Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Four Quartets and the Bible

T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” is truly a masterpiece. After reading “The Waste Land”, I was sure that it was his most intricate, finest work. I was wrong. “Four Quartets” is the densest reading that I have ever encountered. While that could be the result of a plethora of reading at semester’s end, I would compare this to any of Shakespeare’s great works as far as intricately laced significance goes. The rhythm and language of the poem present endless opportunities for deconstruction of meaning.

It was while reading Brooks’ article, “‘Four Quartets’: The Structure in Relation to the Themes”, that I came across a term that sparked my light bulb. While reading each of the quartets, I tried to go into them with an open mind. However, I could not escape the religious undertones that I felt throughout each section, such as ideas of a garden, pools, etc. Brooks’ theory of structure with the divisions of a)vision, b)negation, c)acceptance, d)transformation, e)communion with divine reality, and f) integration were certainly true from my reading of the poem. It was the specific word “reconciliation” within his article that solidified some of my own theories.

When I first started reading “Burnt Norton”, I had visions of Eden and a descent into Hell similar to Dante’s Inferno. Then in “East Coker”, the line “In my beginning is my end” is where I began my search for the Biblical excerpts that Eliot weaved into his poem. So I found a few passages that I thought were integral to Eliot’s work, if not his specific work, then to the overarching themes that Brooks presents. I first found from Revelations 21:6, “I (am) the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Eliot’s repeated emphasis on the beginning and the end is an obvious reference here. Another passage, from 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ.” I think that this passage directly correlates to movement III of “East Coker”. Eliot also incorporates images of “light” and “dark”, with his ultimate message in support of Christianity and the mystery of God’s grace. I think Eliot’s notions of binaries that are seen in “Four Quartets” may have been pulled from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,

Therefore we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen, for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.

“Our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” may be Eliot’s overall theme for the poem. Despite the mortal lifetime of our physical bodies, through belief in God and Christian teachings, our souls can be immortalized. Yet, while we endure this journey of faith, there are times of darkness (literally and figuratively) and it is the light of God that will save us. I think that this idea can be further seen in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19,

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

In my research for these passages, I first started looking for funeral liturgies. While reading the poem, I could not resist the temptation to consider this a funeral rite of sorts. The modern writer’s interest in anthropology and ritual could not be overlooked. Perhaps this is Eliot’s own liturgy as he himself has come full circle from being faithless to faithful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Modernist Politics

Perhaps it’s highly in part of my lack of knowledge of politics, but this week’s blog is extremely difficult to write. Aside from a consciousness of general world history at the time, I had and probably still have no idea what all the political factions of the time were. With that said, much of the readings were a complete blur except for the understanding of the Modernists extreme interest in politics. The most accessible reading was the chapter in the Cambridge Companion to Modernism. It provided a simple basis for the lay-politician/historian. Building from T.E. Hulme’s “Romanticism and Classicism”, something I was finally familiar with, Sara Blair discusses Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s intense political forces. I had no idea that Ezra Pound was so political. While I am intrigued by his passion, I was sorely disappointed by many of his anti-Semitic and Fascist viewpoints. What repercussions, if any, did this have within the Bloomsbury group and other Modernists of the time? I have a hard time believing that these ideals were upheld by many of these highly-educated, intelligent people, so where is the discordance within the group? Leonard Woolf was of Jewish descent himself, so did that cause issues within the group? Thankfully, Blair incorporates the Modernist movement within America as well, exposing us to other aspects of politics and aesthetics – movements not based upon hate, but rather on freedom, such as the women’s and African-American movements.

As for Leonard’s standpoint on preserving peace, I found that to be much less offending. While I am not quite sure that world peace can ever be attained, I think Leonard’s propositions for it were extremely noble. He and Virginia appear to have been quite a team in their political notoriety, but is there the possibility that Virginia may have overshadowed him slightly with the coming of women’s suffrage and such? Instead of Leonard’s work being praised for its ingenuity, is it possible that it may have been seen as oppressive? And while Leonard and Virginia worked together for their political causes, didn’t Virginia also have problems with Jews? That would make their relationship a rather conundrum – working together for one cause, yet at odds with another.

I also think it is interesting that many of the Bloomsbury group would be Marxists, socialists, or essentially in favor of the labor party. From what I have gathered from class and readings, many, if not all, of the group was particularly well off. What advantage would there be for them in supporting such causes?

