T.S. Eliot's virtual Europe: the Flaneur and the textual Flanerie.
T. S. Eliot repeatedly shifted from one urban culture to another: from St. Louis to Boston, from Harvard to the Sorbonne, from Paris to London, and from Marburg to Oxford. The trajectory of Eliot's urban detour finally settles down in London, and Eliot's choice of living in London remains his signature effort to become attuned to the total phenomenon and sensibility of the age, a resolute advance to the city as the primary solution to the oscillation between social and intellectual conflict. However, Eliot is less a traveling poet than an avowed collector who abandons nothing en route, be it Shakespeare, Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen. (1) Of all the intellectuals writing in the first great heyday of modernism, in my view it is Eliot who turns out to be the one who speaks most eloquently to the postmodernist sense of de-centralization, fragmentation, syncretism, hybridization, and indeterminacy. Though a professed "anglo-catholic" (Eliot's own uncapitalized terms, see Eliot's preface to For Lancelot Andrewes vii), Eliot includes unorthodox, un-Christian, and even seemingly incompatible elements in his works. Though a great defender of tradition, Eliot is interested in the artist as alien and he aspires to "maintain the role of a foreigner with integrity," to be a perpetual outsider with "a source of authority" (Eliot, "Turgenev" 172; qtd. in Jeffreys 400). Eliot's life as a literary Baedeker is devoted to re/mapping a Europe and a European culture/literature imbued with alternate otherness, diversity, and heterogeneity: "It is the final perfection, the perfection, the consummation of the American to become, not an Englishman, but a European--something which no born European, no person of any European nationality can become" (Eliot, "In Memory of Henry James" 1).
As John G. Cawelti points out, exile is both a central theme and a characteristic biographical pattern of artistic modernism (38). With Eliot, exile was both voluntary and involuntary: it began before he was born, was repeated early in his life, and then became his own chosen way of life. Eliot's forefather, Andrew Eliott, emigrated around 1668-1669 from East Coker, Somerset, England to New England (Massachusetts, Bay Colony), America. Eliot's grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, left New England for St. Louis in 1834, where he established a Unitarian Church and founded Washington University. His father and mother brought the family back to the North Shore every summer, and in 1896 built a substantial house at Eastern Point, Gloucester, Massachusetts. In retrospect, Eliot is heard confessing a sense of alienation and displacement caused by such a complicated familial background: "I perceived that I myself had always been a New Englander in the South West, and a South Westerner in New England" (Eliot's Preface to Edgar A. Mowrer's This American World). In 1906, Eliot entered Harvard and remained there until he took his B.A. in 1909 and M.A. in 1910. Peter Ackroyd presumes that Eliot must have felt that he was not perfectly educated at Harvard, and that Eliot may have recognized--as most Bostonians did--"the narrowness of the horizon" (Ackroyd 39), for he eventually persuaded his father to subsidize his first trip to Europe in October 1910. He stayed mainly in Paris until July 1911, attended lectures at the Sorbonne University, and visited Italy and England briefly. Having been given a Sheldon Travelling Fellowship, which Harvard offered him to return to Europe in 1914, Eliot arrived in London by mischance in August 1914. The First World War made him an exile just as he had begun his study at the University of Marburg. Eliot stayed in London until the Michaelmas term at Oxford began in October, and then he took refuge in Merton College to begin work under Harold Joachim. Eliot took the first step of self-imposed exile in June 1915 when he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood on impulse at the Hampstead Registry Office, which shocked and agitated his parents. In terms of Eliot's reminiscences about his sudden marriage to Vivienne (which were not without lament or regret), he persuaded himself that he was in love with her because he "wanted to burn [his] boats and commit [himself] to staying in England." Furthermore, he claims that Vivienne persuaded herself to marry him (perhaps under the influence of Ezra Pound) because she believed that "she would save the poet by keeping him in England" (L xvii). Eliot stayed on in England and returned to America only for visits. He abandoned a career in philosophy at Harvard for a literary career in London. 1927 was the year which marked the radical alternation of his public appearance and private existence: Eliot was baptized and received into the Church of England at Finstock Church in the Cotswolds in June, and he chose to give up his American citizenship in November. Eliot transformed himself from "a midwestern American" (in terms of Eliot's "old chum" Brand Blanshard) (Blanshard 36), to the high priest, the abbot of English letters: "a classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion" (Eliot's preface to For Lancelot Andrewes vii). From this point on, Eliot was ready to face the now open hostility from across the Atlantic which scathingly paired him with Henry James as another "failed American" (Hay 15). (2) Eliot was also obliged to recognize himself as the diasporic cosmopolitan, a cross-cultural stranger or a foreigner of "between-ness" (3) who sought to negotiate the issues of alternative identities via cultivated heterogeneity--be it linguistic, personal, national, or cultural.
Eliot's propensity for foreignness and his diasporic attitude towards place, nationality, and identity fascinate yet misguide his acquaintances, critics, and readers. Eliot was reported as having confessed to Herbert Read in a 1928 letter that he always felt rootless and displaced no matter where he resided: he was never anything anywhere, and felt himself to be more a Frenchman than an American, or more an Englishman than a Frenchman" (Read 20). Conrad Aiken referred to "hybrid difficulties" when he discussed Eliot's 1921 breakdown: "Tom Eliot has had some sort of nervous breakdown and is at present in Lausanne: hybrid difficulties, I suppose, or else the severe strain of being an Englishmen" (Aiken 65). In his letters, Ezra Pound referred to the problem of being an American as a "virus, the bacillus of the land in [one's] blood," and maintained that "Eliot [had] it perhaps worse than I [had]--poor devil" (Pound 124, 158; qt. Badenhausen 35). In his thorough study of Eliot's art of collaboration, Richard Badenhausen notices Eliot's proclivity for erasing identity: apart from the employment of an assortment of appellations (such as T. S. Eliot, T. Steams Eliot, T. S. E., T. S. Apteryx), there are pseudonyms used by Eliot, like Crites, Possum ("de Possum" or Old Possum), Tar Baby, Gus Krutzsch, Charles James Grimble, Helen B. Trundlett, and Metoikos (North 8, 77; Badenhausen 29). "Metoikos" literally translates as "resident alien" and it remains the most cunning of Eliot's pseudonyms. This phrase could be interpreted as presenting Eliot's "severe strain" of his ultimate exclusion by his "adopted homeland," the England, or his sense of unavoidable failure at not being fully assimilated into the host culture of the United Kingdom. (4) However, I maintain that the term puts Eliot in his favorite position that recognizes the increasing tendency of nomadism, migrancy, border-crossings, living on the borders, hybridity, and identity fluidity of contemporary (post/modern) life experience, in contrast to the perceived rigidity and inflexibility of totalizing epistemology (Featherstone, Undoing Culture 126).
