Thursday, June 23, 2005

W illiam Burroughs & T.S. Eliot Fighting in the Captain's Tower

'The Generalist' is all about connectivity, so when I was in my kitchen listening to Radio 4 and heard Prof. Lawrence Rainey talking about how he had called the FBI in to help him crack the case of how T.S. Eliot had written 'The Waste Land' I got quite excited. If you're quick you can still listen to it on Radio 4's website: . Click on Wednesday.

Prof. Rainey spent two years travelling acros the US and Europe to sort out the sequence in which Eliot had written the poem. See:,3858,5220786-108233,00.html
He argues in his book 'Revisiting 'The Waste Land' [Yale University Press] that Eliot did not follow a plan in his composition but stitched together more than 50 drafts. 'The Waste Land', he says, was not seamless whole, but somethimg more radical.

I immediately dropped him a line asking him if he knew of the Burroughs connection (see previous posting in which Burroughs said: ' I was very impressed with 'The Waste Land.' He was a very, very great poet and that, in a sense, was an early cut-up, very successful. I never met him personally.')

Prof. Rainey replied: 'I hadn't known of the connection, but I think Burroughs is right on target. Early admirers of the poem, hoping to forestall the charge that it was incoherent, sought to portray it as a narrative, a modernized Grail legend. But it wasn't. The "Waste Land" doesn't have a narrative; instead it has the scent of a narrative, as discernible as the perfume of a woman who has left the room.'

If you read of the story of how 'The Naked Lunch' was pieced together by Allen Ginsberg you will see there is a strong connection. Both writers, incidentally, hail from St. Louis.

Also fascinating is Pro Rainey's current research into 'Office Politics: the Secretary in Film and Fiction, 1840-1940 (America, Britain, France, and Germany). See:
Again there is a connection here: Burroughs' grandfather was the inventor of the adding machine.

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