Personally, I really enjoyed E.M. Forster’s “What I Believe”. I think the creed that he develops on his own is something that we could all live by. Right off the bat, his work is not pushy. The reader does not feel overwhelmed with his politics, as if they are being shoved down one’s throat. Forster’s respect for classical thought appears to be a great influence to him, specifically Dante. Unlike many other Bloomsbury members, Forster is in support of democracy because of the importance it places on the individual, although he is careful not to be too overzealous in his belief, offering only “two cheers for democracy”. I thought that this piece really gave insight to Forster’s work, especially Howard’s End. His main focus in the novel is the relationships between different people as well as the individual. Finally, I can see the politics in the aesthetics, whereas with Leonard’s work I have no aesthetics to work with other than he is Mr. Virginia Woolf.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Women and Fiction

Opening the pages of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I suppose I was expecting another one of her novels. Instead, I was faced with a manifesto of sorts – a “story” of the relationship of women and fiction through the eyes of Virginia Woolf and I was not entirely sure what to make of it. I enjoyed the fact that as I was reading, I was able to imagine her in the lecture hall amidst collegiate women of the time, carrying on as a sort of Betty Friedan. Perhaps this story was Virginia Woolf’s version of The Feminine Mystique and now, going back and really considering the issues that Friedan addressed in her book, I can remove the “perhaps” from the beginning of this sentence. While encouraging women to become successful on their terms, Woolf realized the pitfalls of such dreams, most significantly domestic life. She realized that with the position of women being altered, other aspects of “normal” daily life would be forced to change as well. With these realizations at hand, Woolf pushes on in order to come to some sort of declaration about women and fiction to her female attendees. In her attempt to come across answers, she finds out more and more about women writers. Woolf explores the female literary tradition, not only from the masculine, patriarchal viewpoint, but also from within the strongholds of the feminine literary scope as well. Instead of being locked within the confines of the novel, Woolf sees change in the future for women, specifically with experimental writing. It seems that through education and the arduous process of time passing, the stylistic components of female literary works will progress. Her eventual floundering at the end of the essay(?) put me in a state of unrest or at least confusion. Woolf spends over one hundred pages presenting an argument about female oppression and in the end, the artist can not focus on the matter. While I realize her point, it somehow fell short for me. I guess I just expected…well, more.

Moving on to Jane Marcus’s article, I really did not buy it at first. Marcus’s argument that Woolf’s writing was an attack on all the men in her life seemed really far-fetched for me and much too psychoanalytic. Once that was dismissed, I rather enjoyed aspects of Marcus’s article. Her description of where Virginia’s lectures took place was very interesting and something that is intangible in Room alone. I imagined being there with her speaking, but what I imagined and what Marcus described were entirely different. Marcus’s article also made me consider the relationships between women more fully. The relationship, seduction, or interactions even, are much more verbal than physical. The courtship begins through language and is subversive in nature and in reading Room, I am not sure that I grasped that concept initially. Considering the nature of relationships between men and women, it is not at all surprising that women would develop a more fruitful, emotional relationship with other women. My doubts, however, lie within the fact that Marcus seems to make all who attended the lectures to be wholly homosexual. While I am sure that there were some attendees who engaged in homosexual or bisexual behavior, I do not think that everyone participated.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mrs. Dalloway

After reading Mrs. Dalloway, The Waste Land and Steinberg’s Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land, I have really gained an appreciation for each of their works. Steinberg’s inclusion of Virginia Woolf’s diary entries as she wrote what would eventually become Mrs. Dalloway was a great view into her mind. The reasons that I think Mrs. Dalloway is so great (social criticism, the whole workings of sanity versus insanity) is actually what Woolf was consciously trying to convey. The difficulty of writing Septimus’s part had to be extremely difficult for Virginia, as she said, but I wonder if she was basing his insanity on someone she knew or maybe even herself and her own personal demons.

While reading Mrs. Dalloway, I thought that Clarissa and Septimus were foils for one another and after seeing how the relationship progressed between Eliot and Woolf at this time, I would say that it is definite that Woolf used their interactions in the development of her characters. It is hard to believe the correlation between the Eliot and Septimus. From their occupations to their marriages, their lives mimic each other completely. I wonder how Eliot’s estate feels about this glimpse into Eliot’s inner self. Lucrezia’s character is remniscient of Vivienne and just as Woolf did not care for her, that dislike is felt in the story itself. Lucrezia, to me, seems selfish and distant in the novel. While she does love Septimus, she is more concerned with herself and what is happening to her than Septimus’s condition. I actually feel stupid for not seeing all the similarities earlier between the players involved.