As I have argued elsewhere on Eliot's hypertextual flanerie and the literature of flanerie, Eliot's writings on the city engage with a number of recurrent themes, motifs, and methodological concerns which elucidate the intricate dimension of the city scapes. (5) Among them, the most significant recurrent motif in Eliot's city writings is the shifting perspective of the flaneur figure. Eliot has continued to evolve his flaneur from "the man of the crowd," to "the man at the window," then to the producer of literary texts, and finally to the collector of the city archive. Indeed his lifelong passion for city street exploring and observation has some special influence on his creative power. Characteristically, there are plenty of streets, roads, lanes, and ways in Eliot's poem, all the way from Prufrock's half-deserted streets to the disfigured street in Little Gidding--the depictions of which all suggest the act of strolling or other modified form of flanerie.
When Benjamin describes flanerie as going "botanizing on the asphalt" (Charles Baudelaire 36), he suggests at least three things which are related to each other. First, the poet/the flaneur as the marginal figure evolves a language and an imagery to record the fleeting, multiple, mundane everyday experience. Second, it is from such fragments and overlooked bits that we read the world, and thus the collected detritus is the true museum. Third, by doing so, the poet/the flaneur develops his consciousness to be able to register events, moods, and impressions instantaneously via the "snapshot techniques" similar to the camera: "[a] touch of the finger now sufficed to fix an event for an unlimited period of time. The camera gave the moment a posthumous shock, as it were" (Charles Baudelaire 132; qtd. in Collier 26-7). Such snapshot techniques of poetics register not so much a sense of photographic realism as a problematics of phantasmagoric surrealism. As Susan Sontag points out in her introduction to One-Way Street and Other Writings, this is Benjamin's "microscopic gaze" (One-Way Street 19) at the "Surrealist city" with the "metaphysical landscape" that teems with "possibilities, positions, intersections, passages, detours, U-turns, dead-ends, [and] one-way streets" (One-Way Street 13).
However, what remains underestimated is the graphic nature, the virtual mobility--the spatially and temporally fluid subjectivity of this form of visuality of Eliot's text, which directs the reader to a literature of flanerie, characteristic of rhapsodic textualism, a hermeneutic of seeing, as well as the changing perspectives of the flaneur figure, such as that of purposive detective, visual textual decipherer, literary textual producer, and archaeologist of the city archive. Arguably, Eliot's urban discourse reveals not so much the individual encounter with urban experience as the aesthetic gesturing toward the textual topography of the City, which, as a literary subject, has featured prominently as a complex textual network and has become the confluence of personal, cultural, and artistic concerns.
Eliot's urban poetry is possessed by the image of the Unreal City as a spectacle of all the places of the world, and this city is characteristic of floating identity and infinite hyperreality. Eliot's city poem is a geographical poem as well as a historical poem, as it has an intense relationship to the particularity of place and the experience of the time. Moreover, it has achieved a style of its own because the whole poem is composed of a mix of scenes and fragments which are organized in a way that is reminiscent of a cinematic montage, historical montage, or literary montage. Eliot's City is a city of extremes: a melee of localism and cosmopolitanism, of reality and fantasy, of decentring of perspectives and sense of excess that gives rise to a melange of texts and styles, as well as to a sense of anachronisms that constitute a recognizable wasteland of virtual reality. The nature in the City is no longer associated with the first nature that represents the site of origin and being. (6) Nor is the City surrounded by the "second nature" of artificial social constructs. It is, in my view, surrounded by a "third nature" in the form of copies of copies, the reproductions of simulacra. (7) This paper aims to explore Eliot's nomadic and hypertextual flanerie of Europe, by reading his polyglot and cosmopolitan poems such as "Melange Adultere de Tout" and "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar," as models of the modernist/postmodernist text/textile. (8) Arguably, Eliot's urban discourse can be considered one of the representatives of art in what Walter Benjamin might term the second age of mechanical reproduction with the development of information technology, as they are inscribed with the potential character of textual dissemination, textual flanerie, and the archiving of cultures.
II. Melange Adultere de Tout: the Nomadic Flaneur on the Move
Eliot seemed to have recognized the issue of identity fluidity in the late 1910s and the 1920s. Such recognition is apparent in one of his most curious and neglected poems, "Melange Adultere de Tout," as well as in his prestigiously controversial poem The Waste Land. Both works are characterized by inverted syntax, polysemy, and polyglot textuality which frustrates immediate intelligibility and which celebrates the socially constructive nature of identity. (9) In "Melange Adultere de Tout" the narrator is on the move with a self-written scenario, much like a diasporic cosmopolitan (CPP 47). He claims to move through different places around the world and to take up a new occupation at every stop. A wandering life results from a nomadic thought that migrates and detours. The poem is thus imbued with fragmented, indeterminate, and chameleonic identity. With much gusto the narrator enumerates his chosen roles: a professor in America, a journalist in England, a lecturer in Yorkshire, a banker in London, a philosopher in Germany, and a role-player in Paris. In every country and in every place, the narrator is always some one else who is defined/identified by a professional, social, or national stereotype or gesture (Jeffreys 395; Mayer 187). In the second half of the poem, the narrator continues such chameleonic boasts of his wanderlust and his ability to inhabit a new role in every new environment. Flitting about from Damascus to Omaha, the narrator eventually gravitates towards Africa. It is in Africa, "the place of placelessness" (North 84), where the "I/Je" is effaced/extinguished by, or transformed/translated into an exotic otherness via a quasi-pose of having undergone a rite of passage: "Je celebrai mon jour de fete / Dans une oasis d'Afrique / Vetu d'une peau de girafe" (CPP 47)--the narrator dressed in a giraffe's skin celebrates his birthday at an African oasis. Within such an ambiguous collection of opposites (desert/ oasis, life/death, birthday/deathday), the narrator is phantasmagorically either metamorphosed into a species Other (an animal clad in giraffe skin) or into a racial Other (a savage cross-dressed in a skin robe). At the end of all his journeying is a solitary cenotaph, an empty tomb, left lodged in an unknown corner on the burning sands of Mozambique: "On montrera mon cenotaphe / Aux cotes brulantes de Mozambique" (CPP 47).
