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Unformatted text preview: New Literary History , 2001, 32: 747–768 T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land , the Gramophone, and the Modernist Discourse Network Juan A. Suárez H ere is a well-kept secret about modernism: during the period of composition of The Waste Land , throughout 1921 and early 1922, T. S. Eliot was attached to his gramophone much in the same way as Andy Warhol was later “married” to his movie camera, polaroid, and tape recorder. Both artists, representative of very different cultural moments and vastly separate in ideology, social and cultural positioning, self-understanding, and public personae, were nonetheless equally dependent on the technological continuum for the production of their work. While Warhol ﬂaunted this dependence and a sense of kinship with the machine (“I’ve always wanted to be a machine”), 1 Eliot concealed it, recoiling into interiority, religion, myth, and tradition. But for a brief moment, Eliot’s writing, like Warhol’s multimedia projects, was uneasily entangled in gadgets, circuits, media networks, and tech- nologies of textual production and reproduction. If Warhol mimed the workings of his gadgets, so did Eliot; if Warhol was a recorder-camera- xerox machine, Eliot was a gramophone. But the point here is not to pursue the (certainly contrived) parallel between these two wildly divergent figures. It is to rescue the technological dependency of one of the gray eminences of modernism and to resituate The Waste Land , an “apotheosis of modernity” 2 and mainstay of the twentieth-century canon, within the discourse networks of its time. The term “discourse network” (English translation of Aufschreibesystem ) was coined by German historian and theorist Friedrich A. Kittler to designate the material and ideological substratum of discourse and textuality—the web of “technologies and institutions that allow a given culture to select, store and produce relevant data.” 3 A discourse network is, then, a sort of unconscious, or impensé, of signification. In a way, the concept combines Michel Foucault’s concept of the “archive,” which had been applied mostly to print culture, with Marshall McLuhan’s insights on the inﬂuence of media technologies on thought and cultural processes. In Kittler’s work the term has a materialistic thrust. It seeks to deﬂect the interiorizing, psychologizing tendency of traditional literary hermeneutics by exploring how the material support, or hardware, of new literary history 748 signification shapes textuality. This hardware connects abstract mean- ings to real, tangible bodies, and bodies to regimes of power, informa- tion channels, and institutions. Discourse and information hardware filter out some signals as “noise” and process others as meaningful. At the same time, conceptions of “noise” and “meaning” are never sanc- tioned within a single discursive realm or medium. They are promoted and circulated by partially connected notation and information proto-...
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- Spring '10
- Phonograph, waste land, new literary history