Difficulties when teaching T.S. Eliots, The Wasteland

During our class discussion of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland we were able to talk about the fact that some difficulties are presented in teaching the poem, but I’m not sure that we were able to offer a concrete solution about what should be put together. These are some of the ideas I brought in to share about teaching the poem.  Classroom discussion was very helpful in that we could bring in our opinions to see if they were well received and appropriate for teaching.  Pairing Backwards Design, Conversations with Texts, and many other class readings this would be my plan for future students to be able to experience The Wasteland. :

If we see all pieces of art as equal opportunists of expression for a moment, we could situate Elliot’s “Wasteland” between Rene Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe where the audience is given an image of a pipe and told in the same moment “This is not a pipe,” which displays the Platonic philosophy of the fallacy of representations and describes the confused nature of the world in which the people were inhabiting. Such atrocities were happening, yet not being called out as such. Following “The Wasteland,” art seems to burst out in Pollock’s dripped and flung paint on canvas which seems to deliver an expression of chaos, also describing the confused nature of the world the people were inhabiting. The modernist movement, which seems pillared by “The Wasteland” produced pieces of art that displayed the emotional tumultuousness, as well as glimmerings of hope, of the day. The disarray delivered by Pollock could be inspired by the same concepts of being that Eliot was struggling to describe.

The “Wasteland” is about a world gone wrong.

Langston Hughes writes “One-way Ticket” about how both he, and the world, needs more. He says he needs to go to another place, where all of this hate doesn’t exist. The oppression, racism, and threat to his very existence physically and metaphorically is poignantly displayed in his poem. I wonder if we could share this poem along with the “Wasteland” to show another prospective. To give another prolific writer the chance to give his first hand account and interpretation of events going on at the time.

The commonality of these works is a hope for the future. By declaring that the world is a “Wasteland” Elliot is imploring us to fix it. Hughes proclaims, “I pick up my life and take it with me and I put it down in Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Scranton, any place that is North and East – And not Dixie… I pick up my life and take it on the train…” At the end, the poem states, “I pick up my life and take it away on a one-way ticket – gone up north. Gone out west. Gone!”

Hughes encapsulates the telling of suffering, and we can say it is a reflection of the society. Out of the worst of times, some art did come. Isn’t art a glimmer of hope, which rises and rises, until it’s a burst of full-blown happiness?

My theme in teaching the “Wasteland” would be about the individual’s minds eye during America at this time. I would begin by showing the artistic pictures, from before and after Eliot, and talking about the time period in which they lived. The modernist art movement was a display of the emotions of the people and Eliot’s work contributed to defining a way in which those emotions could be displayed through art. We could discuss New Criticism. We could also discuss the responsibility that there is in art.

To end the class I would want to speak about difficulty once more. The difficulty that artists have to decipher about how they may deliver a work that will at once be widely received opposed to a work that contains only highly human moralities. Often the most famous works will contain both.

For homework, I would ask students to re-read “The Wasteland” and to choose a portion that we discussed in class that they find most compelling to post on the class forum. The students would then give an analysis of the form and content using notes from class. (Assignment 1)

We could talk about Hughes and his concise writing style. We could return to the paintings of Pollock to discuss the abstract expressionist movement. For homework, I would then ask the students to compose a stanza utilizing the gestural expressionist “drip method.” (Assignment 2)

The end of class final would allow a few choices of essay prompts. Some of the prompts would be about connecting the artistic concepts to discourse about the social constructs. (Assessment)




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