early on by a lack of common agreement in literary studies
about what the word "form" means. Probably this has happened because form
hasn't been discussed for so long in this field. The New Critics got into
it to a limited extent, and there might be an aversion today to valuing
anything associated with the New Critics. I'm actually surprised that the
question could still be asked of whether TWL is "formless." If one takes
the position that form is something not worth talking about, why would it
make any difference?
I don't mean to put you on the spot. But why isn't a series of speeches a
recognizable form or structure to you? Leading of course to the
sub-questions of whether this is a randomized or non-randomized series of
speeches. If non-randomized, the "stage directions" would be implied
rather than explicit. If randomized, there would be no stage directions,
whether express or implied. Is it that it doesn't seem "intellectual"
enough to begin with something simple that anyone can see with his or her
own eyes? Or is it that you think of form in terms of metrical form only?
Or are there other factors?
I'm not trying to convince you that a series of speeches is a form, if
something you don't accept. I'm just trying to get clear in my own mind
why you'd be willing to think of a Chinese ideaogram as a form, yet
wouldn't be willing to think of a series of speeches as a form. And I
guess that gets down to what you understand form to be, or how you'd