Friday, September 16, 2011

Suppose it were Friday x: we run into Mr Eliot in the cauldron

                  To Carthage then I came
                  Burning burning burning burning
                  O Lord Thou pluckest me out
                  O Lord Thou pluckest

Readers of Mr Eliot have been kind to indulge an incongruous discovery of The Waste Land, but the fact is that one couldn't have taken the poem any way but full force, which narrowed the choice to ignoring one's readers or one's reading. The arrival of Friday affords a variety of happy excuses for confession; and given the poem's direct debt to St Augustine, the mode is established before us. Augustine wrote, To Carthage I came, where there sang all around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves; and he went on to berate them, in his usual way. The Waste Land does not do this, and indeed is a text so formed by desire that to cite this passage is only to allow a vendredesque note to recall the day.

It can be said (watch ..) of this poem that it belongs to every day of the week, for being so authentically steeped in Friday. For one to say what this means, however, requires meaning what one says: that all of Friday, all of Friday's forever unmeasured urgencies, turn upon the desire for understanding. In this poem, that clamour is non-stop; it ends, as has been shown, only with a plea for a truce. You and I laud this appetite as the conduct of our species at its finest; but in this we only participate in Friday. Shall we apologise for noting each other at our best? 

I don't know anyone who hasn't held variations of this conversation with his lovers; and I must say, I'm glad our readership is now self-purged of its nannies. We hold this great asset, in Friday, to pursue our reasons, to the end of our knowing. We love information and we count as friends everyone who does. We don't own an objective correlative for what it is that we need to know; Augustine did, and lucky he was. But we don't capitulate. We celebrate. People ask, why do you present pretty people? In the name of Augustine's client: that's what striving looks like.

You hear the horrible writ. I do, too: the demand for consensus. Young readers write in, My education cost me too much, I have to be nice. Pundits implore, Let's all resume our fellowship of 9.12. The Waste Land was written, in large part, in the poet's recuperation from a nervous collapse, having attended upon his wife's nervous collapse. I very much doubt if the language harbours another poem which so much wants to be read. We do not heal generically, we do not desire generically; we do not invent and we do not discover, generically. I accept this poem as a gift of processes so wonderful, I don't give a dam if it's good.

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
   III The Fire Sermon
         ll 307 - 311
op. cit.

The Confessions of St. Augustine
E.B. Pusey, translation
Dent, 1907©


  1. An illuminating journey through remarkable literary terrain. Thanks to you, Laurent, for bringing the lantern and the flame.

  2. Thank you, Derek; I'm sure I'm not up to it, but I take your encouragement and kindness. It's a very beautiful thing, isn't it.