The final image of the poem is problematic and puzzling to Eliot's critics. Such critics as John T. Mayer suggest that the tomb is empty because the body (a symbol of palpable identity) is lost and unrecoverable from its role-playing (Mayer 188). Critics like Michael North maintain that the cenotaph reflects the narrator's habit of always being elsewhere, as well as his deeper fear of the placelessness and the lack of identity: even after death the body finds no rest and has to continue its global perambulation (North 84). However, in my view, I maintain that "Melange Adultere de Tout" is an Eliotic Metamorphoses, a poem of roles, guises, and identities, a poem of simulations, dislocution, and transubstantiations. (10) The narrator's subject is transformation, and he keeps transforming himself according to whim or opportunity (Senn 124). His repertoire traverses the boundaries of race or humanity, of the holy and the secular, of the text and the world. As a simulator or a conjurer, he can become an African savage, an animal, or even an ascending Christ (to which the empty tomb may profanely refer) or a Houdini (who masters the art of mysterious escape); he is enacting the romance of the Middle East where in 1917 the Arab Revolt and Lawrence of Arabia made headlines (Mayer 187); he is duplicating Tristan Corbiere's "Epitaphe," from the opening line of which he takes the poem's title (Grover Smith 35); he is mimicking the African adventure and the mysterious oblivion of Arthur Rimbaud (Jeffreys 397; Grover Smith 35); or he is translating an Odyssean paradigm of wandering, characterized by polymorphic turns of the character and the situation.
I argue that "Melange Adultere de Tout" remains an Eliotic nomadic flanerie, which aims to criticize such notions as universal categories and unified identities, as well as to confront and to decentre such established canons and literary decorums as linguistic affiliation and the tradition of Western travelogue. A sense of hybridization and multiplicity--be it ethnological, literary, verbal or symbolic--is already present in the title of the poem. The title, which literally translates "an adulterous mixture of existence of one and many," denotes "a catalogue of diverse or paradoxical qualities embodied in one man or several" (Grover Smith 35). Every particle of something or someone (in the character, in the role, or in the capacity) is to be infused into an adulterous otherness, and is to be transformed into an exuberant, exotic, or freakish something or someone else. Of particular interest in Eliot's "Melange Adultere de Tout" is the frequent reference to movement, migrancy, transversals, and border-crossings in relation to the transposition of character and situation (Featherstone, Undoing Culture 126). In "Melange Adultere de Tout" Eliot seems to continue a tradition of Bildungsroman, having his protagonist go grand touring and global traveling, moving from one locale to another, in a quest for a totalizing epistemology. (11) However, the poem turns out rather to celebrate the poetics of "making of home away from home," (12) providing an alternative thesis to the notion of "home" as placed identity locus. Arguably, the poem is a statement of heterogeneity and movement rather than homogeneity and fixity. When movement is commonly characterized as one of the quintessential experiences of the contemporary epoch, the meanings of home go far beyond a physical space and the objects therein. The meanings change from the birthplace--the intimate space where people inhabit and nurture the most significant personal relationships--to the social space where people who become "migrants of identity" have to cultivate, negotiate, nurture or maintain an identity in movement. Such change marks a conceptual shift that reveals how people live their lives in movement and make sense of their lives as movement (Rapport and Dawson 27). The idea of mobility redresses the balance/imbalance between openness and closure, and redescribes the constructive, dynamic, and changing nature of the urban temporality, spaciality, and identity formation (Yang, "Revisiting the Flaneur in T.S. Eliot's 'Eeldrop and Appleplex--I'" 93, 112).
Eliot's narrator is a person much traveled, who is gifted with the Protean force of transformation. The narrator as a nomad dwells in a mobile habitat which is composed of a network of transversals that produces and connects disjointed, incongruous, and fragmented experiences without homogenizing them. Such transversality in turn produces a kind of hybridization and multiplicity, which is characteristic of a constant shift of identity/role playing associated with the geographical change during the detouring journeys. It also renders possible an art of "adulterated melange" and textual flanerie that resists any totalizing epistemology. From the outset the poem in its restless linguistic peregrination is replete with an adulterous mixture of places, identities, and linguistic variations which are used to expand space, to extend movement, and to disseminate textuality. Therefore, the narrator seems to go "traveling" and "gliding" in a non-causal, non-teleological textual flux in the poem's matrix. The poem teems with a series of international episodes, which take the form of a spectacle of odyssey. "Melange Adultere de Tout" is written in French (but it includes German terminology; specific American, British, and African place-names; French slang; even non-linguist expressions like "tra la la"), and it depicts a cross-cultural protagonist in his lines of flight (be they personal, geographical, cultural, historical) which crisscross America, Europe, and the Middle East, before finally moving towards Africa (arguably, the place of deterritorialization/ reterritorialization). (13) In this way, the poem contest cultural and social homogeneity (be it Europeanization or Americanization), and it explores possible foreign alternatives. The narrator of the poem represents the early flaneur figure in Eliot's work, as he strolls across the unclassifiable spaces of the human and textual worlds, and renders possible a range of disparate reading and heterogeneous writing in such topography. His intensive flanerie of social geography and textual dissemination ironically subverts any conventional monologic attempts at totalizing knowledge and constructing stable demarcations of social otherness.