Steinberg’s claim that The Waste Land is written for Jean Verdenal seems warranted. An idea I had not thought of previously is that of the hyacinth girl. As we discussed in class, Hyacinth was a man and he was associated with homosexuality. In Eliot’s description of his memory of his friend in Luxembourg Gardens, waving a lilac, I saw Hyacinth. For Eliot, Jean Verdenal was his Hyacinth.

I thought Woolf’s comment that Mrs. Dalloway originally was to kill herself or die at the end of the party was quite interesting. Would the story have the same effect if that end did come to fruition or is it important that Clarissa did not commit suicide? I think the use of Septimus as a foil and his eventual demise allows Clarissa to accept her position in her society. I think Clarissa envies Septimus’s ability to be in control of his life, or in this case death. Steinberg’s idea that Mrs. Dalloway can follow the heroic tale is something that I did not think about, even after our class discussion last week. Steinberg’s claim appears to be very solid, but I think I will need to reread and map out the rest of the story with the corresponding parts of the heroic tale.

I thoroughly enjoyed Steinberg’s arguments regarding the correlation between Septimus and Eliot, as well as the influence of the Eliot-Woolf relationship on Mrs. Dalloway. I would, however, liked to have seen where Virginia herself comes into the characters of Mrs. Dalloway. I know she was overly concerned over writing about herself, but where can glimpses of her own life be seen in the novel. I would hate to think that the entire novel was an exposé on the life of T.S. Eliot.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Eliot's "The Waste Land"

After reading The Waste Land, I immediately noticed the ritualistic nature of the poem and Eliot’s play with life and death. It brought me to some of Frazer’s ideas from The Golden Bough and the other theories of the Cambridge Ritualists (but I will discuss that further on Wednesday). As with Eliot’s previous poems, the use of a wide variety of intellectual property is at Eliot’s beck and call. He uses the words of Dante, Baudelaire, the Bible, and so on. A first that I have seen with Eliot, he uses the device of Virginia Woolf and plays with stream of consciousness in the first section of The Waste Land. It was in “The Burial of the Dead” that I had a rather strange idea.

In line 13, Eliot writes, “And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,/My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,/And I was frightened. He said, Marie,/Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.” Is the narrator not inferring that her name is Marie? Again, in “The Game of Chess” I thought that it was two women quarrelling with one another, rather than a man and a woman. In “The Fire Sermon”, Mr. Eugenides asks the narrator to lunch and to a weekend at the Metropole, insinuating a possible act of prostitution. Finally, in “What the Thunder Said”, I think considering the act of crucifixion that is occurring, it is possible to see the narrator as a Mary-Magdalene-type figure. I may be way off in making these parallels, however, I also thought that Eliot used this device in Preludes. In Preludes, I thought that the narrator shifted from man to prostitute in the final stanza of the poem, in turn making the prostitute the one who wipes her mouth in the end. I realize that Brooks argues it is homosexuality in his analysis, but if that is the case, perhaps cross-dressing is a possibility within the poem as well. I am unsure if any of this is at all viable criticism, given all of Eliot’s own notes, but it is one that I can no longer ignore as a reader.

In reading Brooks’s article, we came upon the same idea that Eliot was trying to convey; “all wars are one war; all experience, one experience” (191). However, where Brooks witnessed this idea in Eliot’s reference to the war, I did not see the full connection until “What the Thunder Said” in lines 373-377. Eliot’s repetition of cities, “Jerusalem Athens Alexandria/Vienna London” followed by “Unreal” on a single line, for me, blended these cities into Dante’s Limb - all of those cities, renowned for different wars, victories, religions, and cultures become one. There is a similar experience that E.M. Forster writes about in A Passage to India with Mrs. Moore in the caves. Definitely a religious experience for her, once she is within the caves, everything sounds the same. There is no difference between words – they all result in “ou-boum”, everything is nothing.

Brooks and Eliot’s use of the rooster was also extremely interesting to me. In Eliot’s time, anthropology was what my undergraduate colleagues would call “armchair anthropology”. Most of the research regarding human social behavior was done through reading the classics and developing theories from that information. A few decades later, Bronislaw Malinowski delved into the world of ethnography and participant observation, traveling to different parts of the world and coexisting with various peoples. Now, many anthropologists are aware of the importance of the rooster within various native cultures. The most famous example is the Balinese cockfight as studied by Clifford Geertz. While in Bali, Geertz learned the significance of the cockfight and the rooster to the Bali people to be religious. He writes, "In the cockfight, men and beast, good and evil, ego and id, the creative power of aroused masculinity and the destructive power of loosened animality fuse in a bloody drama of hatred, cruelty, violence, and death" (pp. 420-1). This statement perhaps best describes portions of Eliot’s waste land, in ways that I had never imagined. In these rituals, there are battles that occur until an outcome can be produced, ultimately resulting in some sort of meaning. Perhaps for Eliot, that meaning was found in the Upanishad he quoted, “Shantih shantih shantih” – “The Peace which passeth understanding”.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mansfield and Her Influences

