Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Enriching The Waste Land

I have read TS Eliot's The Waste Land a dozen times, taught the poem in college and high school, and early on tried to imitate that famous prosody in my own works. I failed miserably at the latter.

I have long thought of poetry as best appreciated by being spoken and not read.  For fifty years the university literary establishment, influenced by the so-called New Criticism that was in turn influenced by the scientific method (and an attempt I think by English professors to show there was a science behind all that literary stuff), has focused on the printed poem, something to be studied and dissected. Other schools of criticism followed, including: Jungian, Freudian, Feminist, and other approaches that put the reader in the middle of the poem where she becomes the center of the creative process through a kind of muscular subjectivity. Having been away from that profession for some years I now think all of the above might have more to do with tenure and a kind of in-stable solipsism than with communicating the wonders of poetry.

I don't go to technology conferences for literary insights but often I'm surprised. At the recent Tools of Change conference in New York there was actually a session on making The Wasteland come alive through the use of five different voices, video and touch screen opportunities. This was a wonderful example of a multi-dimensional textual enrichment and using technology to enhance a venerable text that I suspect is not experienced these days as much as it deserves.

The commercial point, made in this session and in a number of others during the conference, was that no one will pay for simple textbook-type material anymore, whether print or digital. But people will pay for enrichment and interactivity. One might argue with the supposition but not with the results.

The next time I teach The Wasteland, this will be my approach.

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