LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.0

Help for TSE Archives


TSE Archives

TSE Archives


TSE@PO.MISSOURI.EDU


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

TSE Home

TSE Home

TSE  February 2007

TSE February 2007

Subject:

Eliot & the Grammophone

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Thu, 22 Feb 2007 20:31:22 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (127 lines)

T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, the Gramophone, and the Modernist
Discourse Network 
Juan A. Suárez 
New Literary History 32.3 (2001) 747-768 

Excerpt. This passage takes off from Eliot's own recording of TWL

-----

From a different perspective, reading always stirred Eliot's subtle
histrionic talents and the recording is witness to that. As he
dramatizes different dialects, languages, and intonations, he lends his
own voice to the disintegration of poetic diction we have already
glossed at some length. This is particularly perceptible in his
rendering of the women's speeches in "A Game of Chess," the most
theatrical of the poem's sections. Quite memorable is his alternation
between Lil's friends' chat, in a fairly credible cockney, and the
background voices in the pub. Changes in volume and pitch evoke spatial
distances; Lil's friends sound close and intimate, as if huddling around
the microphone, while the bartender seems to bellow his calls from the
back of a crowded room. In part the histrionism in these fragments stems
from Eliot's self-conscious reproduction of "alien" words,
"phonographed" by him and captioned as his but exceeding the limits of
his discourse. But even when Eliot is not in character and simply
recites, in what is a sort of zero-degree voice in the recording, he
still seems to be playing back accents and rhythms not quite his own.
Not entirely British but no longer American, Eliot's is an obviously
learned accent whose unnaturalness leads us back into the technological
continuum and into electrical-aural loops. As contemporary DJs do with a
mixture of analogical and digital means, Eliot's voice sampled the tones
and rhythms of the metropolis, of traditional poetic diction, and of the
(cultural, social) Establishment, to play them back . . . with a
difference. Now we call this sampling; at the time when The Waste Land
was written, such defamiliarizing make-over of existing sounds often
took the form of ragtime or jazz. This is the popular beat Trilling
detected in Eliot's rather ponderous drone. The frequently invoked
kinship between the poem and these forms of popular music was clinched,
as we will see, by the dependence of both on the new communications
media. 

According to an anonymous reviewer (J.M.), The Waste Land was "the
agonized outcry of a sensitive romanticist drowning in a sea of jazz"
(CH 170). "Drowning" gives the phrase an ambiguous turn; it makes "the
sea of jazz" antagonistic to the lyric but also underscores--or does it
mourn?--the extent to which the poem is steeped in jazz culture. A few
years earlier, after the publication of Ara Vos Prec (1920), Clive Bell
had pronounced Eliot an eminent "product of the Jazz movement": his
"agonizing labors seem to have been eased somewhat by the comfortable
[End Page 762] ministrations of a black and grinning muse," he wrote,
seemingly unable to withhold the facile racial slur. The poet, he
continued, "plays the devil with the instrument of Shakespeare and
Milton;" his language is "of an exquisite purity as far as material
goes, but twisted and ragged out of easy recognition." 33 

Twisting and ragging were exactly what jazz was about. Its fractured
melodies, audacious harmonies, and complex, driving rhythm twisted
classical musical languages out of shape. "Ragging," in turn, meant
modifying a melody to bring it closer to ragtime, an early jazz form.
"Ragtime" was a heavily syncopated form of popular music whose roots
were mainly in the African-American tradition. Originally cultivated by
black entertainers such as pianist Scott Joplin (his bestselling "Maple
Leaf Rag" dates from 1899), it was later adopted and further popularized
by composers such as Irving Berlin, whose "Alexander's Ragtime Band"
(1911) relaunched the turn-of-the-century ragtime rage. "Ragging" a tune
was then bringing it in line with the black musical idiom; it was an
exercise in parody, defamiliarization, and racial masquerade dear to
audiences in the 1910s and 1920s. Performer-composers of the time, such
as Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin, specialized in "ragging" or
jazzing up classics and standards to wide acclaim. Clive Bell aligns
Eliot's mischievous revamping of tradition with the work of these
popular musicians. 

Although jazz (like ragtime, its predecessor) was primarily a live
musical form, its boom coincided with that of the gramophone. It was
dependent on it for its diffusion and full impact. Jazzing and ragging,
like all parody, depend for their effect on knowledge of the original
being transformed. They presupposed a stock of musical references shared
by listener and performer, just like Eliot's poem presupposed the
accessibility of the literary archive--played back as a melange of
broken sound bites. In addition, jazz's strategies of defamiliarization
and parody were favored by the distance that recordings created between
the music itself, performers, and audiences. As music streams from metal
tubes, horns, and pulsating membranes, it loses its aura--its uniqueness
and unrepeatability--and loosens its ties to the personality, the
genius, the body and the nerves of the performer or composer. It becomes
more controllable by the listener than live music could ever be.
Moreover, canned music is forced to commingle, indeed to compete, with
the din of street life--"the sound of horns and motors." The performance
is no longer bracketed off from daily routine; it may now happen any
time--as when the typist in The Waste Land freshens up after "stooping
to folly." Once all types of music are intimately woven with the
ordinary, they appear ripe for parody and appropriation. 

Like music, literature in the electronic age is subjected to a similar
fall [End Page 763] into the ordinary. And this not only because, at
least since romanticism, literary mimesis has been making the quotidian
its main focus of interest. Literature loses some of its sacredness and
solemnity when writing notes down the automatic speech of the world and
thus imitates electronic receivers and transmitters. According to
McLuhan, the electronic media have a leveling effect (UM 247). Once the
channels are open, they carry any and all sounds, those of time-tested
tradition as well as--mixed in with--the most ephemeral and mundane. A
reporter present at the first demonstrations of Edison's phonograph at
the offices of Scientific American, put it as follows: "With charming
impartiality it [the phonograph] will express itself in the divine
strains of a lyric goddess, or use the startling vernacular of a street
Arab." 34 The gramophone's nondiscriminating ear then explodes the
queen's English and places it in open competition with all other
dialects and inflections, and with sheer noise (DN 233). Hence in The
Waste Land gramophonics blows up stylistic uniformity, and with it,
extant cultural hierarchies. That is why Shakespeare and pub talk share
the same frequencies; or why the Upanishads, Pope, and Dante blend in
with jazz rhythms or the drone of city crowds; or why Ophelia and Lil,
the cockney working-class woman, touch hands. 

As do Eliot and the typist. She is, after all, the poem's originator;
the one who gives Eliot his gramophone--electronic memory, language
transmitter, verse generator--and his desire. She is ultimately the
stand-in for authorship in the machine age--she, the medium who takes
dictation; the conduit of voices, discourses, and noise which travel
through her as through information channels; the one in whom language is
detached from "the spirit" and its acrobatics and entangled in
technological networks. One could say that in his attempt to modernize
the idiom of modern poetry, Eliot grafted onto an old medium the
"minor," marginal vernaculars of modernity: the language of women, of
machines, of popular culture. The language of those with no proper
language.

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
March 1996
February 1996
January 1996
December 1995
November 1995

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



PO.MISSOURI.EDU

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager