Memo to Self...

Thursday, September 13, 2001

Following the example of Starrynight and my profs, I'm going to use this just as a forum for blogging. Also, I have time--I missed my only class today. -_- I'm not happy about that.

American Lit: In something many of us thought fitting, we began discussing T.S. Eliot's Wasteland today. Before I get to that monster of a poem, I should go into a bit more about Eliot's theories of criticism. For one thing, unlike most Modernists, Ezra Pound proclaimed that Eliot had "modernized himself"--meaning that he came to these theories without some sort of mentor like Pound--and this earned him a lot of respect. Also, his essays on criticism influenced and still influence critics today. His three big contributions/theories:
literary history: The concept that the bulk of great literature stand outside of time, or above time, that the sense of progress (like scientific progress) doesn't mean the same thing in lit. In science, progress moves us steadily forward; in literature, it moves in a circular way. Works of the future are influenced by works of the past, but then those past works are in turn influenced by their future counterparts. Pretty nifty, IMHO.
impersonality: A work of art is outside the life of its creator, even if he includes part of himself or his experiences in the work. Keat's referred to this as "negative capability"--a poet has no identity when he writes his poetry, he is merely filling another body. In modern terms, we described this in class as, "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV." Another way was to refer to the poet as a dam, and the river of creation that ran through him turned the turbines of his mind and produced the electricity of work creation (be it poetry or prose). The important thing here is that he did not believe that the creative spirit was intrinsic to him.
objective correlative: This is more an Eliot technique than a critical theory. He took words, images, selected characters and pieces of older works, and used them to form a sort of collage (or pastiche, if you will) of a feeling without stating it. Part of Eliot's modernist view was that people are detached from pieces of themselves. For example, Dante and the metaphysical poets (whom he admired very much), he thought that they were whole in the sense that their mind-emotions(soul)-body were all aligned together. In Eliot's view, though, WWI and Modern times fractured people, so that their parts were no longer aligned. He referred to this as dissociation of sensibility.For instance, in The Wasteland, a woman has sex with her co-worker, an action that should inspire intimacy and love in her. It doesn't; she's so disconnected it means nothing to her. Also, I have noted down, "alienated from herself and the world." These are big themes in Eliot's poems.
A Few Prof. Pieces of "Prufrock" Info
*Major movement in the poem is towards the QUESTION--though no one really knows what the question is. His words around it mirror the twisty streets at the beginning. There are three levels of self in the poem--the first level is his outward appearance, the social level, that tells the first part of the poem; the second level of the poem is the internal monologue, the self he addresses in the poem; the third level is his dream and imagination, represented by the mermaids and the sea. This is all drowned under the sea--it's inaccessible to reality. The last line, "Until human voices wake us, and we drown" refers to how both of his parts are connected to this third level, but cannot do as they desire and live in it. Reality drowns the soul in water, making it barely accessible, until your dreams can only be glimpsed through the surface of the pool of your subconcious.

(Eliot really brings out the poet in me. I have great sympathy with him and his ideas.)

On "Waste"...
This is the larger world that Prufrock lives in. It's not a happy place. It's also not an easy poem to read. There's no continuous line of thought, no definte description of anything, and a total absence of order.
There are two big themes here are:
*There's loss of life, loss of death, loss of beauty-teeth-physically good appearance, innocence, youth, eyes-sight-vision, meaning-perspective. Because of the pastiche nature of the poem, a lot of these fit together but show up in different ways around the poem. It's an Eliot trademark. There are also pairs of people put together in the poem, like Lil and the upper class woman, or the two people in the "Game of Chess" section, the woman on the throne and her man. In the women, we can see their appearances fading, and the knowledge that they're growing older, but have nothing to SHOW for it. In the couple, we can see that they've been together for awhile, but don't FEEL as if they have anything together anymore. They've lost touch with each other.
*For this theme, Eliot makes use of the Fisher King legend, which tells the story of a King who sacrafices himself for his land so it will survive. It corresponds with the seasons, and the title of the poem, which is winter, when the Fisher King's death has happened yet or brought about the rebirth of the land. A secondary sequence of this is the Grail legends, in which a person goes on a quest to find something to heal the land. Also, vegetation myths and creation myths come into play. The connecting theme for Eliot is the dying hero.

Whew. There will be more Eliot stuff tomorrow. I'm enjoying this a lot, if you couldn't tell. :) Also, on my book list: From Ritual to Remembrance, which is the book that REALLY influenced Eliot a bunch.

Writing Fiction: Discussed the stories and how the descriptions and dialogue in them really conveyed the tone and feeling in the story. I also have some common errors of John Gardner's that I haven't noted here:
The three parts of a sentence are S-V-O: Subject-Verb-Object. These sentence parts should not be loaded up with too mnay modifying phrases (Adv. phrases, Adj. phrases, prep phrases, etc.) otherwise it'll just be a tedious read.
Filtering is when things are viewed through a character, and it's not the best technique...oops.
Adverbs are weak words. Verbs are STRONG words. Avoid passive voice and redoubling of meaning on the verb with descriptive phrases--use the verb to create the image.
Be careful with the psychic distance you create--the distance between the reader and the story. (actually, I'm not quite sure what I meant by this, but it's in my notes.)
"Show, don't tell." (DETAILS!)
Vary sentence length. Play around a little. Don't be too worried if you break the rules. (Suuuuuuuuuree...)

*WHEW* I'm done, I'm done! Jya ne, 'til tomorrow!