Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Waste Land = Facebook? and Prufrock vs. Sweeney

I'd like to put forth the argument that Facebook, in many ways (for better or worse), is a modern day waste land, and that The Waste Land is an early Facebook.

Why argue this? Well, the more educators can relate any given text to students' lives the better! After all, what value is there in teaching a Eurocentric poem by a white male in a classroom dominated predominately by other races/ethnic groups, not to mention the already biased lean towards male authors.

So, I'd like to suggest that we ground the text, anchor it to something in students' lives. Andrew has already suggested that Eliot's works are comparable to contemporary hip hop, what with his poetry's use of allusions being akin to sampling music, which creates a visual and aural collage for the reader composed of a number of seemingly unrelated parts which fit seamlessly together.

Facebook is just another anchor for The Waste Land. More specifically, The Waste Land is Eliot's Facebook homepage. Every allusion is an update, a "tweet," if you will (although I'm getting ahead of myself now!), and all of Eliot's posts are a direct reflection of what he is seeing on other people's Facebooks.

The utility of this notion is overarching and takes time, but ideally if students responded daily to their lives in a single line, writing about either someone or something that they feel informs their idea of their own personal waste land, then over time, unknowingly (and likely unwillingly) they will have composed their own waste land, by merely having reacted, reflected, and responded to what they have observed. Instead of simply asking students to write about their own personal waste land, they will obverse it. And under the guise of their "Facebook," students will already be accustomed to and comfortable with the idea of expressing themselves in short bursts to a broad audience.

As far as meeting our goals, this "activity" touches on students' personal waste lands, their recognition of themselves as texts, recontextualization, teaching them how to "read the world," and metacognition.

When observing the Waste Land as a panoramic view of the modern world, it helps students to feel less overwhelmed if we begin analyzing its principle players, who, arguably, are either the Prufrocks or Sweeneys of our world who perpetuate the waste land. Instead of teaching these three poems as separate entities, when viewed as one suddenly a narrative is constructable. Plus, students will be able to "construct" or complete the characters of Prufrock and Sweeney to observe how they operate in the Waste Land. With no strict right or wrong answers, students will be able to freely explore the Waste Land and begin to develop the characters that are actually in the poem.

The first step is to find the similarities and differences between Sweeney and Prufrock: how both look, act, speak, what they feel, where they fit in, where they don't fit in, and how both either perpetuate or alleviate the pains of the waste land. It's arguable that as early as the writing of Prufrock Eliot was witnessing the waste land. If so, does Prufrock participate in it, or does his apathy (or fear) perpetuate it as much as Sweeney's romping around for sex and fun? There might be limitations, of course, during the teaching of Sweeney Among the Nightingales, but that could be worked out later, or even excluded: the important part is that students actively engage in creating characters from poems that are seemingly without, so that when it comes time to read The Waste Land students will already be versed in imagining what is sometimes nothing more than a sketch within the poem.

Nick V.