In 1949 Eric Havelock gave a lecture at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of New England, ‘The Journey of Aeneas through the Waste Land’.1 He repeated it at Vassar in that same year as recorded in an announcement for a later (1952) lecture there:
His lecture here in 1949 on Aeneas’ Journey through the Waste Land, one of the most memorable ever presented at Vassar, traced the parallelism between T. S. Eliot’s poem and the quest of Virgil’s Aeneas. (Vassar Chronicle, Volume IX, Number 25, 10 May 1952, p 1)2
That the 1949 lecture on ‘The Journey of Aeneas through the Waste Land’ was indeed “memorial” is amply demonstrated by this announcement for another lecture three years later. But Havelock never published it and ongoing attempts to locate it in the Eric Havelock papers at Yale have proved unsuccessful. However, Havelock did publish ‘The Aeneid and Its Translators‘ in The Hudson Review in 1974 and there are convincing reasons to suppose that Havelock used his earlier ‘Journey through the Waste Land’ lecture in composing it.
Havelock’s abstract of the 1949 lecture has been preserved in the Annual Bulletin of the Classical Association of New England (#44, 1949, p 17-18):
The Journey of Aeneas through the Waste Land
The Aeneid has been estimated as the work of a semi-official poet-laureate celebrating Rome’s history and destiny, as these are prefigured in the career of its hero, To counterbalance its official optimism, critics have thought they discerned a mysterious sadness lingering in the poem, and bordering on the sentimental. The tenor of the first book in particular, with its confident prophecies and lacrimae rerum, lends superficial support to this estimate. But in fact the poetic equation is more complicated. (a) The smooth and dignified surface of the theme is continually violated by the upthrust of something emotionally uncontrolled and violent, an internal disturbance of the poetic consciousness which almost cancels the poem’s basic faith in heaven, history, and man. (b) The narrative epic of action is in part an illusion, devised to put on parade a series of states of the inner consciousness. The poem is to some degree a dream, or more correctly a nightmare. These contradictions are conspicuous in the second, fourth, and sixth books, though not peculiar to them. The Aeneid is a work of divided genius.
This abstract and the 1974 essay correspond closely. For one thing, Eliot’s 1922 Waste Land which appears in the title of the 1949 lecture has a significant role, or roles, in ‘The Aeneid and Its Translators’. It is specifically cited in a passage which may be taken as suggesting that ‘the rise and fall of cities’ is a central topic of Virgil’s epic:
The city that at once confronts us in the twelfth line of the poem is Carthage — urbs antiqua fuit (I, 12) — which, as [Aeneas] abandons it in the conclusion of the Dido episode, is prefigured as a city overwhelmed and set on fire by its enemies (IV, 669-671; V, 3-5). The second is Troy which collapses in ashes — urbs antiqua ruit, multos dominata per annos; the formula varies, the theme is constant, and when he adds “for many years mistress of the world,” he could be talking of Rome herself. He carries both these cities of destruction with him into Italy. As the last battle of the epic rises to its climax, he summons his forces to destroy utterly the capital of the Latins. The city is set on fire (XII, 572-611) and its ultimate fate is, in the poem, left unresolved. Yet these are the people with whom he is supposed to unite his Trojans in a peaceful union in order to achieve a common destiny.
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria
In short, as Havelock continues this passage in the 1974 essay, “The Waste Land can furnish better comment on the Aeneid than is found in Mr. Eliot’s essays on the same subject.”
The sort of “better comment” furnished by The Waste Land is captured in this paragraph of Havelock’s essay:
The world which [Virgil] reports is already old and its inhabitants are living in a time of trouble. His Latin deserves to be read with an attention close enough to recapture for this generation a view of reality imprisoned in his verse which is more complex and also more contemporary than at first appears. If, in the contradictions of his tale, success is so often flawed by doubt and security so often undercut by hate, terror or despair, this need not surprise us. We encounter an experience closer, I dare say, to our own ambiguous image of ourselves in this the second half of the twentieth century than we are likely to discover in the clearer light and simpler affirmations of the Homeric saga. When Homer lived and sang, the world was younger and the gods still walked the earth with men.