III. "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar": Hypertextual Flanerie and the Virtual City
Ever since its appearance in the summer 1919 issue of Art and Letters (London), "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" has triggered more divergent opinions than any other Eliot poems (except The Waste Land). Indeed, according to Patricia Sloane, the poem has become a "scandal" (Sloane, "Author's Preface"). The poem is composed of eight quatrains which are preceded by a fifty-one-word epigraph. This epigraph is presented in six fragments; it is a complicated pastiche of quotations and allusions and it is steeped in more various tones than the poem itself. Over the past decades, the poem has been caught in the fierce crossfire between critical views which perceive "uglier touches of anti-Semitism" (Ricks 1994: 28) and the "execrable taste" of the extravagances of allusive technique (Grover Smith 50). The poem has been castigated for being at best a maze of subtle and elusive feelings, or at worst a collection of empty cliches and derivative obfuscations whose literary worth will rarely be celebrated (Ricks 1994: 37). The issue of T. S. Eliot and anti-Semitism has been respectively refuted or alleged by such critics as Christopher Ricks and Anthony Julius. However, Eliot's long epistolary relationship with the Jewish American sociologist and philosopher Horace M. Kallen was discovered by Ramen Omer and described in his 1997 article. Consequently, many of the most totalizing assumptions made about Eliot's anti-Semitism are eclipsed by the Eliot-Kallen epistolary dialogue, which record comprehensively Eliot's sustained intellectual engagement with the role of Jews and Judaism in Western culture (Omer 322). (14) In this essay, I make a case for Eliot's development of an historically enriched poetics of urban representation and textual flanerie, this time in "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" with Europe figured as Venice set in the changing matrix of cultural landscape and tourist/flaneur geographies of the urban space.
As Ronald Bush points out, "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" is traditionally approached in terms of Ezra Pound's account that the poem is the experimental result of Pound's and Eliot's poetics (Bush 24). Bush further claims that the poem presents the American New Englander's inability to understand either the beauty or the evil of the Old World (Bush 25). In letters to Marry Hutchinson (July 1919) and to his brother Henry Eliot (February 1920), Eliot reiterated such an emphasis, as he claimed that "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" and the Sweeney ones (especially "Sweeney among the Nightingales") were "among the best" that he had ever written and that they were "intensely serious" (L 311, 363). Eliot also mentioned in a 1933 lecture on modern literature that his intention in the poem--similar to that of Henry James in The Aspern Papers--was to "get" Venice indirectly (Bush 27; Jain 97; Southam 85). Consequently, Venice is never mentioned in "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar;" yet different images of Venice are evoked by the multitude of references and diverse interpretations given to them, which in turn intriguingly efface and dissolve the identity of the City. Venice is represented as the fragmented mind of Europe, a Venetian composite of the historical, imperial, and cultural wasteland, accessible and presentable via a surrealistic collage of fragmented quotations and broken images.
More than thirty allusions and borrowings have been identified in the thirty-two lines of the poem and its epigraph (Schneider 40). The long epigraph to the poem is a polyglot and polysemic composite which begins in Latin yet in the context of "tra-la": "Tra-la-la-la-la-la-laire--nil nisi divinum stabile est; caetera fumus" (CPP 40). The epigraph may intimate it is a psalm itself: "Only the divine endures; the rest is smoke" (Perl 139). Yet, what can the Latinist "divine" mean/be after being transported/translated into the context of French/Venetian popular tune, or even non-linguist expressions like "tra la la" in an English poem? (15) I suggest that the poem right from the very beginning of its composition tends to inscribe the foreign culture onto the native one so as to dismantle the stability or absoluteness of the original. Arguably, "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar," constructed as a build up and overload of culture industry, appears as a mosaic of competing cultural styles. What unfolds in front of the reader is a text (or culture itself) as an infinite, unstable network composed of variable codings and representations, with a repertoire ranging from high culture to popular culture, from philosophy to literature, (16) from biological science to fine art, (17) and from anthropology to tourist industry. (18) Indeed, the poem concentrates on the development of literary and popular traditions of representing Venice, such as the way in which Venice--together with its gondoliers, its carnival, its romanticized pomposity--has become a standard imagining of the City both past and present. This understanding of the City becomes an active element of its consumption as a tourist destination, and tourism in turn--in its very "artlessness and ordinariness"--has become the most transparent sign and trope of an alternative ethnography of (post) modernity. (19) I suggest that Eliot is a flaneur and archivist, and that his hypertextual flanerie traverses the boundaries of time and space, language, religion, and culture. Eliot's urban poetry is possessed by the image of the Unreal City as a spectacle of all the places of the world, and this city is characteristic of floating identity and infinite hyperreality.
There are two records of Eliot's visits to Italy in 1910s. According to Ronald Schuchard, during Eliot's year at the Sorbonne in 1910-1911 he visited Italy as "an avid tourist" (8). (20) Probably using a Baedeker, Eliot filled his notebook with observations about the Grand Canal, the piazza, St. Mark's cathedral, the Ca d'Oro, and so on (Schuchard 8). Another record of Venice as a major stop for Eliot's European tour was in 1914, when Eliot was on his way to Oxford. In a letter to Conrad Aiken, dated 19 July 1914, Eliot mentioned that to his knowledge there were three great St. Sebastians: a Mantegna in the Ca d'Oro in Venice, a Menling in Brussels, and one in Bergamo attributed to Antonello of Messina (L 41). Furthermore, on July 25 Eliot sent a body of work to Aiken for him to criticize, and this included some of the "themes" or "stuff" for a larger work which he provisionally called "Descent from the Cross," and which he never completed. They are typescripts consisting of two untitled pieces, which begin "On little voices" and "Appearances appearances he said," and one entitled "The Love Song of St. Sebastian." (21) Eliot told Aiken that he felt almost sure of the St. Sebastian title, for he had "studied [St.] Sebastians" [paintings of St. Sebastian]" (L 44). As critics have pointed out, it is Mantegna's painting--in which the youthful saint is riddled with arrows--that stirs Eliot's imagination (Gordon 58-62; Gross103-114; Mayer149-152). Mysteriously, in the lower left corner of Mantegna's painting, there is a guttering candle with a paper ribbon inscribed with a Latin motto: nil nisi divinum stabile est; caetera fumus ("Nothing endures unless it is divine; the rest is smoke"). Eliot apparently remembered the motto, for he later included it in the "babbling" epigraph for "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar."
