Dear Nancy, many thanks, especially for the book suggestion and for pointing out that those cities are all on water.
When I said that Eliot's use of water was "arbitrary," I meant the following: the symbolist praxis permits the arbitrary substitution of signs for an underlying signified. A "dying soul" for example could be symbolized by any number of signs: rock, dust, dry leaves, drought, brown air, etc., and its antidote likewise could be indicated by interchangeable signifiers having connotations of viability: green leaves, streams, blossoms, a refreshing breeze, childrens' happy laughter, birdsong or any symbolic substitutions for the signified. When Eliot substitutes the sign "water" for varying signifieds, though, I think he pushes symbolism past the point where it deepens meaning and slips into a Dada kind of aesthetic stance that employs semantic absurdity. Diana
Eliot's early work really does, as May Sinclair said in a review, depict
"naked reality." That does not mean it is not symbolic but that it is
not abstract. As Carrol pointed out, also, symbols are "to" or "for"
someone. The Thames is water. But for Conrad it carried a weight of
symbolic significance and some of that recurs here. But it is not
single or abstract. Clearly the water-dripping song is not only a
bird's song; it is a longing for life in a desert where life means rain.
The Thames carries the nymphs of Spenser and also the loitering heirs
But London is a city by water. Water runs through it. So is Boston,
where the poem initially started. So is St. Louis. So is Cape Ann.
Eliot spent his life by water. So it must inevitably be vividly part
of his imagination.
I don't see anything systematic in his use of water that is different
from its ancient and continuing meanings of both life and death, both of
which--in endless ways--can result from it.
I also don't think Eliot sat and thought out elaborate patterns of
organization and meaning: I think he did what he said--got something
off his chest that he couldn't know until he did, and then, in
collaboration with Pound, rearranged a lot of stuff into some vague
sequence that does not follow a plot or myth in any consistent way but
refers to them, if slightly and seldom, enough to let him get away with
the notes. At any rate for years.
Elizabeth Drew thought the water was central as one of Jung's symbols of
transformation. But she reads it all through Jung and makes it
systematic. You might find her book interesting as a consistent attempt
Marcia and Nancy: I'm so bad at arithmetic I never should have
suggesting summing up anything. I meant to question whether Eliot shifts
the meaning of water in a deliberate attempt to draw attention to
semantic indeterminacy or whether water stands for other things in
consistently symbolic renderings. Diana
Is not the question about the very assumption of "sum up meaning"?
Marcia, you can't add apples and oranges. If water is a sign with
different referents how can you sum up its meaning? Diana
Diana Manister wrote:
Marcia, if Eliot cut the appearances of water free of each other in a
text designed not as a coherent narrative but as a collection of
independent referents for the same sign then there is no sum of meaning,
only a series of changing meanings for water in different contexts.
And if what you say is so? Can't a sum be complicated? You seem to
confuse sum with homogeneity. The sum of 4 ducks and 3 pigs is 4 ducks
and 3 pigs.
I've asked twice what in the poem makes your standard valid.
>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 08/06/07 12:41 PM >>>