Monday, November 16, 2009

The Four Quartets

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 13

The Four Quartets

I am having difficulty focusing my thoughts on only one portion or theme of "The Four Quartets." There are so many interesting themes, some new and some gleaned directly from Eliot's earlier poetry, I find it difficult to focus on any theme or symbol in particular!

Eliot obviously drew on themes present in his earlier poetry (namely "The Wasteland") for "The Four Quartets." At various points I noticed the prominent inclusion of the themes of fire, water, seasons, religion, Christianity, and rebirth. Eliot seems to have wished for "The Four Quartets" to appear to be a detailed description of "The Wasteland" itself! The "compound ghost" walking the streets seems to be a clear indication of Eliot's unearthly connection with the world of the dead - exactly like "The Wasteland" where it is unclear if the characters are dead or alive.

The "compound ghost" who appears in "Little Gidding" intrigued me. Although Dante is undoubtedly a portion of the "compound" which makes up the ghost, I also saw Yeats as a portion of this compound. I thought the line “dark dove with the flickering tongue" (52) was one of the most interesting lines in the poem. It reminded me of Yeats poem, “The Second Coming,” and the beast that "slouches toward Bethlehem.”

The line, “that was a way of putting it-not very satisfactory,” (25) struck me in conjunction with what Eliot wrote about the uselessness of the language of old men. Eliot writes " Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly" (26). I am under the impression that Eliot was taking a very literal view of language and words. I contend that he actually meant that because language is such a living and breathing entity which changes daily, “last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year's words await another voice” (54). Because language changes so often, any advice old men could give would be a moot point by the time they told the story. The language they are using means something totally different today than it meant years ago.

After Eliot makes clear his contempt for old mens words, why is he so interested in the "compound ghost" and his words? I ask this question in all honesty. This ghost is obviously an old man as evident by the words, "I am not eager to rehearse/My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten./These things have served their purpose: let them be" (53). Is Eliot warning the reader to take all theory and writing with the preverbal "grain of salt?" Does he suggest that although the words of the long dead are valuable to understand bygone days, we should avoid living our lives in the past? If this is Eliot's suggestion, he effectively dismisses his own advice conveyed in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and other essays.

Time in "The Four Quartets" is a theme of particular importance to Harold Brooks in his essay, "Four Quartets: The Structure in Relation to the Themes." Brooks writes that the "Quartets" includes "three different kinds of time" and a "timeless dimension" (140). The Ghosts appearance in "Little Gidding" perfectly illustrates the "timeless dimension" Eliot wished to convey.

Again, this reading contained such dense themes and subject matter I found it difficult to focus my attentions on any one primary theme. I can only how my rambling findings have stumbled on a few themes of interest and importance. I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed with the rich thematic elements and many messages. Perhaps I should take a hint from Eliot and take this reading with "a grain of salt." Perhaps it would be more enjoyable if read simply for the language, poetry, and genius of Eliot as a writer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To the Lighthouse

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 12

One of the first things I noticed about To The Lighthouse was the division of the three chapters and the titles of each chapter. From my work with the fiction of Katherine Mansfield and a previous blog post regarding Virginia Woolf's A Room of Ones Own, the chapter entitled "The Window" struck me as deeply meaningful. As I discussed before I believe windows have developed into a female metaphor, sometimes directly referencing the vagina and at other times simply as representation of the (Bloomsbury) female views, ideas, and struggles. The title "The Window" immediately struck me as just such a representation. Charles Tansley's comments to Lilly about woman’s inability to paint or write and Mr. Ramsay's childlike insecurities show the importance of the roll of the women, and at the same time how little faith is placed in the abilities of women. Mr. Ramsay seems to be yet another child in need of constant attention from his wife. He even resorts to upsetting his own son to obtain the attention he feels like he needs from the woman he married. Mrs. Ramsay reacts to this treatment with resilience and a practiced skill in soothing the egos and tempers of all her charges, Mr. Ramsay included. In "Modes of Disclosure in To the Lighthouse," author Lilienfield calls the readers attention to the animalistic description of Mr. Ramsay at dinner threatening to devour Minta Doyle with his "fangs" (101). This description reminded me not only of a vicious animal but also of a caged or trapped vicious animal that knows no better than to show its teeth in hopes of escape.

