Essay on T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

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T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land “Both the hysteric and the mystic transgress the linear syntax and logic governing the established symbolic order.” -Helen Bennett It is perhaps part of the unique genius of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” that both critics and lay readers have repeatedly felt forced to look outside the published text of the poem for clues as to its meaning. The text’s fragmented, seemingly violated body seems to exhibit wounds through which its significance has slipped, creating a “difficulty caused by the author’s having left out something which the reader is used to finding; so that the reader, bewildered, gropes about for what is absent…a kind of ‘meaning’ which is not there, and is not meant to be there”…show more content…
Asked to describe what sort of life might spring up out of the “stony rubbish” (20) of the poem’s sterile landscape by an interlocutor who seems – by the force of the allusion to Ezekiel – to be a representative of some sort of transcendent reality, there seems to be no way for the poet to answer. The speaker continues in almost accusatory tone: “You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/ A heap of broken images” (21-22), and it is in this line that Eliot questions the potential for meaning inherent in language. The self is unable to explicate the nature of this life for his only language is a mere “heap” – a disordered pile of “broken images”. Here Eliot describes language as representation, and in this mode it is doubly useless; first, because it is “broken”, fragmented and divorced from the very realities it was intended to describe, and second, because it consists of mere “images” – representations of things and not the things themselves. One might argue that language, though only “a heap of broken images,” does achieve a certain reflexivity here, for in that disordered pile of reflections lies a landscape “where the sun beats,/ And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief” (22-23). But the space that language presents here is a sterile, “dead” one, without evidence of the growth of either root or branch. Absent too are the Starnbergersee, the “shower of rain” (9), and the verdant Hofgarten which
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