First, I regret to admit that I have not gotten through Tom Bradley’s “chymical illuminations” of Mark Vincenz’s This Wasted Land, the even more hilarious and dextrous footnotes to the hilarious and dextrous post(post-post-post?)modern send-up of Eliot’s The Waste Land. (I started my review here.)
I am not sure I have anything too useful to say about them, either, when I am too ignorant to sort the real literary history from the complicated jokes about it from the just plain ribald poppycock.
I will make a few observations, though:
- This Wasted Land, and its “illuminations” (i.e., footnotes) in particular, decenter the intellectual mainstream and choose instead to focus on obscure figures in the history of alchemy and Sophiology and different occult traditions. Bradley takes the pose of intensely admiring probably fraudulent psychic and founding theosophist Madame Blavatsky, who may have been the model for T.S. Eliot’s Madame Sosostris, and he finds all sorts of supposed references to alchemical concepts and the biographies of alchemists past. There is a great deal of deliberate, and very funny, absurdity in how this is done, but I think (or perhaps only hope) that there is a grain of sincerity in it too. I can at least imagine that Bradley’s approach may be “let us treat this poem as if it were based on this alternate Western ‘canon’ that most people would consider just plain goofy in the same way that many texts are based on and interpreted by means of the standard Western canon—and thus show up how goofy said standard canon would look from an outside perspective.” I can also imagine that we are to see that, instead of praying to irrigate Eliot’s waste land, we are alchemically transmuting the base metal of endless sex jokes, deliberate illogic, and fraudulent doctrine into joyful spirituality—but I could, here, just be falling prey to the authors’ humor.
- Did I mention the sex jokes? The footnotes are very bawdy. Unfortunately (perhaps; I have neither the grasp of the intricacies of Bradley’s humor nor the grasp of queer culture to know if this is really unfortunate) a significant amount of what feels like lascivious humor is focused on gender-bending; I can at least imagine accusations that he’s treating whole real identities as something to giggle at/find naughty, and also dimly sense whole areas of critical theory with which he is most likely deliberately and playfully interacting by so doing (stuff about grotesques and monstrosity and Othering and transgression and….). In any event, this is one more area in which he demonstrates fecundity and variety of the culture Eliot saw as a waste land.
- He certainly also pokes fun at the excesses of literary analysis. In particular, he does something I’ve caught myself doing in papers and seen critics do as well: he’ll make some arcane and extraordinarily strained observation and, instead of leaving it as the “ooh aren’t I clever and isn’t this fun” flourish that such things ought to be, take it as Well and Truly Proven and build even more fantastical structures atop it until the reader (and sometimes the writer) cannot help but giggle.
- Last, I’d be interested to know more about how this book came about. Did Vincenz collaborate with Bradley on the footnotes? Did he plan on having the footnotes from the start? Did Vincenz giggle as much as I have reading them?
I do not think I will finish this book right now, but I want to come back to it when I’ve read more. It’s certainly brilliant and funny and deserves more attention than I can give it right now.
Which brings us to the reflections on 2018.
This year hasn’t been as dramatically productive as 2017, but I have: brought out two more zines, started seriously submitting poetry to journals, and read a good lot of good books within the period of the Grad School Bug and without. I still seem to be interested in poetry (indeed, I’ll be taking a paid course on it via web conference next spring); I can’t tell if I’m improving or changing or developing or any of that stuff—maybe “discovering the range of things I want to be able to do” is a better description of what I’m doing. I did not write 120,000 words, but I’ve written a fair bit of random stuff, and, what’s more, I’ve made significant if halting progress revising Evernost. And, for what it’s worth, the Grad School Bug is kind of back.
For 2019 I want to:
- edit two college papers into potential grad school writing samples
- try to finish, revise, and publish my 20-page paper on Diana Wynne Jones
- (gulp gulp gulp) get Evernost-the-Almost-Convenetional-Novel revised into decent shape and submitted to my first-choice publisher
- work my butt off in the poetry class and do the best job I can
I think I can do it—wish me well!