In 1919, when Eliot made his vicarious return to Venice in the poem "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar," he had in hand not only the literature of Venice by different writers in different languages--a literary Baedeker composed of luminous and factitious details (see my endnote 14), but also his personal tourist notes, and his own collective expeditions as a (post)modernist expatriate in Europe. The poem and its long epigraph presents itself as potted entries in the manner of the guidebooks of Karl Baedeker or John Murray, which, in a few lines, enable the tourists (Burbank, Bleistein, Sir Ferdinand Klein, or even the reader) to gather information on and to have access to cultural, historical, and geographical matters. These quasi-catalogue raisonne of sightseeing/text reading, separated by centuries, can be taken as superficial reflections of a deeper, more complex and immense panorama of the progress of the City, Venice, from imperial capital to post-imperial metropolis. Arguably, this poem records the complicated negotiation between the changing city and the cultural expectations of insiders and outsiders; the poem remaps the contact zone, the intercultural/ transcultural text, and redefines, reinterprets the concept of global de/centralization.
The poem is a geographical poem as well as a historical poem, as it has an intense relationship to the particularity of place and the experience of the time. As Ronald Schuchard points out, the poem is symbolic of the post-Versailles diaspora, of the fragmented Europe imbued with the issues of ethnic-religious dislocations and antagonism; and the poem is characterized by the sketches of the return to the post-war Venice of modern tourists who have no sense of the city's cultural and historical past (Schuchard 8, 23). I maintain that "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" is Eliot's hypertextual flanerie on the cultural geography via a spectacle of imperial rise and decline in the Venetian scene, with not only a focus on local communities, the cultural insiders, but also a look at those "other" tourists--including refugees, immigrants, and other displaced outsiders. The poem embodies Eliot's dialects on "two ways of being-out-of-place." One way is the de-centering movement of the center to the remote and marginal. Thus, Venice, which is situated on the coastal plain, is seen as an image of ruins, and can be viewed as surrendering herself and her cultural treasure (which is the booty of her marine empire) to either the laws of time and tides, or that of ethical, material degeneration (CPP 41; Sherry 100-101). Venice, once the Queen of the Adriatic, is now reduced to the sickly Princess Volupine, an ambiguous descendant of the city's imperial Hapsburg conquerors, or a derivative of Ben Jonson's Volpone, the Fox. Princess Volupine, voluptuous and vulpine in the poverty of her decay, has to entertain the "barbarian" visitors who come to the city with their money and their Baedekers--such as Burbank with his Baedeker and Bleistein with his Cigar (a vulgar and ostentatious emblem of "money") (Henry James's terms, qtd. Southam 80). The Princess, Venice the tourist city personified, extending a "meagre, blue-nailed, phthisic hand / To climb the waterstair" (CPP 41), provides the most shocking image of the waning days of Empire: a sickly succuba figure rising from her buried past ("blue-nailed") accosts the Burbanks (upon whom she will prey in a small way), with a spectacle of her tourist attractions (the painted, rhapsodized, museumized reproduction of her glorious past). (22) Suffering from a wasting disease ("phthisic," consumptive) physically or morally, the Princess will succumb to a merchant Prince, Sir Ferdinand Klein (Schneider 41-42; Williamson 103). If Burbank the tourist is able to go beyond the form and structure of (post) modern tourist ritual, then he will be disillusioned by the realization that there is only some petty squalor behind the grand Canaletto. Burbank is seen crossing "a little bridge" to meet Princess Volupine "at a small hotel," and when "[they] were together, and he fell" (CPP 40, emphasis mine). The encounter of Burbank the tourist with Venice the Princess is a shrunken and superficial affair, lacking any of the panoramic mythological grandeur of the Shakespearian Antony and Cleopatra. The movement of Venice the Princess is characteristic of a de-centering, out-of-place downfall: "The smoky candle of the time / Declines" (CPP 40-41). At the end of the poem, Burbank is meditating on "Who clipped the lion's wings / And flea'd his rump and pared his claws / ... / Time's ruins, and the seven laws": St. Mark's lion is seen as the image of temporal devastation, symbolic of an imperial fall (be it politically, ethically, or materially) in the course of human history and civilization (Sherry 100-101).
The other out-of-place movement is realized by the alien strangers in the City. Burbank is an Eliotic hybrid of Henry James's East Coast heroes (Southam 82) and an American botanist (Luther Burbank), who is in turn known as a hybrid creator. His tryst with Princess Volupine recounts the cultural (ex) change of an outsider's encounter with a different, reputedly splendid civilization. Bleistein is a multiple transgressor in the poem. Bleistein, whose name implies a German-Jewish origin and literally means "leadstone," seems to be an heir of three civilizations: ancient, middle, and modern (Moody 59). Yet, as a Chicago merchant far removed from his Jewish origin in Vienna ("Chicago Semite Viennese" (CPP 40), ethnically he does not really belong to any group. Bleistein is a disturbance in the poem and part of this is due to the protean nature within him: another Sweeney-like character, he not only looks like an ape ("A saggy bending of the knees / And elbows, with the palms turned out"), but he also has an eye/I associated with the lowest and simplest form of living matter ("A lusterless protrusive eye / Stares from the protozoic slime") (CPP 40). I suggest that Bleistein remains the prototype of Eliot's category violator; he is Eliot's border-crossing diaspora in a world of complex hybridization. Sir Ferdinand Klein, whose name suggests a German-Spanish Jew who has been successful in England (Schuchard 9), is the apotheosis of the displaced, touting outsider who is always on the move towards the multi-centers. A sense of outlandish liminality can be sensed in his name: partly aristocratic ("Sir Ferdinand") and partly commonplace (since "klein" means "small" in German); simultaneously "the least" and "the most" (Klein as a name is so common that there are multitudes of Kleins) (Sloane 23). The poem is characterized by an attempt to address the issue of reservation/ deconstruction of the authentic otherness, as well as diasporic deterritorialization/reterritorialization in the (post)modernist text/textile.
