The Waste Land as an Archive

I had never thought of The Waste Land as an archive prior to reading Foucault, but when I consider the poem in that light there really isn't a better term that can be used to describe it. According to Foucault's definition, an archive "...unites in a single "volume" a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are, by virtue of their specific documentary character, the repetition of things said in the past" (105). The Waste Land is the only poem I can recall reading that appears to be more like a catalog of other ideas than an original text; it "cataologs" ideas, phrases, and direct references from world history and other works of literature throughout, and it's one of many reasons I enjoyed reading the poem. I loved trying to figure out where certain references were being pulled from. 

Archives are also used to preserve history and literature, and The Waste Land achieved that by reimagining and throwing together older texts, presenting them to a new audience. No work of literature is original, as each new piece either directly or indirectly draws upon previous works for inspiration. T.S. Eliot seemed very aware of this in his writing of The Waste Land. He purposely sought out references for use in his own work, which - strangely enough - makes the poem original, from a certain point of view.

The temptation

From foucault's assessment of the temptation it would seem as if it was precursory guide for works like The Wasteland. Foucault explains that's the essential relationship to books may represent more than a mere history in the western imagination; it opens a literary space wholly dependent on the network formed by books of the past: as such it serves to circulate the fiction of the books.
I feel as if the Wasteland does this but not just for books but history as well as religion. For culture and its mundane components.
As the temptation "recovers other books, it hides and displays them in a single movement, it causes then to glitter and disappear"

Works like these are not created to "foster the lamentations, the lost youth, the absence of vigor and the decline of inventiveness. . .but to unearth an essential aspect of our culture"

Archives, Foucault, and Eliot

As several of my classmates have said, Foucault’s descriptions map readily onto The Waste Land. Foucault addresses his focus, The Temptation, as “a monument to meticulous erudition” (89), a descriptor which perfectly suits The Waste Land as well. Within Eliot’s work, every line can be examined, unpacked, put back together, and deconstructed again and his attention to detail – no wasted words, every word significant – is amazing. The similarities continue as Foucault talks about “words spoken in the past…the amassing of minute facts, monuments reduced to infinitesimal fragments” (90-91), which calls to mind Eliot’s mythic method and the significant-yet-short references present in The Waste Land (ie, the quick reference to Mylae in line 70).

Key, I think, to Foucault’s treatment of archives are “the virtue of its essential relationship to books” and the ability “to extend the space that existing books can occupy” (91). I’m still trying to fully understand his point – especially the diagram found later in the essay – but I find his ideas about intertextuality and the constant referencing among texts fascinating. Finally, I was struck by the way he describes The Temptation as “the book of books,” as the description applies just as much to The Waste Land: “It unites in a single ‘volume’ a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are…the repetition of things said in the past. The library is opened, catalogued, sectioned, repeated, and rearranged in a new space” (105). This is The Temptation, this is The Waste Land, this is an archive.

Variety of archives

I was intrigued by the way archives are presented in these two articles; Voss and Werner explain them as both conceptual and physical spaces, while Foucault describes how The Temptation seres as an archive for all the other creations it refers to. I would have liked to have read The Temptation before Foucault, article, but Foucault makes the unexpected function of the book as an archive for its fellows clear. He phrases his point in the following way: "it unites in a single "volume" a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are, by virtue of their specific documentary character, the repetition of things said in the past. The library is opened, catalogued, sectioned, repeated, and rearranged in a new space" (105).

Books automatically refer to one another. It is impossible to write a work in isolation. Just as writers say "nothing is original", they might also say the one thing that cannot be done is to create a work that is not connected into the existing larger literary tradition. Foucault notes that the only originality in The Temtation is in its organization of the elements it includes. This is the problem all writers face and struggle to overcome--in an effort to create original, revolutionary work--until they realize that interconnectedness is not the enemy, and learn to embrace it. Archives are not only collections, but catalogues of our memories, and the way in which each archives integrates its components creates a new component in the collective totality of knowledge.

It could be said that one story is told by the Library of Congress--as a physical and conceptual space where on one hand children are forbidden to even touch the books, and where on the other all things must be recorded for current to future generations. There is the story of the library at Alexandria, of the things that we speculate were lost as well as those that survived. There is the library--and book, all at once--of the internet, which no human soul living today can ever fully read in its entirety. Under a broader understanding of archives, archives can be "books" just as books can serve as "archives". The only difference is a matter of scale.

