Dear Carrol,

Every great work of art inspires web-spinning don't you think? But the  
greater it is the more Sphinx-like it remains, refusing to surrender  
its mystery to exposition. Not even to the artist who created it.

But I do appreciate your passage on the echoes in TWL!  Thanks so much  
for that.

I won't bring up deconstruction for fear of igniting a conflagration,  
except to say that some content finds its way into art by passing  
under the radar of the artist's conscious intentions, no matter how  
rigid the artist's control. So Eliot's statement about TWL was not  
made by someone who knew totally and completely what he was about when  
he wrote it.

Which brings us to "design"." You define it as the underlying  
structure, but it can also mean intention, as in "having designs on"  
someone or something. As you observe, Eliot would as modernist artists  
generally did privilege spontaneity in the creative process. Isn't  
this what you mean by "organic"?

An organic process rather than one that is programmatic and determined  
in advance provides the escape from intellectual censorship that  
renders the artist something of a witness to the creation of the art.

"Design" would then be ex post facto.


Sent from my iPod

On Apr 27, 2010, at 2:06 AM, Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> If there is a "design" (overall structure or form) in TWL it was  
> either
> put there by Ezra Pound, not composed by Eliot or imposed _after_ the
> fact by Eliot as he wrote the notes. If you want to assign a  
> "design" to
> Eliot himself, you have to find it in the original typescrpt as we see
> it in the fasimile edition. Probably Eliot himself was not free of the
> 19th-c superstition that a poem must have an "organic" form, and this
> shows up both in his desire to preface Gerontion to the poem and in  
> the
> notes he wrote, particularly the note on the poem being what Tiresias
> saw! That Eliot did in fact share this critical error is shown by his
> silly remark that Hamlet was an artistic failure!
> There is much to be said for the argument in an essay in Critical
> Inquirry some decades ago entitled, "Coherent Readers; Incoherennt
> Texts."  And this seems to apply quite felicitously to TWL. The
> coherence which many critics find in the poem is there all right --
> because they put it ther!
> This is NOT the same as saying a poem can mean anything a reader wants
> it to mean. There still remains a need for responsible reading (if the
> critic wants anyone to pay attention to him/her anyhow).  If some  
> reader
> were to 'find' in TWL a deliberate point-by-point refutation of  
> Hobbes's
> _Leviathan_ or of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason we (or at leas I)
> wouldn't argue with the reading, I would merely ignore it and anything
> else which that particular critic wrote. (As I do simply ignore the
> readings of several posters on this list.)  But though not anyy old
> reading some reader wants will do, the range of possible conflicting  
> but
> legitimate readings is, I think, fairly wide, and rather wider in the
> case of The Waste Land. And I would argue that withiin that range is  
> one
> that Eliot himself specifically rejected with a sneer: that it  
> expressed
> the disillusion of a generation! When WW 1 began, Henry James  
> commented
> something like, So this is what it all meant, by which I presume he
> referred to the whole self-satisfaction of the end of the 19th-c that
> "civilization" had been achieved, that Progress was a metaphysical
> reality, and that (as expressed in Kipling's "White Man's Burden")  
> that
> achieved civilization had only to be imposed on the rest of the world
> that still lay in outer darkness.
> I think we are in Rat's Alley: The war to end war has instead been a  
> war
> that itself never ended, and "we" the postwar generation  are still,  
> as
> we walk through the streets of London,  in the trenches ourselves.  
> (That
> third who walks always beside 'you' might welll be the unburied dead  
> of
> the endless war.)  One is reminded of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  
> (That
> closed car at four: where is it going anyhow?)  And had Eliot  
> persuaded
> Pound to allow him to preface Gerontion to TWL, the corridors of
> Versailles (the cunning passages) could be the twisted streets of  
> London
> and both could be the intricate maze of the trenches of that war that
> will not end, the dead flowing over London Bridge in an endless stream
> (I had not known death had undone so many: it is difficult to believe
> the death toll of WW1). And so forth, the poem is an echo chamber. One
> would not want many poems with that sort of polysemy. I am glad we  
> have
> one like this though.
> Carrol