The Revolution of the Individual

While I think it is appealing to say that BLAST is highly revolutionary in its form, and that is probably true, it seems to me that the actual content of BLAST itself is both more subversive and important to the goal of the magazine. BLAST appears to be occupied with the deconstruction of the class divide and an emerging focus on the individuals. BLAST states upfront that it seeks to appeal to “the fundamental and popular instincts in every class and description of people” (7). Furthermore, it asserts that “art has nothing to do with the coat you wear” (8). In the context of this course in particular, this is thematically dissonant from preceding British work that made its goal the restructuring of society (usually targeted at one group in particular). For example, Arnold and Engles want to restructure the working class and their interaction with the rest of the society. Antithetically, BLAST does not want to restructure society, but paint it for the individual’s eyes. Their “blasts” and “blesses” are not lofty, but relatable to the everyman to whom they are addressing. The blessing of the hairdresser in particular comes to time as something that anyone has experience with. The revolutionary aspect of BLAST is its catering to the individual, not to the class structure.

To the Lighthouse

Time is a recurring theme throughout Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. In Part I (The Window), Woolf stretches time, devoting the first 124 pages to a single day. This reflects the desire of some of the characters for time, that day, to stand still.  Mrs. Ramsay in particular wishes for them to always be together as they are in the dinner scene and for her youngest children, Andrew and Cam, to never grow old and suffer as she has.

In contrast, in Part II (Time Passes) ten years are compressed into approximately 20 pages. The passage of time is reflected by the deterioration of the house on the beach. While only a few words are devoted to the lives of its former inhabitants, the house’s increasingly poor state reflects their own experience over this period. The series of tragedies in the background of WWI are sudden and confusing. Their presentation in a short, objective, bracketed form disrupts the narrative and generates this effect. These years and events are then condensed into a few pages as they are slowly processed over many years. This reflects the way in which the world attempted to process the events and implications of WWI. In its aftermath a strong sense of confusion, shock, and disillusionment was felt. Nature seemed disrupted, as it is around the abandoned house: “…(for night and day, month and year, ran shapelessly together) in idiot games, until it seemed as if the universe were battling and tumbling, in brute confusion and wanton lust aimlessly by itself” (134-5). This processing was extremely gradual. Likewise, Woolf’s compression of ten years into 20 pages suggests that little changed over the course of these ten years as the characters, most likely, grappled with these sudden tragedies and, to some extent, the disruption of nature itself (the loss of the constant, binding force of Mrs. Ramsay in many ways represents this disruption of nature in their lives). Time moved on, but many people did not and so the narrative focuses on the state of nature and the beach house as opposed to the characters.

The Waste Land

Overall, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” has a dark tone and confusing structure that mirror the aftermath of the Great War. Throughout the poem, different voices emerge unannounced, making the reader feel as confused as many people felt after the war. For instance, in Part II after line 110, Eliot begins using someone else’s voice as shown by the quotation marks. The lines ” ‘My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me./Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.’ ” (2301) sound jittery and psychotic; this could relate to the vast number of veterans with shell shock. Shellshocked men developed nervous ticks and exhibited strange, even paranoid behavior, so the fragmented sentences featured in Part II of “The Waste Land” show a concern for this new development of traumatized ex-soldiers. Another instance where a (new) voice in quotations reflects concerns of the time is located after line 130. The other voice worries ” ‘What shall I do now? What shall I do?…What shall we do tomorrow? / What ever shall we do?’ ” (2302). These lines address the same subject as Sigfried Sassoon’s “Everyone Sang”; although the soldiers rejoiced that the war was over, they lacked a sense of direction and purpose as soon as it ended. The voice in the aforementioned lines is frantically questioning what it should do, just as the veterans of the time were unsure of what to do after the completion of war. In fact, after the devastating results of an almost pointless war, many civilians also began to wonder what the point of their lives were. These two voices capture two very real anxieties from the aftermath of WWI.

In addition, Eliot uses many different allusions throughout “The Waste Land” to increase the insanity and depressing tone of the poem. Part I begins with a reference to Sybil who, after wishing for eternal life, claims she wants to die. This sets the dark mood for the rest of the poem and relates to the aforementioned questioning the purpose of life that became popular during this time. The selection of this particular scene could also indicate that mankind made a fatal mistake by starting the war and now has to live with the consequences of that mistake, just as Sybil is cursed to live with her mistake of not asking for eternal youth forever. Eliot also references a very different source, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, to end Part II of “The Waste Land”. In the play, the character Ophelia says “Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.” (2303) and this is seen as a sign of insanity by the King. By ending the second part of the poem this way, Eliot is directly alluding to insanity to help characterize the lost, confused, and insane feelings many people had after the Great War. I believe Eliot’s many references to earlier works could be a search for meaning by exploring the thoughts of past writers and thinkers, but no matter how much he tries to use the past to explain the present, life in the aftermath of the first world war stays as dark and confusing as ever.

A War Film

The poem “A War film” by Teresa Hooley represents many of the ideals of modernism. War films, a recent invention at the time of World War I, usually functioned as propaganda. They exhibited glorious battles where the enemy of the country that produced the film suffers a humiliating loss or an unfair victory. In a bitter sadness, common to modernism, the poem displays elements of imagism also typical of the movement. The poem opens with saying “I saw” and listing a series of images such as “The Mon Retreat” and “The ‘Old Contemptibles’ who fought, and died,” (1,5-6). The entire poem focuses on clear imagism as showcased by those lines, continuing onto the next stanza which speaks of “hearing machine-guns rattle and shells scream” (9). The imagery in the poem, sharp and broken off randomly from one another, exemplifies the use of imagism associated with modernism.

