Dadaism and Classicism in The Waste Land.

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Date: Sept. 2021
From: Twentieth Century Literature(Vol. 67, Issue 3)
Publisher: Hofstra University
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,982 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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Perhaps the most salient feature of The Waste Land is its capaciousness. The poem's leaping style and variety of source material create a carnival atmosphere in which contrasting images and ideas commingle. When Eliot was writing the poem in the wake of the First World War, the classicist rappel a l'ordre was being opposed by a dadaist program designed to disintegrate all creeds that they might pass like sand through the fingers. (1) This essay studies the convergence of these contradictory movements in The Waste Land.

Eliot's 1922 notes for The Waste Land and his 1923 essay "Ulysses, Order, and Myth" both accentuate the poem's classicist tendencies. In 2009, Lawrence Rainey (2009: 301) identified classicism as one of the three terms on which "nearly all accounts of Eliot's poetics turn." In 2015, Theodore Ziolkowski featured The Waste Land in his Classicism of the Twenties to epitomize the interwar movement against "the inanities of dada" (3).

In the wake of the new modernist studies, however, the trend has been to deemphasize The Waste Land's classicist nostalgia for a lost order to focus instead on the ludic indeterminacy produced by the poem's avant-garde form. In the most recent Cambridge Companion to "The Waste Land" (2015), classicism is mentioned only twice, while Dada is mentioned seventeen times.

Of course, Eliot was not a dadaist. At the height of Dada's notoriety, Eliot was working at a bank. Raoul Hausmann and Johannes Baader foregrounded the antagonism between bankers and dadaists in their 1918 April Fool's prank. The two dadaists notified the authorities of the Berlin suburb of Nikolassee that a Dada republic was soon to be established there. In preparation, the city's bankers were asked to transfer all funds into an account set aside for the nascent republic. Instead, the community called up its militia, "two thousand strong, warily awaiting the onslaught of Dada hordes" (Rasula 2015: 71). The famously staid Eliot, who was at the time working days at Lloyd's Bank and nights defending an idealized Tradition, could serve as a caricature for everything that Hausmann and Baader were mobilizing against.

Despite their temperamental differences, however, Eliot was heedful of the dadaists while writing The Waste Land, reviewing the dadaist poetry of Tristan Tzara, soliciting contributions from Francis Picabia, and writing an evaluative essay on Dada Paris. While editing The Waste Land, Ezra Pound was publishing dadaist verse and attending dadaist events in Paris. This essay's first section will provide the fullest account to date ofDada's influence on The Waste Land, an area of research that remains underserved. The essay's second section will then study how Eliot's definition of classicism changed during this same period, positioning the third section to address the essay's central question: How can any one poem be both dadaist and classicist at the same time?

In the climactic fifth section of The Waste Land, a poem thirsting for both water and order is promised each by the sound of an approaching storm. Within the poem's cacophony of voices, an authoritative...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A678425546