The chapter entitled "Time Passes" is true to its promise. Time passes quickly. The numerous deaths which occur in this portion of the story serve to highlight human beings infallible susceptibility to times passage. The title also serves to remind the reader that there will be several changes in the story which will directly affect the final chapter. Change is the operative word in this chapter. Change is inevitable and nothing can be taken for granted. Yet another element which sets this section apart from the other two is the brisk tone Virginia Woolf uses. This tone is strikingly different from the slow, meandering stream of consciousness (and Polyvocality as Lilienfield notes in "Modes of Disclosure in To the Lighthouse" (101)) tone used in the first and last sections of To the Lighthouse.

The final chapter "The Lighthouse" resumes the brisk tone familiar from the first chapter. The lighthouse itself seems to represent a phallic symbol in this final chapter. This symbolism is made all the more glaring when considering the window symbolism in the first section. The Ramsays are unable to visit the lighthouse when Mrs. Ramsay is alive, although she does her best to be encouraging in the face of her husband’s childish discouragement.

I noticed one final thing when reading and preparing for class. It seems that most of the critique and analysis written about To the Lighthouse focuses primarily on Mr. Ramsays character. Virginia Woolf made this character complex and thought provoking to serve a higher purpose but it seems that she has inadvertently placed all the emphasis on the male yet again! My research is limited due to time and article availability, but in reading two Lilienfield essays I noticed the focus seems to remain on Mr. Ramsay! I feel as if Woolf would be disappointed in some scholars dismissal of Mrs. Ramsay's character, which is not so controversial, but surly just as interesting and thought provoking.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Modernist Politics

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 11

While reading "Monday June 26th 1916" I could not help but notice the overt sexuality, which Lytton Strachey seems unable to control. His every thought seems to be sexual in nature. Even more interesting was the difference in his treatment of his sexuality with women and with men. Lytton Strachey seems uncomfortable about the thought of sexual contact with women, and romantic and dreamy about sexual contact with men. His vision of flinging himself into Vanessa's arms ends immediately when he realizes that he already knows what her reaction will be. On the other extreme Strachey envisions the handsome youth on the road in a more romantic light - anything seems possible with this handsome stranger.

Strachey also places a great emphasis on sleep and dreams in "Monday June 26th 1916." His entire day is punctuated by naps and day-dreams. His whole life seems to be a series of disconnected dreams (usually about sex).

Virginia Woolf also placed a great deal of emphasis on day-dreams and her internal thoughts in her essay "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid." She deftly details her feelings of being a prisoner within her own mind - made all the worse by the planes overhead making her feel powerless. She concludes that ideas are the only form of help she can give the male soldiers, yet her she does not feel (as a woman) that her ideas are wanted, needed, considered, or even heard. She seems to have so much to give to the world in defense of her country, yet because she is not allowed to defend her country, she chooses to defend her sex.

The juxtaposition of Strachey's internal monologue and Virginia Woolf's raises a very interesting point. While Strachey's sexual desires are trapped within his mind, Woolf's very essence is trapped within hers. Her worries are lofty because it makes no difference is she worries about her next sexual encounter or a sure-fire plan for world peace. Her ideas are not wanted, needed, or considered (she feels). Strachey is allowed to voice his opinion and his advice is often taken. His ideas are no longer his own - they belong to the world, leaving him nothing to think about but his lunch and Bunny's sexy arms.

A second theme raised in "Monday June 26th 1916" and "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" is that of impotency. Woolf seems to be personifying the war as a masculine pissing contest of sorts as she describes how "All the searchlights are erect" (1). While men stand erect in the open and are awarded medals and honor, women are left alone in their beds, impotent to do anything at all. Strachey is anything but impotent. His days are filled with day-dreams of the men he would love to sleep with. Nothing about his manner is impotent, just as nothing he would have to say about the war, or nothing he would do to support his country would be dismissed or belittled. In his essay "Fear and Politics: A Debate at the Zoo" Leonard Woolf feels so comfortable discussing politics that he is able to publish a cleverly written essay detailing dense political issues from the point of view of zoo animals. Should Virginia have written this essay she would have been criticized for her minimalization of serious issues.

The impotency of women at this time is palpable in almost every essay, poem, and short story I have read from this time period. It is unendingly interesting and infuriating at the same time.