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Eliot movie response

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years ago

T.S. Eliot movie response

by Devin Thomas


For me, the most surprising bit of information in the T.S. Eliot film was that Eliot himself wasn't even convinced that The Waste Land was a good poem until the critics began praising it. I suppose I just assumed that Eliot - the poet who didn't care if people read his work, who wasn't concerned about being intentionally obscure because he wanted only the elite to understand - wouldn't care what the critics thought, would simply have faith in his own writing of his own accord.


Also, the movie got me thinking about Eliot's role as an influential American poet. Every scholar that appeared in the film was British. All the historical context for Eliot's work described the literary movements in Europe at the time of the publication of The Waste Land. The poem was discussed based on its cultural and literary importance in the European modernist movement. Given the title of our class, I found myself wondering what role Eliot played in the American modernist movement.


And hearing The Waste Land interpreted by the actors really made the "persona" element come alive. Despite the unnecesarrily dramatic cuts between actors and the hokey looks the actors give the camera, I found this really helpful.




Anne-Marie Robinson's comment:

    I, too, have questioned Eliot's relevance to modern American literature.  My question is not, however, America's ownership - its "claim" - of Eliot, but of Eliot's ownership of America.  "The Waste Land," for example, references the "Sweet Thames," "Queen Victoria Street," and London among the list of fallen cities ("Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna").  Not that I'm upset that an American city wasn't included in the list, but it does seem that Eliot's thoughts - and concerns - lie with London, perhaps more generally with Europe.  It is curious to me that Eliot, like Pound, chose to identify with Europe.  I wonder if their indentifications stem from the mere physical locations of modern literary movements or from more ideological differences, as some of Pound's comments suggest.  It seems to me, however, that the issues with which these authors struggled had more global (?) implications than they imagined, and perhaps that's why American literary movements still claim them - modernist themes apply to America as they do to Europe. 



Alexandra Bindon's comment:

     I have the same questions about it being a European poem rather than an American one.  The use of European cities is ideal (maybe that's the wrong word, I mean that it works better in the poem) because of Eliot's focus on bringing the past to the present and the cycle of history.  Europe has this long history that America lacks, as it relates to the Western world.  While Americans can certainly identify with life, and specifically city life, in Europe, the focus on European cities from a literary/historical standpoint makes sense.  When viewed in light of some of the things Eliot was doing with the poem, a focus on America (with the history of being a New World) would seem more out of place.  I hope I am making sense here. 


Anne-Marie Robinson's comment:

    Ah ha! That makes perfect sense.  The cycle of history argument works best, it seems, especially in a prophetic sense. 


Katherine Sas' Comment:

Alexandra, that's just what I was thinking! As a modernist concerned with Western history and its Fall, it was natural, I think, for Eliot and his contemporaries to focus on Europe. America had only begun its rise. In the wake of the two World Wars, I think it was first and foremost Western Europe that lay in ruins. It personified best those concerns of Eliot and the others modernists. He needed that age and antiquity to get his point across and express what he was thinking.


Devin's comment:

Alex, I agree. Though your argument is valid (and probably correct) it still doesn't prove that Eliot is (or should be considered) an American poet. Like Anne-Marie said first (and I perhaps should have more accurately articulated in my original comments), the concern is about Eliot's ownership of America. I think it is very insightful to consider the fact that Eliot perhaps located himself in a place conducive to a study of the effects of Western history of the fall of modern man. Young America can't do that, I'll grant you that. But the original question still remains: why read Eliot in a class on American modernism?


Chris Herb's opinion on the matter:


I think the reason Eliot is studied in a Modern American Literature class is his influence.  Almost every poet we've examined besides Eliot has been somehow influenced by Eliot.  If we can't consider Eliot an American poet, then we probably can't consider Pound one, either.  And then to what degree could we call any American follower of Pound's imagist movement an American Poet?  I've also noticed that there seemed to be a trans-Atlantic network of writers, with poets in Europe contributing to American magazines, (i.e. Joyce to Dial, the magazine of which Marianne Moore was editor of the time).  It's like six degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Marianne Moore was a friend of H.D. who was influenced by, and had direct contact with Pound, who ruthlessly edited The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. So, modernism literature was both European and American and the movements in either location were not mutually exclusive, but entirely dependent on one another. 


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