T. S. Eliot

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2001-08-01
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr

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The Waste Land(1922) is widely recognized as a central text of modernism and is often described as the most important poem of the twentieth century. This guide begins with early reviews and discussions from the 1920s and '30s, considered alongside Eliot's own critical essays, showing how he set the critical terms by which his poem has been read. Examining the ways in which the poem became accepted as a literary classic, the guide then looks at New Critical and Formalist readings. The final chapters examine "deconstructive" readings that challenge The Waste Land's assumed cultural power by looking at it in light of Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytical, and cultural materialist reading practices.

Author Biography

Nick Selby teaches at the University of Wales, Swansea

Table of Contents

Introduction 7(14)
Examines The Waste Land's relationship to modernism. Extracts from Eliot's essays `Ulysses, Order and Myth' (1923), `Tradition and the Individual Talent' (1919) and `Hamlet' (1919) set out Eliot's modernist poetics and set the terms used by early critics in reading the poem
The 1920s: Early Reviews
Surveys the initial critical reaction to The Waste Land. Shows the balance in these early reviews between praise for the poem and condemnation of it. Reviews by Charles Powell, Gilbert Seldes, the Times Literary Supplement, and Louis Untermeyer demonstrate the range of critical opinions about the poem already voiced in the first few months after its publication. Edmund Wilson's important first discussion of the poem `The Poetry of Drouth' (December 1922) is set alongside the first two major critical readings of the poem: that by Eliot's friend, Conrad Aiken (1923); and that by I. A. Richards in the appendix to the 1926 edition of his The Principles of Literary Criticism
The 1930s: Archetypal Criticism
Examines the establishment of The Waste Land as a modern literary classic by looking at the consolidation of the poem's reputation in criticism of the 1930s. Discusses the belief held by critical readings of the poem from this time that the poem exposes underlying, or archetypal patterns of meaning for culture. Extracts from another essay by Edmund Wilson, taken from his book Axel's Castle (1931), are followed by probably the most important and influential of early readings of the poem, that of F. R. Leavis, and which appears in his ground-breaking book New Bearings in English Poetry (1932). The final extract is from Maud Bodkin's Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (1934) and demonstrates how the poem has been read through models taken from Jungian psychoanalysis
New Criticism: Poetry, Literature and Myth
Looks at `New Critical' readings of the poem, and analyses how Eliot's poetics, and the poem itself, can be seen to have given rise to this highly influential critical practice. An extract from F. O. Matthiessen's The Achievement of T. S. Eliot (1935), though not strictly New Criticism, introduces Cleanth Brooks' `The Waste Land: Critique of the Myth' (1939), a milestone in New Criticism. Hugh Kenner's analysis of the poem, from his The Invisible Poet (1959), and a brief extract from Roy Harvey Pearce's The Continuity of American Poetry (1961) close the chapter by demonstrating the continued influence of New Critical modes of thought in readings of the poem up into the 1960s
Political Readings: Marx, Ideology and Culture
The three extracts in this chapter attempt to get underneath the assumptions about culture and ideology that previous criticism of the poem has fostered. All three essays expose the silent political assumptions on which The Waste Land's modernist ideology can be seen to rest. David Craig's essay `The Defeatism of The Waste Land' (1960) represents the first challenge to orthodox critical ideas about the poem. Craig's Marxist critique of the poem is developed even more vehemently by Terry Eagleton in the next extract, taken from his Criticism and Ideology (1976). Michael North's subtle and persuasive political reading of the poem, from his book The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot and Pound (1991), restores some critical decorum to the poem after the onslaught of Eagleton
Deconstructive Readings: Freud, Feminism and Ideology
Examines the influence of deconstructive critical practice in reading The Waste Land. Short extracts from Frank Kermode's `A Babylonish Dialect' (1966) and Ruth Nevo's `The Waste Land: Ur-Text of Deconstruction' (1982) consider ways of reading the poem deconstructively. Both David Trotter's reading of the poem, from his The Making of the Reader (1984) and Maud Ellmann's `The Waste Land: A Sphinx without a Secret' (1987) use Freudian psychoanalysis to deconstruct the poem. Two of the most brilliant and exciting readings of The Waste Land, they show ways forward in contemporary criticism of the poem, not least because they open up this resolutely masculine modernist text to feminist terms of analysis
Cultural Readings: Modernism, Ideology and Desire
Deals with recent interpretations of The Waste Land and their considerations of the operation of a discourse of desire in the text. These readings lead to a reconsideration of the ideology of modernism by examining what the poem hides as much as what it reveals of modern consciousness. The first extract is from Christopher Ricks' book T. S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988), one of the first examinations of the complicity of Eliot's poetry with the prejudices of his age. This is followed by Frank Lentricchia's careful and subtle reading of the poem, from his Modernist Quartet (1994), which defines the poem's modernity in terms of its desire to escape from modern culture. Harriet Davidson's essay `Improper Desire: Reading The Waste Land' (1994) closes the chapter
Notes 168(6)
Bibliography 174(4)
Acknowledgements 178(1)
Index 179

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