Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Defending Eliot

There are times when I don't want to be an English major. These are the times when I get tired of analyzing, of theorizing, of victimizing poor novels to the whimsies of seniors who just need to get a paper done. When you find yourself incapable of reading a book without wondering about the thematic relevance or contextual meaning of some incident or some line, if you're not looking to do that, it can jolt you right out of your reading.

I can already hear some of my professors' protestations: "It's good to detect themes. To be on the look-out for those is exactly what we have been trying to teach you!" And they succeeded, in that way. But it can be disconcerting when all you want to do is lie down with a book and read for fun. Somehow there gets to be a disconnect between the two: reading for fun and English Major Reading.

T.S. Eliot is a poet you wouldn't expect to be pleasure reading. He's long, allusive as all get-out, and seemingly incapable of writing simply. And, heaven help me, I read "The Wasteland" just for kicks only two weeks ago.

To be fair, I didn't read the footnotes. I didn't read his biographical intro or any theories on the poem itself. I just wanted to read it.

Eliot is musical. I don't understand a word of Italian or French or German, but the excerpts in "The Wasteland" are integral to me. They may come across as pretentious--I don't care. In words I've just defended Eliot with, I get caught up in the imagery and sound of the poem itself. It's not that the content is unworthy: it's beautiful, too.

But that's the point: it's beautiful. And sometimes you need something beautiful to carry you through the day.

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