Synchronicity and TS Eliot
posted 2007 by RonPrice
To students of twentieth-century modernism, 1971 was the year when Valerie Eliot published a facsimile edition of The Waste Lands pre-publication manuscripts. 1971 was a significant year in my own life for it was the year I left Canada and moved to Australia. Thirty-six years later it looked like I would lay my bones in that vast dry dog-biscuit of a continent. The publication of the pre-publication manuscripts of The Wasteland was an event which invited new accounts of the poems genetics and fresh assessments of how those might bear on our understanding of the poem. My move to Australia invited a different set of life studies and interpretations of my life-narrative and as the decades advanced fresh assessments of their meaning. -Ron Price with thanks to Valerie Eliot, ed., T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, Harcourt Brace, NY, 1971.
One year later, in 1972, I started teaching high school in South Australia. That same year Hugh Kenner and Grover Smith published two essays which, while differing sharply in premises and procedures, reached a consensus that Part III, The Fire Sermon, was the earliest portion of the poem to have been written, probably around midsummer 1921, followed first by Parts I and II, then by IV and V, the latter completed in December 1921. I was always impressed, at least since I first studied Eliot in 1963 and then taught his poetry in 1988, 25 years later, at the remarkable synchronicity between the writing of The Wasteland and a crucial stage in the institutionalization of charisma in the Baháí Faith associated with the passing of 'Abdu'l-Baha. -Ron Price with thanks to Hugh Kenner, The Urban Apocalypse, in Eliot in His Time: Essays on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the The Wasteland, ed. A. Walton Litz, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1973, pp. 2349.
By 1988 when I studied this poem to teach it at matriculation level, a quarter century after studying it in English Literature so I could get into university in Ontario at age 18, pre-publication dates for the poem's writing were defined as far as possible.
This central poem, this determinant of our modern consciousness, which told us something of who we are was finished in those same transition months after 'Abdu'l-Baha's death to the start of the laying of the foundations for the erection of the Administrative Order of this Faith as set forth in His final Will.1
1 Lawrence Rainey, "Eliot Among the Typists: Writing The Waste Land," Modernism/modernity, Volume 12, Number 1, January 2005. Ron Price 12 January 2007
The seductiveness of other systems of ideas and fallacious philosophies which tried to explain the whole machina mundi, which had captivated the intellect and the emotions of many a previous generation still lingered into the twentieth century and the epochs that were the time frame of my life like dessicated carcasses. These systems formed a part of the backdrop of my life from the 1940s to the first years of the new millennium: the pseudo-scientific system of Marxism which was in its last years as I was beginning to write this memoir in the 1980s; the purely pragmatic systems of capitalism and humanistic liberal democracy were rapidly losing their hold on the minds and consciences of those who once worshipped, often unknowingly, at their alters; the quite pathological systems of Nazism and Fascism were coming to an end in the first two years of my life and the several traditional religions of history had spawned a host of strange bedfellows wholly inadequate to the slough of despond that was descending on humanity in my time, in the lifetime of my parents and, arguably, my grandparents.
Some poets were aware of this rupture, this massive and intense discontinuity. T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden seemed to have been the only poets who pondered and lamented this significance, this tempest that was ripping the world to shreds; other poets sought substitutes, things that might suffice. Vague and embattled nostalgia for love and morality, the desperation to believe that through some fortuitous conjunction of cirumstances it might be possible to bend the conditions of human life into conformity with prevailing human desires was still a hope in these epochs. Such a hope was not only illusory it failed to recognize the profound changes and the magnitude of the ruin of our time. The only solution to the predicament of the epochs I have lived through is the restoration of its centre around truths that are perennial but not archaic. It is toward this centre that humanity in its disasterous quest ...
Today's hyper technology is a condition of the collective mentality where information is racing across the globe at an unprecedented rate.
What one thinks of in one continent is picked up in another. These "thoughts" are transmitted throughout the collective mind and spread like a "super computer".
There is a struggle between thoughts of life and death regarding the human race.