Thursday, 9 July 2009

Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table

I have been reading T.S. Eliot again. The last time this happened was in high school, when we diligently read a whole collection of Eliot poems, including the famed Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1917) and Journey of the Magi (1927), amongst others which I only have a slight recollection of. Prufrock, as one fondly refers to the poem, contains some dazzling lines like that mentioned above which combine such rich imagery with a deep and utter self-loath (something I very much identify with). I was mostly moved by the question "And indeed there will be time / To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"". We know Prufrock is torn between his Edwardian prudishness and his desire to express his love to an anonymous woman vaguely referenced to in the poem, and thus the question goes on to signify the impotence of the modern man as Eliot observed from a distance during the Great War. His poetry is an echo of the disillusionment of a younger post-World-War-I generation with values and conventions (both literary and social) of the Victorian era.

Modernism has always interested me probably because of the equally interesting parallel movements in fine art, architecture and music. There lies a severe contradiction at the heart of modernism, that of the seemingly limitless potential of modern industrial development adjoined with this strong sense of disbelief in the ideal of the modern man. Industry has no limitations in the eye of modernism, but man can no longer yield. We have departed from the romanticist depiction of man juxtaposed with nature to man being crushed morally by the nature of progress turning us all into anonymous beings, or in the case of Eliot, beings trapped in endless social meandering that does not get us anywhere: "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons" as Eliot ironically writes.

"I have heard the mermaids singing each to each / I do not think they will sing to me".

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