Compare the 1949 abstract:
the poetic equation is (…) complicated. (a) The smooth and dignified surface of the theme is continually violated by the upthrust of something emotionally uncontrolled and violent, an internal disturbance of the poetic consciousness which almost cancels the poem’s basic faith in heaven, history, and man. (b) The narrative epic of action is in part an illusion, devised to put on parade a series of states of the inner consciousness. The poem is to some degree a dream, or more correctly a nightmare.
It is not so much in content, however, but in poetic technique where Havelock (himself a published poet) finds “better comment” on Virgil in The Waste Land:
the particular critical error to which this essay has tried to call attention lies in the field of poetics. It has consisted in an initial misjudgment of the style of the Virgilian verse and therefore of the canons to which its translation should respond. These have been set by the notion that the theme of the poem is historical and that its content is a narrative of epic action. (…) A preconception of epic continuity has prevailed to smooth over an arresting heaviness of rhythm, employed by Virgil to mark an abrupt descent of the mind to a level below previously expressed experience. (…) My present purpose is addressed to the way in which the psychological dimension is so often inserted into the poem discontinuously by way of that kind of interruption which has the effect of reversing or cancelling with poetic rudeness a mood of security and relaxation, or of confidence and hope, into which the reader has been seduced, as it were, by previous description. (…) A calm surface previously prepared is suddenly and deliberately disrupted by the upthrust of an experience which is psychological. The shift, that is to say, from bright light to the colors of gloom, is also a shift from the description of events occurring in the external world, the world of action and movement and consciously articulated speech, to the internal world of the human consciousness. A change in levels of poetic description has occurred. The poet’s verse has taken a plunge downward below the surface of the conscious life. (…) Not action, but reflection, and not sinuous sweep, but interruption and arrest, constitute the genius of the lines.4
It may be significant that in 1973, the year before ‘The Aeneid and Its Translators’ appeared, Havelock published ‘The Sophistication of Homer’ in a Festschrift for I.A. Richards. This 1973 essay was originally a lecture given at UT in 1946. ‘The Aeneid and Its Translators’ seems to have had a similar history. For one reason or another, Havelock, then in his seventies, may have been putting his affairs in order at this time. Publication of these two lectures from the 1940s may have been on his bucket list.
It is not (yet) known exactly to what extent Havelock used ‘The Journey of Aeneas through the Waste Land’ in composing ‘The Aeneid and Its Translators’. Nor is it known if McLuhan had access to Havelock’s 1949 lecture (and his 1946 one?) in some way. But what is clear, despite these admitted unknowns, are the many striking parallels between Havelock’s 1973 and 1974 essays and McLuhan’s publications 25 years earlier around 1950. Now either these originated independently or one was dependent on the other. In turn, if there were dependence, it must have been McLuhan on Havelock, and not vice versa, since the points at stake appear suddenly in McLuhan’s work at this time, but have roots in Havelock’s work going back at least to his 1939 Lyric Genius of Catullus. Finally, if McLuhan’s essays around 1950 grew out of Havelock’s poetics, they of course did not do so out of work that was to be published only far in the future. The hypothetical conclusion follows that McLuhan came to know one or both of Havelock’s 1946 and 1949 lectures, ‘The Sophistication of Homer’ and ‘The Journey of Aeneas through the Waste Land’, soon after they were delivered. And that they then had truly decisive influence on his thought.
Future posts will need to consider in detail how Havelock’s poetics were put to use in McLuhan’s developing project. Only an overview can be offered here:
- In 1949 McLuhan and Hugh Kenner were working together on a projected Eliot book. McLuhan published an article (‘Mr Eliot’s Historical Decorum’, 1949) and a review of eleven books on Eliot (1950) in this period.
- In his correspondence, particularly with Ezra Pound, McLuhan would record his on-going research into Virgil and especially the figure of the labyrinth, or labyrinths, in the Aeneid. Concerns with Eliot and the labyrinthine were not new to McLuhan at this time, of course, but this existing interest would surely have attracted him to Havelock’s 1949 Aeneas essay and supplied the seedbed for its fertility within his work.
- Even at the level of vocabulary, Havelock’s influence seems clear. In ‘The Aeneid and Its Translators’ he writes of Virgil’s poetics in terms of ‘arrest’, ‘reversal’, ‘interruption’, ‘discontinuity’ and ‘disruption’ — all terms McLuhan would start to employ around 1950 in describing what he called ‘the aesthetic moment’ (leading, later, to ‘the gap where the action is’).