The poem is generally read as a story whose plot line involves the illicit rendezvous of its characters experiencing random moments of lust, sexual liaison, mutability, and mortality to expose modern decay (Schuchard 10). However, I maintain that Eliot's "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" can be approached in light of hypertextual flanerie, which interrogates the modernist/postmodernist urban literature which involves two models, two forms of purposive, voluntary departure from home: tourist and anti-tourist fieldworker (Buzard 106-107). (23) As has been pointed out, since the nineteenth-century there has been a wide-spread anxiety occasioned by the growth of popular tourism, which is characterized by the term "horrid touristification" (Buzard 108). I suggest that Eliot's "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" teems with such ambiguous (anti-)tourist practices, attitudes, and rhetorics. As visitors to Venice, Burbank, Bleistein, and Sir Ferdinard Klein are put alongside each other and none of them enjoy any further distinguishing superiority. Eliot's Jamesian traveler, the meditative, Baedeker-clutching Burbank must have felt overwhelmed by "the importunate muchness of the place" (Henry James's terms, qtd. In Buzard 115). Eliot's poem is a dramatization of failed tourism/anti-tourism. Cosmopolitan tourists, be they English, American, German, or other Europeans, Gentiles or Jews, merely skim the surface of the visited place. They are "doing the place" to attain a form of contact with it in a way that is wholly superficial, artificial, and routinized. Eliot's poem plays off a counterpoint of tourism and anti-tourist fieldwork: sightseeing, slumming, and social research; each may succumb to such blind pitfalls by presuming a position of superficiality (be it economic, intellectual, moral, etc.) in response to the visited place, to its milieu. In so doing, the poem arguably realizes not only the notion that tourism is an ethnography of (post)modernity, and that the tourist is one of the best models available for contemporary man in general (MacCannell 1, 9). The poem is also marked by visual and textual flanerie. All traces of human action become visualized and articulated in the urban spectatorship of Venice--be that of Burbank, Bleistein, Sir Ferdinard Klein, Princess Volupine, Antony, Cleopatra, Shylock, or St. Mark and his lion, etc. The poem can be approached in light of hypertextual flanerie, which is a method for reading texts and for reading the traces of the urban textuality within such texts. These forms of readings are, as critics such as Terry Eagleton and Paul Morrison would charge, marked by "a hypertrophy of marginalia" and "a surplus of profuse and esoteric allusions" (Lamos 109; Eagleton 146-148; Morrison 94-95). Furthermore, hypertextual flanerie is a method of writing which is characterized by "multiple crisscrossings among the texts," so that the text becomes "a series of itineraries without any discernible end" (Lamos 107). By broadening the tourist/anti-tourist gaze on Venice the City, "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" develops the tourist imagination of global consumption and the fieldworker's totalizing epistemological quest into an urban spectacle of transcultural diversity which resists any single absolutist narrative.
In this paper, I have argued that Eliot represents his nomadic and hypertextual flanerie of Europe through "Melange Adultere de Tout" and "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar." Textually and critically, The Waste Land remains the leviathan poem of Eliot's work in its aim to challenge the literary convention of totalizing discourses and master narrative and to give rise to a more flexible, eclectic and appropriate urban reconceptualization and reassertion of difference and otherness. The Waste Land is not just a London poem, as it is also a European poem and a Mediterranean poem that involves three maps--one of a city with London as the center, one of an empire with Rome as the center, and one of a world with Jerusalem as the center-which overlap and illuminate the other (Cook 341-3; Yang, "The Waste Land and the Virtual City" 193). Like Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, Eliot tries to develop the revolutionary tendencies of art within the reality of production in capitalist and consumer society so as to challenge the criterion of bourgeois aesthetics. For Baudelaire, the key feature of the modern metropolitan experience is the sense of newness and transitoriness: the city creates an endless spectacle of commodities, fashions, social types, and cultural movements, which are bound to be replaced rapidly by others (Benjamin Charles Baudelaire; Featherstone, Undoing Culture). In Benjamin's arcade project, the nineteenth-century Paris appears as a phantasmagoria of the world of commodities; it is a dream world in motion, in flux, in which all values are transitory and relations are fleeting and indifferent, in which the so-called reality dissolves into a simulacrum, into a construct. Eliot's Unreal City realizes the secular infinity of reproduction, of copies of copies, and simulacra, be it London, Paris, Boston, Rome, Jerusalem, Athens, Carthage, or Dante's City of Dis, or the virtual city and data city of information. Consequently, in "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar," the City, outwardly Venetian, is mired within an English text which is heavily documented with English, American, and European literature and history. It is a textual city mapped on to a virtual Europe that is never directly and explicitly called Venice.
Eliot's passage to his textual City in a virtual Europe begins early in his career and moves all the way through The Waste Land, Four Quartets, as well as his other works. The meeting with a familiar compound ghost in the second movement of "Little Gidding" epitomizes such a passage of encounter and recognition. This kind of meeting is always set in a displaced and hyperreal landscape, be it Europe, America, Asia, Africa, or nowhere. The relative displacement and deterritorialization of the Self is counterpointed with the rise and the reterritorialization of the Other. Such encounters renderpossible a challenge to totalizing logocentricism and Eurocentricism, as well as a recognition of the potential nature of the hybridity of all cultures, which results from the transcultural encounter. Hybridity or hybridization, as a cultural concept and practice, points to the situation of being neither inside nor outside; it is instead in an alternative third space of liminality, where one is inside and outside at the same time, where one has overlaps and distinctions at the same time (Featherstone and Lash 10).
