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Paul_Hochman
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Eugenides and Eliot's The Waste Land

On Page 50 of the paperback, Eugenides quotes a stanza from The Waste Land that begins "Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant". Did anyone else find this a tad clunky? Obviously, if Eliot had used my surname, I'd drop it into conversations when I could, but it seems an odd fit here. Did he intentionally set the locale in Smyrna just to point this famous inclusion out?
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x-tempo
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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Eugenides and Eliot's The Waste Land


PaulH wrote:
On Page 50 of the paperback, Eugenides quotes a stanza from The Waste Land that begins "Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant". Did anyone else find this a tad clunky? Obviously, if Eliot had used my surname, I'd drop it into conversations when I could, but it seems an odd fit here. Did he intentionally set the locale in Smyrna just to point this famous inclusion out?




Hi Paul, Although it's been a while since I read Middlesex -- for a discussion on the old B&N forums actually -- I remember the quote from the Waste Land. While it is contrived, as you say, it seems almost uncannily fitting, first because the 1922 publication of Eliot's poem coincides with the Great Fire of Smyrna, and secondly because of the nature of the encounter between Mr. Eugenides and the speaker who imagines himself as Tiresias, the blind prophet of Greek mythology whose transformed gender identity matches that of Cal/Calliope and the changing national identity of Smyrna/Izmir. "A pocketful of currants" is a double entendre (currants/currents) which implies a sea voyage which may also be an allusion to Greek mythology, but here signifies immigration.

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/section4.rhtml
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Paul_Hochman
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Re: Eugenides and Eliot's The Waste Land



x-tempo wrote:

PaulH wrote:
On Page 50 of the paperback, Eugenides quotes a stanza from The Waste Land that begins "Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant". Did anyone else find this a tad clunky? Obviously, if Eliot had used my surname, I'd drop it into conversations when I could, but it seems an odd fit here. Did he intentionally set the locale in Smyrna just to point this famous inclusion out?




Hi Paul, Although it's been a while since I read Middlesex -- for a discussion on the old B&N forums actually -- I remember the quote from the Waste Land. While it is contrived, as you say, it seems almost uncannily fitting, first because the 1922 publication of Eliot's poem coincides with the Great Fire of Smyrna, and secondly because of the nature of the encounter between Mr. Eugenides and the speaker who imagines himself as Tiresias, the blind prophet of Greek mythology whose transformed gender identity matches that of Cal/Calliope and the changing national identity of Smyrna/Izmir. "A pocketful of currants" is a double entendre (currants/currents) which implies a sea voyage which may also be an allusion to Greek mythology, but here signifies immigration.

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/section4.rhtml




Thanks for this, x-tempo. Excellent insight.
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x-tempo
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Re: Eugenides and Eliot's The Waste Land

Thanks, PaulH. Like you, I was intrigued by the stanza from T.S. Eliot's poem when I first read Middlesex, however, as I remember, no one commented on it in the previous discussion. I tried to follow it up, but since I really don't know the poem, it was almost impossible. I even wondered if that stanza might have inspired the novel (just talking off the top of my head).

T.S. Eliot's notes to The Waste Land explain the connection I was thinking of, the one between Mr. Eugenides and the Phoenician Sailor who first appears in Part I, The Burial of the Dead:

218. Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a "character," is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenecian Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. The whole passage from Ovid is of great anthropological interest: "...Cum lunone et maior vestra profecto est Quam..."

The following excerpt from a critical essay on the Waste Land, "Imagism and Its Consequences" by Graham Hough, explains the double entendre:

We have already remarked that Phlebas the Phoenician had a prior existence in another context and was included by chance or outside suggestion. True, a place is rather arbitrarily prepared for him; Madame Sosostris the clairvoyant, who is supposed to be using a Tarot pack, produces the card of the drowned Phoenician Sailor -- which in not a member of the Tarot pack -- in order to suggest in advance that Phlebas has some part in the structure of the poem. But what his part is remains quite uncertain. Here the commentators for the most part insist on resolutely marking time, for fear of committing themselves to a false step; and we are even bidden to observe that the "currents" which pick the drowned Phlebas's bones have a forerunner in the "currants" in the pocket of Mr. Eugenides the Smyrna merchant. Surely the last refuge of baffled imbecility.

Paul H, I haven't studied The Waste Land, so I can't comment further, but the allusion to The Waste Land aside, I would say that this part of the narration, written in the second-person voice ("Everything you need to know about Smyrna is contained in that."), uses postmodernist and metafictional devices which include directly addressing the reader in the act of reading, interpolating a fragment from another fictional work (one which is in fact a key work of modernism), and drawing attention to its own status as an artifact by having an intrusive narrator point out the author's name in another text.

I think there may be other examples of this in the novel. Some novels I've read which use similar metaficitional devices are If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino and The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.

thanks,
steve
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bentley
Posts: 2,509
Registered: ‎01-31-2007
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Re: Eugenides and Eliot's The Waste Land



x-tempo wrote:

PaulH wrote:
On Page 50 of the paperback, Eugenides quotes a stanza from The Waste Land that begins "Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant". Did anyone else find this a tad clunky? Obviously, if Eliot had used my surname, I'd drop it into conversations when I could, but it seems an odd fit here. Did he intentionally set the locale in Smyrna just to point this famous inclusion out?




Hi Paul, Although it's been a while since I read Middlesex -- for a discussion on the old B&N forums actually -- I remember the quote from the Waste Land. While it is contrived, as you say, it seems almost uncannily fitting, first because the 1922 publication of Eliot's poem coincides with the Great Fire of Smyrna, and secondly because of the nature of the encounter between Mr. Eugenides and the speaker who imagines himself as Tiresias, the blind prophet of Greek mythology whose transformed gender identity matches that of Cal/Calliope and the changing national identity of Smyrna/Izmir. "A pocketful of currants" is a double entendre (currants/currents) which implies a sea voyage which may also be an allusion to Greek mythology, but here signifies immigration.

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/section4.rhtml




Thank you x-tempo for the above.

Bentley
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Paul_Hochman
Posts: 2,801
Registered: ‎03-23-2007
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Re: Eugenides and Eliot's The Waste Land

Yes. Thanks again, x-tempo. As I'm far from an Eliot scholar myself, your posts have been extremely helpful.
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