On Knowledge, Books, and Post-modernity

We all have something that we collect, something that we cherish; some people collect stamps, others collect antiques; some collect photographs, and some people just collect friends. I collect books; I have a couple of hundred of them, in all shapes and sizes. I love the “new book smell” and I love how they all sit together on my bookshelves, looking out over my room. I like the order, and the consistency; I love that they all, in one way or another, relate together, and are essentially the same. I like the continuity there.

Post-modernity however (I’ve been reading introductions to it all day), would disagree with my “unified” bookshelf; it would create “the other”. It would differentiate between genre, and the time in which it was published. Post-modernity essentially subverts the essence of an object in order to form a critique of itself, making post-modernity a paradox that cannot be unraveled, because the definition of something is the playground of its subversion. “There is nothing outside the text.”- Jacques Derrida.

Trust somebody to make a mess. It's a beautiful example of postmodern art however, by Marcus A. Jansen. This is however not quite the same as post-modernity, which has a broader focus in society and politics.

You see, I like to play with paradoxes, but the challenge I have is that I’m not logically minded; I end up having to make spider maps so I know what I mean, and what I think. The same thing applies for when I’ve read a complex essay. It seems that my brain resembles a computer; sometimes you have to use the disk defragmenter to clean up all those little nuggets of knowledge, otherwise the computer might slow down, heat up, or just outright explode. I often suspect the latter.

I spend an awful lot of time pondering how my lecturers have spent as much time as they have in the research lab; how they’ve understood all these magical things, how they’ve written groundbreaking papers about the forefront of literary criticism. I can barely understand my introductory postmodern research, and I’ve already made six diagrams about Derrida. It is humbling when you realise that you know absolutely nothing at all, in comparison with what they already know. Even they don’t know everything; nobody does, but they know more than most of us ever will do. This is mainly however because it’s their career choice; it’s what they wanted to do. I like that they can inspire you to enjoy a text purely because they’re so passionate about it that they can present you with facets of it that you couldn’t hope to find on your own.

So, back to my beautiful bookshelf. I love the order, and the tidiness of it. I like it’s superficially orderly ways. But what I like the most, and the reason that I will continue to collect them, is that behind that smoke and mirrors facade of order, and logic, is a world that can’t ever be fully dissected. It can be examined and explored hundreds of times, but no one will ever know every secret of every book. And I like that behind this simple exterior, is a rich, decadent world. But what I like the most is that by looking at this world, I will obtain a degree, alongside invaluable skills in analysis, close reading, and research. And I really do enjoy it, too.

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(1) http://www.contemporary-art-dialogue.com/image-files/postmodern-art-surreal.jpg

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T.S Eliot’s “The Wasteland”: Creating an Elite Literary Club

Since I began studying T.S Eliot for A level coursework last year, I have begun a long-enduring love affair with a man who could be considered modernism’s most reserved man. He belonged to the Bloomsbury group alongside others such as Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and Clive Bell. These academics were renowned for being sexually liberated, and experimental in every approach to life and literature they took. They took the traditional and destroyed it, and reformed it to the style we now know as modernism, and in this sense, Eliot was no different.

File:T.S. Eliot, 1923.JPG

T.S Eliot: A Literary Hero (1)

His poem, “The Wasteland” is written in five books, describing the spiritual journey from corruption to the potential for being reborn and rejuvenated. The essence of Eliot’s genius here however does not lie simply in the poem’s construction, and continual changes in narrative; the true depth and substance of the poem is contained in the intertextuality which serves to create an exclusive club; Eliot uses allusions to Greek mythology, Roman mythology, the Bible, Buddhism, D.H Lawrence, James Joyce, Augustine’s writings, Spencer’s works, to name a few. And in order to understand all these allusions, then surely, you’d have to have read widely and voraciously for all of your literary life. The depth of these allusions show just how educated Eliot was; for all his personal and social misgivings, he was perhaps the most inspirational literary critic and author of his time, purely because he deigned to read everything that had ever been written; nothing that had been written was deemed too insignificant, because as Jacques Derrida says: “there is nothing outside of the text.” Everything is a part of the poetry Eliot created, in the same way that he became a part of everything he read.

A major part of Eliot’s poem is the allusions to religion; Eliot spent much of his life in religious turmoil, and in this way looked into many types of religion including Buddhism, and had a deep fascination with Christianity and it’s origins in Latin and Greek. He felt it was extremely important to read the original texts in order to connect with them on a personal level. He later converted to Anglicanism, which seemed to provide him with some comfort, despite his personal struggles with sexuality and human relationships.

The poem itself formed the beginning of my fascination with modernism; despite my interest in Renaissance literature, the poem seemed, to me at least, to transcend literary periods due to the density of allusion. The poem is hailed as one of the cornerstones of 20th century literature, and rightly so; the spirituality presented is rarely explored in poetry to the level that it is, and because of this, I think it relates to everyone in some way or another. The explorations of love especially fascinate me, because the poem rejects physical love as something some people need, however that spirituality and an understanding of faith is something that people crave more. The idea that those who read it belong to a ‘club’ of elite literature is also very appealing; there is the implication that you belong to something inspirational and special; it is not accessible to all, and for those who wish to, the reward of understanding is very much an intellectual and emotional one.

I’m hoping to look into T.S Eliot in more detail, and hopefully write a thesis one day on his life and works. It is not an exaggeration to say that “The Wasteland”, alongside Wuthering Heights is my favourite work of English literature of all time, and I implore those who haven’t had the pleasure yet to delve in, accompanied by Google and a companion to T.S Eliot, and enjoy the roller-coaster he writes, perhaps unintentionally.

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(1) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/87/T.S._Eliot%2C_1923.JPG

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