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Fragments of Intertextuality
Cosmopolitan Multilingualism of The Waste Land


by Francesca Saieva


English translation by Michelle Abbott


Pic: "Berlin" - © 2008 Dario Fiorentino - Size: 6k
© 2008 Dario Fiorentino



(Swans - May 3, 2010)  

When linguistics get mixed with the contents, everything gets fragmented.

These fragments I have shored against my ruins
(T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, v.430)

The polyphonic and linguistic contamination in The Waste Land by Eliot is supported by fragmentation in its meaning. Which in a harmonic sense reproduces the unity of an imaginary world, and, with its repeated implications of style sounds and "bridge languages," it generates a sort of thematic "compression," typical of "blending" in terms of inclusive conscience (of an aesthetic type, romantic, socio-anthropological, even archetypal, mythical, and historical) with dissonances in their content.

Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind
Wo weilest du?
(The Waste Land, vv.31-34; cf. Tristan und Isolde)

Oed' und leer das Meer
(v.42; cf. Tristan und Isolde)

In reality the fragment doesn't have the aim of ceating syntheses, Y. Bonnefoy maintains in a recent study of his L'Alliance de la poésie et de la musique (éditions Galilée, Paris, 2007). But above all, it has the effect of "a break in the intuition," which is a sudden analogic, symbolic, relational and paradoxical.

The Waste Land, with its lack of logical unity, necessitates emotional contributions typical of an intertextuality, which is contradictorily rigid regarding literary tradition, and at the same time both fluid and usable, depending on the point of view of the author and the reader, "hollow men" who are both protagonists of a desolate destiny.

Tu! Hypocryte lecteur! mon semblable, - mon frère!
(The Waste Land, v.76; cf. Baudelaire, Fleurs du mal)

The symbolical desert reflects the Masks of the self amongst the ruins of a universal apocalypse. And the central theme of this short poem is consumed in an anthropological prospective, where everything different becomes all coherent.

I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives
(The Waste Land, v.218)

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
(ibidem, v.220)

I Tiresias [...]
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest
(ibidem, v.229-230; cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses)

The blindness of Tiresia predicts the vulgarity of the present, strengthens the grotesque image of the Sybil and its death wish, incarnating the modern conscience of the poet himself. The music of ideas then in Eliot,

This music crept by me upon the waters
(v.257; cf. The tempest)

I can connect
Nothing with nothing
(vv. 301-302)

Because, writes Helen Gardner, The Waste Land moves towards an instant which is external to the poem, and that we are waiting for instantly locked into the "peace which overtakes intelligence" of the enigmatic Sanskrit expression Shantih.

[...] Hieronymo's mad againe
(v.431; cf. Kyd, Spanish Tragedy)

[...] Shantih shantih shantih
(v.433; cf. Upanishad)

The madness that is perpetuated in history symbolically terminates the short poem, which is pervaded by its "entirety of a mimetic language," an instrument of an intertextual orchestration that is strongly conceptualised in its "subjective testimony" to an "I" confused with an "us" (A. Serpieri) based on historical events and awaiting cyclic regeneration in the light of a cosmopolitan multilingualism (an expression coined by Guido Monte, 2006), presented in terms of creative writing usually referred to as "linguistic blending," which is in part derived from a rebirth of "maccheronic poetry," which is not something strange for Eliot but it is for Pound. In Eliot, on the other hand, the contamination is more hypertextual than linguistic.

The cosmopolitan multilingualism is presented in terms of a conception of a Borgesian type, which is necessary to make a rereading of The Waste Land and also possible for the re-evaluation of poetry by Monte himself, exceeding in unitary coherence relating to its own fragmentation -- as a "new form of comparative literature." An arbitrary "collage" of languages and bridge-language functions that frees the wishes of the author, who is restricted both by the "limits of individuality," but ambivalently, since everything is expressed in a Borgesian way in all languages, "the interpolation of each book in all books" (J.L. Borges, Ficciones, 1944).

schastie est' v kazdom paradise is inside everyone
paradise: listochki deti sizarì little leaves children blue doves
nasto mohah blindness doesn't exist, no more
goryàcij hleb pokrytyj mukòj
warm home-made bread
and flour all round
mizu no oto sound of water
(Guido Monte, Mondana Commedia n.3: Paradiso -- cf. Dostoevskij, Tolstoj, Baghavad gita, Basho)


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About the Author

Francesca Saieva teaches philosophy and pedagogy and is an adjunct professor at the University of Palermo, Sicily, Italy.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/saieva01.html
Published May 3, 2010