While 2022 has not ended yet, I probably should have addressed this sooner: a century has past since the publication of Ulysses, by James Joyce, and The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot. Celebrations and retrospectives of both, along with a wide range of other masterpieces from 1922, have proliferated this year, especially in the West. But I’d feel, well, at least a tinge of regret if I didn’t toss in my own two cents, and a link or two on the subject.
Critical assessments, of course, evolve, and cultural eras seem to lose their appearance of unity as time goes on. What once was considered set in stone about this or that period, no longer is, and the more we dig, the more we learn that there were always dissident and dissonant voices. Still, some touchstones remain firmly planted in time and space. Some works never get the kiss of death — the terrible slur, “dated.” I think the two works mentioned hold their own even now, and likely always will.
The reasons for this are many. To begin with, both men decided to mix the sacred and profane, the high and low, the ancient and the modern. This mixture makes it all but impossible to read these works and see them as lost in a particular time and place, primarily because their structure transcends those narrow confines. They point to other worlds and other ages, other languages and styles, and the world as it is in the here and now. They are, in a sense, encyclopedic in scope, and the low, the natural, the everyday prevents them from seeming stodgy, academic, aloof, or pretentious.
From the general to the particular, but not quite yet. I’ll break things down a bit in the next post on perhaps the greatest single year of Modernism. For now, will leave you all with some links for further study, including an excellent aggregation of media on Joyce and Ulysses, from RTE:
And Eliot’s poem in full:
And a very helpful overview of the year itself in Art:
Until we meet again in the Unreal City . . .