The Epoch of Space: Eliot's Art of Assemblage

Michael Hrebeniak

Reading The Waste Land Study Day, 11 June 2017

Michael Hrebeniak summarises some of the key ideas from his lecture.

T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land strikes a paradox: a bid for conservative recovery inside a radical poetics. This lecture suggested ways of understanding Eliot's great poem in terms of collage, the characteristic predisposition of modernism. This provides a framework for his exploration of the self-conscious surrender of personality and the poet's location within literary tradition.

The lecture considered the poem alongside corresponding movements in music and painting as an assemblage of shards and pieces that must be read through one another: a narrative tension between the linear, the dispersed and the side-by-side that generates fertility from waste. It looked at examples from Stravinsky, jazz, Picasso, and others.

The upshot is a textual focus that swerves completely from final meaning into an attitude of uncertainty that underpins Eliot's delicate exploration of cultural memory. Fluctuating patterns and recesses within the poem's narrative enforce reflection and encourage agility in the act of reading, which becomes an unprejudiced adventure.

It is here that The Waste Land's collage of 'broken images' might ironically yield a new consciousness, activating the poem's references to vegetation and anthropological myths of renewal through the radiant chambers of our own minds.