The Waste Land as an Archive

Like Kaity, I found in the reading of Foucault's Fantasia of Library that it was not difficult to find comparisions between the archival qualities of The Temptation and similar archival qualities in The Waste Land. Foucault describes The Temptation as "a monument to meticulous erudition"; he may as well have been describing the style and work of Eliot in The Waste Land (Foucault, 89). Just as Flaubert recollected, remembered, and revised a multitude of past works through his writing of The Temptation, Eliot preserved fragments of the European literary tradition that came before him through the poetry of The Waste Land (Voss and Werner, ii). 

In Eliot's capturing and conserving of texts, stories, and songs that came before The Waste Land, however, there is "a history of loss" (Voss and Werner, i). Voss and Werner in their discussion of archives, showed that archives, while preserving, are often fragmented representations of the works they preserve. The Waste Land has this fragmented modern archival quality. Within The Waste Land, Eliot provided a space for various literary works to be preserved and passed down, extending the space the works previously occupied, to paraphrase Foucault (91). However, these works, though preserved through the medium of Eliot's poem, are not whole. The poem is a showcase of Eliot's brilliant ability to take fragments of historical and monumental literary works and "in a single movement... cause them to glitter and disappear" (Foucault 92).

The Waste Land Archivve

Like Justin, before reading these articles, I had an outdated idea of what exactly an archive was. In Voss and Werner’s words, I had acknowledged the physical site, but ignored the “conceptual space.” Defining the archive this way made me rethink what exactly a literary work was. Voss and Werner quoted Bornstein saying that “literary work exists not in any one manifestation but in an archive that brings all the versions with claims upon our attention put together.” I think this is much easier to see in the digital age because we can do a quick google search and have tons of different editions or versions of a piece at our fingertips.

Specifically in regards to The Waste Land, I liked where Voss and Werner paraphrased Greetham saying, “that the archive proper is comprised of ‘garbage,’ ‘cultural scraps…leftovers…bits of memory.’ ” This made me immediately think of The Waste Land because of all the fragmentation there is. It’s like there’s these little ‘bits of memory’ put together into one seamless piece. We get biblical allusions juxtaposed with more recent allusions, yet it’s still one coherent piece. I also thought of The Waste Land when Voss and Werner say that each archive, as a construct, “reveals some things while concealing others.” As a part of the multimedia group, I found this to be especially true. When The Waste Land is just a printed text, the different voices that emerge are mostly concealed, but when you see a performance of it, or listen to a recording of Eliot reading it himself, those different characters become revealed.

Poetic Database

When one hears the word "archive", the most likely image they will conjure is one of a library or database. An archive is a mausoleum for artifacts otherwise forgotten by the general public - encyclopedia entries, journal entries, and manuscripts that nobody would read unless prompted by research of some kind.

But, when one looks at the nature of the archive from a broader stance, as Werner and Voss do in Poetics of the Archive, it becomes clear that an archive can be nearly anything: a poem, a book; whatever utilizes past works in its creation. An author who works ancient myths into their story is creating an archive. As Michel Foucoult writes in Fantasia of the Library: "... it recovers other books; it hides and displays them and, in a single movement, it causes them to glitter and disappear." Written about Flaubert's The Temptation, this applies to any work which references works from the past. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land is a clear example of a work of art as an archive. In his poem, Eliot deliberately fills the stanzas with fragments of European culture. From Shakespearean tragedies to 19th century German nationalist opera and everything in between, Eliot archives nearly all of European culture up through the first World War. Eliot's The Waste Land, like Flaubert's The Temptation, utilizes past works "... fragmented, displaced, combined, lost, set at an unapproachable distance by dreams, but also brought closer to the imaginary and sparkling realization of desires." (Foucoult 92).

"At times the archive requires us to read its minimum signs with maximum energy." This sentence, from Poetics of the Archive, to my mind matches Eliot's The Waste Land to a tee. An archive as a stand alone work of art encompasses past works, and gives them new meaning within its own. It requires its reader to dig a little deeper, but once the work has been put in they will find a vast resource of art and history, more permanent than the resources found in a library or encyclopedia. The archive as its own piece of poetry houses historical and cultural works and gives them a place in the minds of its readers, ensuring they will be survived long after the original works have disappeared.