In addition to imagism, “A War Film” experiments with a new form. The poem’s structure closely represents a war film. The short introductory stanza and the quick stanza following represent the basic introductory elements in most film: the characters, setting, and situation are introduced, followed by a quick turn of events which sets the plot into motion. The next stanza is over twice the length of any of the others, representing the plot, or in this case, battle. The last stanza, medium length, occurs after the plot or battle similarly to the conclusion of a film or aftermath of a battle. The poem’s most intense words occur at the end of the long stanza, around the climax speaking of going “To War. Tortured,/Torn. /Slain./Rotting in No Man’s Land, out in the rain” (22-24). The poem itself mirrors its subject while using sharp and clear images, featuring the typical elements of modernism.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”, contains elements that coincide with Decadence and that diverge from it. One commonality between the two can be found in Eliot’s attention to surface details. He writes, “Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;” so as to say that something as trivial as a coffee spoon is how he is counts his entire life. He says too, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” This brings importance to things that are purely surface details. We  also see sophistication of taste when Eliot writes, “Talking of Michelangelo”, “the taking of toast and tea”, “the cups, the marmalade, the tea, among the porcelain”, and “my morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, my necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.” These kind of sophisticated appearances of taste is common in Decadent writing, but I believe Eliot is using them in a much different way than, say, Wilde would. Wilde would perhaps say that taste and pleasure are more important than morality, but Eliot is using these examples of taste as a way to say that not even taste matters. We can find this when he writes, “I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter.”

Contrasting with Decadence and the sophistication of taste, however, we see Eliot write of things considered ordinary or even low-class. He writes of “sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells” and “the pools that stand in drains”. He also mocks those who speak with sophistication when he writes, “Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-” and this is purposely meant to contrast with the examples of high taste mentioned above. He, like the modern age itself, is bringing “common” life into the “sophisticated” life. This is seen heavily through the food he mentions, alluding to the modern availability of varying kinds of food to the lower classes in cheaper ways.

J. Alfred. Prufrock

T. S. Eliot includes many elements of decadence in his poem “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Decadence, a weakening of morals often as a result of indulgent activity, fills the poem through descriptions of Prufrock’s lifestyle.  Aside from the content, the poem itself represents a break from past establishments.  Eliot writes the poem in an unconventional verse and rhyme scheme.  It presents a more free style than the previous more structured forms of poetry, similar to how decadence represents a free living lifestyle compared to previous practices, especially in the Victorian age.

Moving to the content itself, decadence is evident in Prufrock’s  practices and Eliot’s word choices to describe them.  Eliot writes about “restless nights in one-night cheap hotel,” suggesting a sexual affair with either a prostitute or a sort of mistress (6).  Even if Prufrock’s partners were steady girlfriends, the traditional view on moral sexual activity is that it should be reserved for marriage.  Later in the poem, Eliot writes “there will be time to murder and a time to create” (28).  This line, followed by another “and time for” line functions mirrors a bible passage directly.  The beginning of Ecclesiastes 3 is a long anaphora with lines repeating “a time to,” including one that says “a time to kill.”  The twisting of the biblical passage shows the decadence movement through its blatant falling away from the past scripture. T.S Elion also asked the question “Do I dare/Disturb the universe” (45-46).  Decadence, associated with a more modern way of living and lifestyle, connects with this question.  Previously, religion and social norms ruled morality itself.  The question asked has a way of questioning reality itself.  As decadence is a falling away from morality as suggested by Prufrock’s sexual escapades, asking if one should disturb the universe is a similar questioning of authority by contemplating disturbing reality itself.  In a way, this new form of poetry and its blatant, shameless discussion of subject matter that would be taboo in Victorian times disturbs the universe as well.

Decadence in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”

Traces of Decadence can be found within T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock.” The poem, first of all, has a sensuality associated with Decadence as Prufock, the speaker, muses on love, long nights and vague physical descriptions of a nameless, faceless woman.  At the same time, it expresses a dissatisfaction with life and art alike.  Individuals in the poem seem to have the Decadent sophistication of taste (the women talk of Michelangelo while frequent mention of tea, talk, porcelain, and novels is made) but this does not satisfy. Prufock, for instance, states that he is no “Prince Hamlet.” He is not a hero–tragic or otherwise–but has more in common with the attendant or even the Fool. In other words, the art and literature of the past does not suit him or meld with the confusing world and feelings he finds himself in. Similarly, many of the stanzas end with Prufock asking a question: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”, “Should I then presume?”, and “How should I begin?” Decadence was, in part, preoccupied with metaphysical questions accompanied by Christian notions of temptation and damnation. Likewise, Prufock is haunted by the decisions he has made and the actions he has and has not taken. He wonders about the nature of the world and his role within it.

However, these questions also signal a divergence from Decadence. The amoral or perverse attitudes of Decadence were often flaunted. Individuals were open and unapologetic about their interest in sophistication and sexuality and the idea of “art for art’s sake” was popular. Simultaneously they were unapologetic for their sometimes contradictory or unreasonable actions and lifestyle. Prufock, on the other hand, does appear to feel some form of regret or guilt and the questions he asks in regard to parting his hair or eating a peach at the poem’s end reflect his feeling that everything has become meaningless.