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CAROL L. YANG
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF TAIWAN
(1) T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Selected Essays 16. Subsequent references in the chapter will be abbreviated as SE, followed by the page number. Similarly, After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy will be henceforth abbreviated as ASG; Notes Towards the Definition of Culture as NTDC; The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism as UPUC; The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound as WLF; The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot as CPP; and The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume I, 1898-1922 as L.
(2) See Eloise Knapp Hay's "Conversion and Expatriation: T. S. Eliot's Dual Allegiance" for detailed accounts and analyses of Eliot's loss and repossession of his American identity, with which I do not completely agree.
(3) I borrow the term "between-ness" from Michael North's The Dialect of Modernism (86) and Christopher Ricks's T. S. Eliot's Prejudice (209-215) to serve my own purpose. Ricks notices that "between" as a preposition as used by Eliot is characterized by two features: first, as incarnating the trinity of Time, Space and Relation; second, as indicating the antithetical nature of primal words. North employs the term in his exploration of Eliot's anxiety about race, language, and the loss of an identity. Instead, I propose a reading of the concept of between-ness in terms of modernist/postmodernist cultivated heterogeneity, floating identity, border-crossings, living on the borders (unhousedness/dislocation), as well as disseminative pliability and epistemological undecidability.
(4) In terms of Ackroyd, in March 1945, Eliot signed his final contribution to the Christian Newsletter with the pseudonym "Metoikos," Greek for "resident alien" (272). As Badenhausen explains, metoikos is a classical term designated to describe the second class status of non-citizen residents of Athens who could never hope to be fully assimilated into the host citizen culture (35).
(5) For a fuller version of my argument on Eliot's hypertextual flanerie and the literature of flanerie, see my "The Waste Land and the Virtual City" and "Revisiting the Flaneur in T.S. Eliot's 'Eeldrop and Appleplex--I'."
(6) There have also been a series of dialogues on human beings' relation to nature and the pluralization of nature by technology. According to Timothy W. Luke, the first nature is the original nature, the ecological biosphere that surrounds and influences human life. The first nature is seen of cosmogenic or theogenic origins that have provided "the key mythic point of origin and field of action for human communities" (28). It is characterized by the "bioscape/ecoscape/geoscape of terrestriality," which is unable to be produced (28). The second nature is a new anthropogenic domain of artificial technospheres; it, therefore, finds expression on the "technoscape/socioscape/ethnoscape of territoriality" (28-9). As Walter Benjamin proposes in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," technology has been ascribed to the creation of the built environment and material urban landscape that human beings have collectively produced and inhabited. The third nature is another anthropogenic domain that assumes its forms in the "cyberscape/infoscape/mediascape of telemetricality" (Luke 29). It is the second humanly constructed world that is not built on the real life in the material environment, but on the virtual reality of the digitalized information world, through the infrastructure of the Internet and cyberspace. And for more than two decades a flood of scholarship has centered on the open ranges of the third nature (Poster, Mitchell, Chambers, Jones, Der Derian, Featherstone "Archiving Culture").
(7) The concept of simulacra and simulation is associated with Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard assumes the proliferation of images in advanced capitalism, with the expansion of commodities and the advance of technologies of visualization and simulation. People thus live in an age in which signs (or images) are no longer required to have any verifiable contact with the reality they represent. Baudrillard hence provides a handy and much-quoted synopsis of the four stages through which representation has historically evolved. First, the sign is the reflection of a basic reality, the sign is a good appearance, and the representation is of the order of sacrament. Second, the sign masks and perverts a basic reality, it is an evil appearance, and the representation is of the order of maleficence. Third, the sign masks the absence of a basic reality, it plays at being an appearance, and it is of the order of sorcery. Fourth, the sign bears no relation to any reality, it is no longer of the order of appearances, but of simulation (Simulacra and Simulation 6). In fact, as Mike Gane points out, Baudrillard's conceptions of simulation, production, and reproducibility are akin to those of Benjamin, as they both go beyond the point of taking productive forces at face value (96, 167 n3).
(8) In Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson concludes his account of the postmodernist city space with an analysis of the new "hyperspace" of the Bonaventure Hotel in LA's city centre. For Jameson, this postmodern hyperspace is the mutation in space which, different from the space of high modernism, characterizes "a practice of the randomly heterogeneous and fragmentary and the aleatory" (25). After such a schizophrenic experience, the human subject undergoes the loss of the capacity for orientation and cognitive mapping (39, 45). However, as Mike Gane points out, Jameson's description of the hyperspace of the Bonaventure Hotel is influenced by Jean Baudrillard's ferocious critique of the high-modernist Pompidou Centre in Paris, the "Beauborg" (Gane 143). Jameson's viewpoint has been criticized for confusing high modernism with postmodernism in architecture. Critics claim that the space in the Bonaventure does not represent something new, as it is just another form of massified modernism, "a claustrophobic space colony attempting to miniature nature within itself," with its "systematic segregation from the great Hispanic-Asian city outside" (Gane 150152, see also Shumway, Cooke, Davis, Jacoby). Baudrillard, who is labelled a postmodernist (or even "the high priest of postmodernism"), holds such a title in contempt and insists that he has "nothing to do with postmodernism" (Gane 158). According to Baudrillard, postmodernity is "the simultaneity of the destruction of earlier values and their reconstruction;" it is "renovation within ruination," and everything is "retroactive" and "including" (Cool Memories 171; qtd. in Gane 159-160). Using a profoundly aniti-modernist and anti-poetmodernist stance, Baudrillard offers his account of the revolving cocktail bar at the top of the Bonaventure Hotel in his America (59-60). A detailed comparison of Jameson's description of the Bonaventure Hotel and Baudrillard's essay on the Pompidou Centre and the Bonaventure Hotel is provided in Gane's Baudrillard's Bestiary (143-156). I argue that Eliot's work interrogates the problems of the reality principle, the fiction principle, and the simulation principle in its use of the undecidably real and unreal, visible and invisible.
(9) Critics such as Mark Jeffreys tend to consider the poem--one of the group of French poems that Eliot composed during the late 1910s--embodying Eliot's desperate attempts to get through his serious writer's block, as well as to express his self-torturing anxiety about identity loss.
