Nancy, I think Eliot's use of water in TWL differs significantly from his presentation of mysterious figures like Stetson and Sosostris. As I said, reading the poem as the internal monologue of a focalizing character to whose thoughts, memories and sensations we are privy works for me. I see nothing inconsistent with that reading in the poem. The reader does not need to know who Stetson is to appreciate that the narrator places some importance on him as the possible appearance of an old war comrade. Nothing puzzling or muddled about that. The reader's experience of the images and figures and speech fragments in the poem parallels that of the narrator. Their relative significance is ambiguous. We can make no more sense of them than he can.
But Eliot's use of water is not ambiguous, but arbitrary. Water is first a death-bringer for the drowned Phoenician sailor, then its lack is death-bringing, dessicating the living. Both water and its absence accomplish the same end, so water at times is its own opposite. But water is presented in a duality with rock, which acts as its opposite: "Here is rock but no water." Then water dripping is life-bringing, and then thunder and the storm, which bring shantih, peace.
Perhaps some intricate and convoluted rationale could attribute intratextual consistency to Eliot's use of water, but I'm guessing it would be a stretch. All of the other scenes and images and characters are consistent as to what they offer the narrator, however impossible it is to precisely define what that is. Even Sosostris, about whom I maintain the narrator has mixed feelings, is stable in herself; representing the commercialization and vulgarization of the supernatural. Both vulgarity and the prophetic gift are present in her as human qualities; Sosostris does not cancel herself out as the use of water does.
This random attribution of significance to water operates whether or not you allow the narrative reading.
From: Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Water in TWL--why?
Date: Wed, 1 Aug 2007 23:31:57 -0400
Frank Kermode, in 1967, said, "Eliot ridiculed the critics who found in
The Waste Land an image of the age's despair, but he might equally have
rejected the more recent Christian interpretations." I think the notion
that a trope "must serve the whole in some meaningful way," is quite
different, at least, from my resistance to disparate commentaries
because, if I understand you, it assumes some "whole" is there as a
unity to be found. But why? It is not only water that is a puzzling
muddle in TWL; it is pretty much all the images. Except I would not use
"muddle" because they are not just that; they are complex and not
constrained within a "scaffold." Who, for example, is Stetson? Is he
an "everyman" as Brooks claimed or someone identifiable by the name who
had been in London that year or an image of the American or a soldier
and comrade? It can go in as many directions. And why is the
accusation of the quotation at the end of I spoken to him, as it is?
Nancy wrote: "Water, for example, can be linked to the Thames in
lusty nights or Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS or whatever. But these all
lead in different directions. In any case, it does not fit Eliot's
description of an objective correlative: when given, it does not evoke a
specific emotion. "
Still, a trope must serve the whole in some meaningful way. Water in TWL
may be a multivalent sign or symbol, but if it were working with the
synergy of Eliot's usual signifiers each of its possible meanings would
inform all of the others. But water in TWL alternates its significance
with no intratextual consistency, producing a hodge-podge of referents,
a puzzling muddle. Diana
>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 08/01/07 11:02 AM >>>