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Impossible ModernismT. S. Eliot, Walter Benjamin, and the Critique of Historical Reason$
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Robert S. Lehman

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780804799041

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804799041.001.0001

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(p.59) Chapter 2 Satire
Impossible Modernism

Robert S. Lehman

Stanford University Press

The second chapter treats the formal role played by satire in the drafts of The Waste Land, focusing in particular on T. S. Eliot’s parody of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock in an early version of “The Fire Sermon.” In Eliot’s hands, satire becomes a means of responding to a specifically modernist crisis in aesthetic judgment: the seeming impossibility of distinguishing, after the collapse of traditional standards of beauty, popular charlatans from individuals of real talent. By placing The Waste Land under the sign of satire, Eliot attempts to distinguish his long poem from the wasteland of literary history that it recollects. The disappearance of satire from the final version of The Waste Land following the editorial suggestions of Pound, and Eliot’s replacement of his earlier satirical method by the so-called “mythical method” reflect satire’s failure to accomplish its task.

Keywords:   T. S. Eliot, Poetics, Satire, The Waste Land, Ezra Pound, Historicism

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