(10) I borrow the terms dislocution and transubstantiation from Fritz Senn's Joyce's Dislocutions (124) to serve my own purpose.
(11) The increasing valuation of travel as experience can be found in the educational agenda of the Grand Tour in the Western tradition since the eighteenth century; it is the educative self-formative project (Bildungsprozesse) for the aristocratic or bourgeois gentleman, and is closely related to the literary genre of Bildungsroman. However, the notion of travel as experience, the linkage between mobility and the regenerative/ self-formative power of travel can be traced back as far as the fourth century. It is believed that between the fourth and the fifteenth centuries, three kinds of travelers--the scholar, the crusader, and the pilgrim--traversed the vast and unfamiliar landscape of Europe and helped create the imagined community of Christians. The Renaissance voyages which took place since the sixteenth century enable Europeans to encounter people of different ethnicities and to make comparisons between themselves and others. The increasing contact during modern or post-Renaissance travels helped generate the production and exchange of differences (Featherstone Undoing Culture 127, 152-153). Generally speaking, Bildungsroman tends to join missionary, mercantile, colonial, and sentimental narratives in reproducing the identity of the European and Euro-American at home and abroad (Sidonie Smith 8). It represents the desire (or anxiety) to read and make human sense out of an immense, intangible, and increasingly alienating geography.
(12) For example, see Fredrik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Cultural Difference; James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century; Nigel Rapport and Andrew Dawson, eds. Migrants of Identity: Perceptions of "Home" in a World of Movement. The traditional conceptions of individuals as members of separate localized communities and insulated cultures have been challenged in the process of urbanization and globalization, so much so that urban metaphors such as "community," "ethnicity," or even "home" have invited further debates and re-definitions. In the urban centrist view, "a community," "a district," or "a home" is an urban location that serves as the key source of rootedness, the manifestations of stasis, fixity, or immutability which ensures stable cultural reproduction and self-identity. The thesis of urban de-centrism, on the other hand, treats urban existence as transitory, agitated, and effervescent, and voices concerns about contemporary identity within the context of the fluidity of "home" (Jenks, "General Introduction" 11-3).
(13) Michael North also applies Gilles Deleuze's and Felix Guattari's term "deterritorialization" to interpret the narrator's movement from country to country (84). However, North's critical focus is more on the fear of placelessness rather than on the transgressive and regenerative power of "reterritorialization" inherent in the very movement of "the lines of flight." See Deleuze's and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature for the concepts concerned.
(14) The Eliot-Kallen correspondence is located in the Jacob Rader Marens Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) in Cincinnati, Ohio. The very existence of this correspondence counters the negative picture of Eliot presented by hostile critics such as Anthony Julius. For the description of the Eliot-Kallen friendship and the significance of their correspondence from the 1920s through the 1960s, see Ramen Omer, "'It Is I Who Have Been Defending A Religion Called Judaism': The T. S. Eliot and Horace M. Kallen Correspondence"; Ronald Schuchard, "Burbank with a Baedeker, Eliot with a Cigar: American Intellectuals, Anti-Semitism, and the Idea of Culture."
(15) "Trala-la-la-la-la-laire" represents the call of the gondolier, the opening line of Theophile Gautier's "Sur les lagunes" ("On the Lagoons") from a group of poems entitled Variations sur le Carnaval de Venise (Variations on the Carnival of Venice). "The Carnival of Venice" is a popular traditional tune (Southam 83; Jain 98)
(16) Eliot attaches his poem to the literature of Venice, which includes St. Augustine, Horace, Dante, Spenser, Shakespeare (including Othello, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, "The Phoenix and the Turtle"), Marston, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Donne, Byron, Tennyson, Browning, Gautier, Corbiere, Ruskin, Henry Adams, Henry James, etc.
(17) The name Burbank is identified by Eliot's critics referring to Luther Burbank, a plant breeder, a creator of hybrids, and a controversial pioneer of the modern science of genetics (Jain 98). In the poem there are also references to the paintings by Mantegna and Canaletto, frescoes of Tiepolo, as well as the bronze sculptures in the Cathedral of St. Mark (Schneider 40).
(18) Robert Crawford identifies in the poem possible allusions to the anthropological writings by Jane Harrison and Sir J. G. Frazer (110-115). Meanwhile, the poem's title refers to the guidebooks published by the firm founded by Karl Baedeker, as well as the lines of handbooks for tourists published by Murray and other companies.
(19) I am following Dean MacCannell's description of tourism as nothing less than an "ethnography of modernity," and "the Tourist" is one of the best models available for modern man in general (MacCannell 1, 9).
(20) Eliot's "Notes on Italy" (1911) can be found in the Houghton Library (Ms Am 1691), Harvard University. Quoted in Schuchard 8, 23 (note 26).
(21) These early poems can be found in Christopher Ricks ed., T.S. Eliot: Inventions of the March Hare, Poems 1909-1917, 75-79.
(22) See MacCannell's The Tourist, Chapter 2 "Sightseeing and Social Structure," especially the sections: "The Structure of the Attraction," "Sightseeing as Modern Ritual," and "The Stage of Sight Sacralization" (41-48).
(23) Following Dean MacCannell's theory, James Buzard maintains that since the nineteenth century there have been three kinds of cultural authorities: tourists, ethnographers, and self-imposed expatriates (of whom Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot represent the exile model that replaces the filial bonds of home with the more profound affiliation with culture). Among them, ethnographic fieldwork and literary expatriation tend to distinguish themselves from tourism as distinctions between "valid" and "spurious" approaches to cultures. Expatriate narrative and ethnographic fieldwork are thus characterized by a repertoire of anti-tourist rhetorics (Buzard 106-108). However, Buzard in his argument tends to question the granting of cultural mastery to the ethnographers and the optional expatriates, and he concludes that fieldworkers and expatriates may turn to be nothing more than tourists. In my discussion of "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar," I am indebted to Buzard's suggestions, yet my argument will lead to a different conclusion.
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|Author:||Yang, Carol L.|
|Publication:||Yeats Eliot Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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