“In all these years, I had only one wish: that writers reached celebrity status, my imagination went as far as becoming the director of Vogue and having only artists and writers on the covers. Careful what you wish for.”
The waste land app: actors perform it, critics dissect it, Pound revises it and Eliot recites it. I am officially turned on, but: what will happen to smelly print?
TS Eliot, iPad pioneer. There is something definitely intriguing about this
title. (peonier : foot soldier French, ped : foot) 1. One who ventures into
unknown or unclaimed territory to settle.
2. One who opens up new areas of thought, research, or development 3. A soldier who performs construction and demolition work in the field to facilitate troop movements.
Out of these three definitions I’ve found in the dictionary, I deliberately choose the third one: construction and demolition, especially when I look at the choices the publishing industry has to make.
The first and second definitions are closer to the poet: TS Eliot. Why did
they choose Eliot for the first iPad application?
For one thing, The Waste Land is the single most read poem in the English language (businesswise means guaranteed popularity). Beyond the numeric reasons, there is an important point to consider. We are now at the beginning of the 21st century. When Eliot published the Waste Land in 1922, he was, together with Pound, considered the father of modernism, it is with him and the “difficulty” of his poems that a new era in literature took off. Eliot represented what was to come in language and communication. The use of foreign languages in his poems is only a proof of how deeply he understood the 20th century and the rise of globalization.
The Waste Land, The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock, starts with an Italian epitaph from Dante’s Inferno canto XXVII, 61-66, to then continue with the first lines of the poem, dear to most of us, because they take us by the hand with such hope and heart:
“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread against the sky”
Metaphorically, to me, it now represents the hope literature, and most precisely the publishing industry, hold in the new century and the “difficulties” internet sets when it comes to print. Might be why the choice to lead the way fell on a poet defined as difficult, if not a pioneer, known for the technical innovation of his poems.
Faber produced the application in partnership with Touch Press, it took two years to produce, and you can download it at the hefty price of 7 p 99 cents. Of course the most alluring sections, and perhaps alarming (in a good way), are the sepulchral versions of the poem by Eliot himself. The most appetizing part of the app is Ezra Pound’s editing marks.
Dare we say, business is business, and publishing is definitely a top level one. Whenever I see a book advertized, I immediately feel controlled by mind stealers. Read this one, not this one, buy this author, acclaim, praise, chick lit, self-help, a cloud of information clustered in my head while I reassuringly look at my private library thinking: yes dear friends, we shall all stay here together and read each other over and over without venturing out in a world in which they try to take off the smell OFF literature. If Verlaine had spat on my book, I would have loved it even more. So what is my point?
I was hiding out and consoling myself with the state of affairs by choosing to write rather than read. I trust academic books more than I trust the must-read novels. I don’t care much for Safran, I even struggle with Ewan (honestly it’s better in movies, but it’s a personal opinion), prefer to read The Master and Margarita over and over.
Until, they got me.
Whoever loves literature, loves authors even more. Whoever writes spends his or her entire life trying to have a deep understanding of the author almost as a friend, a kindred (even if dead) spirit. To fall in love with a book or a poem, if one is lucky enough to do so, is like saving a bit of one’s soul, elevating it, drilling it right from the centre of the universe.
There he was: TS Eliot, my friend, on iPad. Were they really getting it? (They: the publishers, more specifically Faber & Faber). After all the talk about the death of the publishing industry, did they get on with the times and even go a step further?
If at first, I was almost in physical pain from how much I too wanted to hear Eliot himself recite the Waste Land, I couldn’t but raise an eyebrow. After all, I had the same yearning (if not more), when they published Carver’s short stories unedited (and they weren’t so short after all). What was next I asked looking down at the newspaper? It read: a turning point for digital literature. Remember? Construction & Deconstruction go hand in hand. Who was to put the limits into this dangerous yet appealing evolution? What was next I asked myself as a lit-addict: Simone and Jean-Paul in their ménage à trois available on iPad? Camus snoring?
In all these years, I had only one wish: that writers reached celebrity status, my imagination went as far as becoming the director of Vogue and having only artists and writers on the covers. Careful what you wish for.
Culture is something to be revered. Although this wonderful application saves me the time to go and play mouse in the archives of many universities and museums, it’s well presented and edited, it will – in my modest opinion – never equal the pleasure of smell, sweat, and research. Probably, it’s more wishful than precise. I might however acknowledge the fact that this application might prove very efficient in high-schools. No doubt that this is the ebook moment. Although we shall not forget the importance of the “il miglior fabbro”, what Ezra Pound was to Eliot, and what every book needs in matters of authority and quality.
I have an image in my head, maybe it’s from a movie, maybe from a text book: I see books being burned during the Communist era. I feel pain, yet, I now also think of the trees we might save by using technology. I am forever thorn in between. Probably, I am part of what we call a transitional generation. My children might one day use my library as toilet paper, that is in the worst case scenario of course.
Quoting the Waste Land: “On Margaret Sands./ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing”.
By Acelya Yonac