“Then he had been a young girl”: Cultural transmissions and simultaneous subjectivities in Eliot’s The Death of Saint Narcissus and The Waste Land - Université de La Réunion Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2023

“Then he had been a young girl”: Cultural transmissions and simultaneous subjectivities in Eliot’s The Death of Saint Narcissus and The Waste Land

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Abstract

‘The Death of Saint Narcissus’, written between 1912 and 1915, was not widely available in Eliot’s lifetime. His late widow Valerie Eliot wrote that the ‘Chief interest’ of the poem was the “1st seven lines obviously recast” in The Waste Land, ll.25-30. However, the poem also shares deeper links with The Waste Land, namely, a pointed interest in transformation between the sexes and between human, animal and vegetation, as well as a concern with the aggressor/victim dynamic. Moreover, these multiple perspectives sometimes exist simultaneously: the “He” of the poem “had been a fish” and the hand that clutches it; “he had been a young girl” and the “drunken old man” who assaults her. These oppositional subjectivities attain a consummative merging through the transgressive re-imagining of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom as narcissistic sadomasochism. Such transformations are also found in The Waste Land: the drowned sailor whose eyes become pearls, Philomel who metamorphoses into a nightingale, the corpse that sprouts into a plant. Further, these various figures unite in Tiresias: “Just as the one-eyed merchant, […] melts into the Phoenician sailor […], so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias.” While most mythical versions have Tiresias switch from one binary gender to the other, Eliot’s “old man with wrinkled female breasts” allow for a simultaneity of gendered perspectives. This paper will comprise a comparative study with a focus on trans-figurative, co-existing subjectivities while also reflecting on historical transmissions, from both classical and Christian traditions to modernist aesthetics.

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hal-04224514 , version 1 (02-10-2023)

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  • HAL Id : hal-04224514 , version 1

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Kit Kumiko Toda. “Then he had been a young girl”: Cultural transmissions and simultaneous subjectivities in Eliot’s The Death of Saint Narcissus and The Waste Land. Congrès annuel de la SAES 2023 : Transmission(s), SAES (Société des Anglicistes de l'Enseignement Supérieur); Université Rennes 2, Jun 2023, Rennes, France. ⟨hal-04224514⟩
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