ECSTATIC OR TERRIBLE: THE WASTE LAND 'S ‘CRITERION OF “SUBLIMITY”’
AbstractThis essay examines The Waste Land (1922) and other poetic and critical works by T. S. Eliot in order to consider the ‘criterion of “sublimity”’ (‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, 1919) that empowers them. It argues that Eliot's texts present an abridged version of the sublime that stops short of the recuperative moment found in the Kantian and Romantic sublimes. While the ‘negative’ moment of the sublime is preserved, any countervailing restoration at the level of reason (Kant) or imagination (Romanticism) is cancelled. Instead of the sublime being found in the reasoning or imagining self, The Waste Land locates the sublime in the ‘intensity’ of modernist aesthetic form and the nightmare of ‘excess’. Redirecting Maud Ellmann's account of ‘abjection’ in the poem ( The Poetics of Impersonality , 1987), the essay builds on Kristeva's comment that ‘the abject is edged with the sublime’ ( Powers of Horror , 1982) to argue that The Waste Land 's sublime is poised on the border between detritus and meaning, excess and intensity. The essay also draws on Kristeva's account of ‘melancholia’ in Black Sun (1989) to characterize The Waste Land 's battle with symbolic collapse, and argues that The Waste Land 's ‘criterion of “sublimity”’ resides in its courting of and resistance to symbolic dissolution.