The Waste Land as Archive

Throughout my reading of Foucault’s “Fantasia of the Library,” I could not help noticing that nearly every point he made about the archival nature of Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony could be applied to The Waste Land. Foucault points out the myriad of sources that Flaubert drew from while writing The Temptation—everything from Augustine to Spinoza (89). Similarly, Eliot drew from a wide variety of sources in The Waste Land. Another piece of the Foucault’s essay that called to mind The Waste Land was his discussion of St. Anthony acting as a “zero point between Asia and Europe; both seem to arise from a fold in time, at the point where Antiquity, at the summit of its achievement, begins to vacillate and collapses” (103). Like The Temptation, The Waste Land deals with both the East and the West. Over the course of the poem, the reader is taken from Chaucer’s England to the shores of the Ganges (and a multitude of places in between). They differ, though, in the fact that The Temptation highlights the rising of Western European culture, while The Waste Land looks to the East as a site of cultural regeneration.

Foucault states that Flaubert “erects [his] art within the archive” (92). With the above comparisons in mind, I think we can extend this statement to T.S. Eliot as well. The Waste Land borrows from so many different sources, Shakespeare, Chaucer, the Buddha, and the Bible, just to name a few. With all of these works in a relatively short number of pages, The Waste Land functions as an archive. All of these works are stored in its text, but it is up to the reader to search them out, just as a reader must search for a book in the shelves of a library.

 

The Archive of the Experience

These articles really helped me reshape how I define what an archive is. I admit that I have been carrying around a fairly old-fashioned definition of what makes an archive an archive. I think of this term as referring to a collection of physical objects and artifacts (for example, TU's collection of WWI posters). Honestly, though, I did not even consider a library--a collection of books--to be an archive; I just called it a library. Similarly, I never considered any online database to be an archive; after all, there are no physical objects online. These articles showed me that archives come in many forms, including the form of a singular text, such as The Waste Land.

I think that The Waste Land makes the most sense as an archive when the distinction of narrative voices is understood. While studying the Fiona Shaw performance of the poem, I drew a connection between the performance and a documantary interview. In that regard, I can certainly see the poem as a collection of various accounts of WWI (and many other scenes). Each sene--each moment--in and of itself is a sort of object to be preserved. For example, the pub scene reveals the bleak reality of the women who stayed at home during the war, as well as the challenges they faced. This information is collected and protected in poem itself. The poem could somewhat be considered an archive of moments and experiences; because there are so many present in the poem, it serves as a fairly extensive independent database. This explains how, by reading the poem, one not only enjoys the work but is greatly informed about the psychology of the inter-war period. That mindset was preserved for us.

Archives

I'm without a doubt a dumb blonde when it comes to technology.  I have never really taken the time to understand why computers work, or how a thumb drive can store my documents and pictures.  Werner and Voss's article about archives helped to illustrate technology for me at least a little bit.  When I hear the word "archive" I generally think of really old manuscripts or really long lists of things from an archeological dig.  Archive just sounds like a word to describe old things.  It doesn't sound like a tech-y word at all.  But archive can describe so many things, from libraries full of old books to everything I've ever written or stored on a computer.  Werner and Voss speak of lost archives, "when the leaves of hundreds of illuminated manuscripts, loosed... like butterflies in the courtyard of Oxford", and I can't help but think of the Library of Alexandria.  When the library was burned down, there were so many manuscripts and scrolls that were lost to the world because there were no other copies.  To think that we could be facing that kind of intelligence loss due to internet failure had never occured to me before reading this article. 

The Waste Land is an archive in many forms.  It has been printed as a book, it has been digitized on numerous websites, ebooks, apps, etc., and reading each one is different.  Reading The Waste Land in printed book form gives the poem a physicality that it doesn't have when reading it on a screen, while reading electronic versions of the poem gives it an accessibility and new life that it doesn't have on paper.  Different mediums have different effects on a work, even if the exact same words are used.  The fact that Eliot's poem is archived in numerous different ways, I think, links to the importance of his work.  Should the internet fail, there are still printed copies of his work and similarly, should libraries be burned like Alexandria's, the poem is still archived electronically.  

We live in a world of so many different technological opportunities, and I'm really excited to continue learning more about them this semester.

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