After reading Katherine Mansfield’s stories, I am extremely impressed. Unlike Virginia Woolf’s stories, there seems to be more dialogue, which for me, makes her stories much more available. Mansfield’s characters possess distinct qualities that allow them to be factors within the story. They themselves are more of the story, rather than the actual plot itself in most cases. Each of Mansfield’s stories, while often incorporating the same characters, address a wide variety of ideas. It is also interesting to notice the different influences that Mansfield may have had on her writing, as well as her significant influence on Virginia Woolf’s work.

In “Prelude”, immediately I loved seeing the use of the vernacular language. It made me think of Mark Twain and his use of the American vernacular language in his fiction. This different dialogue provides the reader with another significant dimension to the characters, providing age, class, and even ethnicity without stating it outright. This helps the characters to come to life, which especially occurred for me with Lottie and Kezia. Their dialogue made me feel as though these small girls were running around me as I took in their story. “Prelude” also addresses class distinctions as we have seen in many of the other modern works. The interactions between the servants and the family establish Mansfield’s take on society. Mansfield is also concerned with “escape” in “Prelude”. Each of the characters possess a desire to run away from their respective realities. Linda Burnell wants to drive away in a carriage and not even wave goodbye to everyone. She loves her husband, but often does not see the man who she fell in love with; instead, she sees a man who is constantly trying to impregnate her, something which she does not want to happen. Beryl Fairfield is stuck living with her sister’s family instead of having a life of her own. She wants to escape from their life, as well as this fake self that she has developed in order to cope with the realities that exist. The children often play different role-playing games, allowing them to get away from their small, young reality and deposits them within grown-up or even animal life. Alice gets lost in her dreams. Stanley really seems to be the only person who no longer feels the need to escape, now that they have moved from the city to the country. Perhaps this is why the women are always happy when Stanley leaves, as seen in “At the Bay”, so they no longer need to be exposed to his contentment.

As I read “Prelude”, I wondered if all these women represented Mansfield as a whole in some way. Each of the women struggles with their different problems – be it sensuality, fakeness, or death. According to Lee and Meyers, Mansfield encountered similar problems within her own life.

In “At the Bay”, I could not help but see nuances of Kate Chopin’s writing. Chopin’s “The Awakening” was released in 1899, so it is possible that Mansfield may have read it, but was it really an influence? I searched some academic journal databases looking for any connection, but it was to no avail. Could a modern British woman writer be influenced by a modern American woman writer? Each of their stories has women characters who are influenced by other women. These women who influence have characteristics outside the realm of normalcy. They are often disliked or unaccepted within the society, as is the case with Mademoiselle Reisz in The Awakening and Mrs. Harry Kember in “At the Bay”. The story is set on a beach, as much of The Awakening is, and ultimately results in an affair as well. The similarities are striking, I am just not sure if Katherine would stoop to the level of American literature.

While I am on the topic of influences, it is quite clear that Woolf influenced “The Garden-Party” and vice versa. Woolf’s “Kew Gardens” does seem to have had an impact on Mansfield’s “The Garden-Party”, however I think Mansfield’s story had an even greater effect on Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. “The Garden-Party” follows Mrs. Dalloway’s plot almost to a tee – opens with flowers, a party is being thrown, some talk of class distinctions, a man dies, upset at the possible ruin of the party, and a simple statement to close the story. I am almost a little upset with Woolf, as I can not help but almost feel as though Mansfield was robbed. While I understand the idea of tradition and the use of the canon in art, the overall similarities are overwhelming. Especially after reading Lee’s essay on the relationship between Woolf and Mansfield, I feel that Woolf was quite devilish in the relationship, more so than Katherine. Perhaps I am being too sentimental about the whole thing, because as it is, each of these two women produced extraordinary works and it is quite possible that their relationship was the necessary catalyst to provide the competition and the drive that made these women what they have become today. Don’t worry Virginia, you are forgiven…

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

To Hear Vivaldi...

I had technical difficulty getting the audio clip on this blog page itself, but if you go to my profile page, click on Audio URL and it gives you a great MP3 of the concerto...ENJOY!