- Havelock introduces his main concern as follows: “My present purpose is addressed to the way in which the psychological dimension is so often inserted into the poem discontinuously by way of that kind of interruption which has the effect of reversing or cancelling with poetic rudeness a mood of security and relaxation, or of confidence and hope, into which the reader has been seduced, as it were, by previous description.” This “psychological dimension” is called “an exposure of his own consciousness, his animus” and represents “a shift from the description of events occurring in the external world, the world of action and movement and consciously articulated speech, to the internal world of the human consciousness.” McLuhan would appeal to such an “interior landscape” for the rest of his life (to the extent of giving the collection of his literary essays this title in 1969) and would find in its elaboration the distinctive movement of modern art and, indeed, science.
- “Description of events occurring in the external world, the world of action and movement and consciously articulated speech” may be called ‘epic’ and epic in this sense contrasted with “the internal world of the human consciousness”. So: “A preconception of epic continuity has prevailed to smooth over an arresting heaviness of rhythm, employed by Virgil to mark an abrupt descent of the mind to a level below previously expressed experience,” Again: “These words emerge from his inner consciousness, not from the external requirements of the epic narrative.” By denying the “preconception of epic continuity” Havelock was denying its unbroken singularity and affirming its divided plurality. Instead of epic singular, then, epics plural. But epics plural are necessarily smaller than epic singular and may therefore be called ‘little epic’ or ‘epyllion’ or ‘epiclet’ (Joyce5). As Marchand and others have described, McLuhan became fascinated by this topic of the epyllion around this time and remained so for decades.
- Havelock writes that “not action, but reflection, and not sinuous sweep, but interruption and arrest, constitute the genius of [Virgil’s] lines.” They thereby represent “a shift from the description of events occurring in the external world, the world of action and movement and consciously articulated speech, to the internal world of the human consciousness.” A plurality of worlds is at stake here, then, as well as a plurality of times within and between these worlds. Hence, as McLuhan has it in The Gutenberg Galaxy (citing Georges Poulet): “For the man of the Middle Ages, then, there was not one duration only. There were durations, ranked one above another, and not only in the universality of the exterior world but within himself, in his own nature, in his own human existence” (14; also Through the Vanishing Point, 9). And now today in the “electric era”, superseding the Gutenberg galaxy, once again “plurality-of-times succeeds uniformity-of-time.” (Understanding Media, 152) McLuhan was still trying to think through the implications of this plurality when he died in 1980. It is broached repeatedly in the notes used for the posthumous Global Village.
In his 1951 essay ‘Dos Passos: Technique vs. Sensibility’, McLuhan noted the demand placed on the artist:
to explore the interior landscape which is the wasteland of the human heart6
And in another 1951 essay he described this demand in relation to Eliot at some length:
The principal innovation was that of le paysage interieur or the psychological landscape. This landscape, by means of discontinuity, which was first developed in picturesque painting, effected the apposition of widely diverse objects as a means of establishing what Mr. Eliot has called ‘an objective correlative’ for a state of mind. The openings of ‘Prufrock’, ‘Gerontion’ and The Waste Land illustrate Mr. Eliot’s growth in the adaptation of this technique, as he passed from the influence of Laforgue to that of Rimbaud, from personal to impersonal manipulation of experience. Whereas in external landscape diverse things lie side by side, so in psychological landscape the juxtaposition of various things and experiences becomes a precise musical means of orchestrating that which could never be rendered by systematic discourse. Landscape is the means of presenting, without the copula of logical enunciation, experiences which are united in existence but not in conceptual thought. (Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry)
- See here under ‘3/18-19/1949’. ↩
- The full announcement reads: “Harvard Faculty’s Prof Havelock Will Discuss The Trial of Socrates. Why Was Socrates Tried? Professor E. A. Havelock of Harvard University will examine one of the fundamental problems in the development of Western humanism in his lecture next Tuesday evening (May 13, 1952) at 8:30 in Taylor. Professor Havelock, who is speaking under the auspices of the Department of Classics, will use part of the material from his courses on “The Estate of Man” as conceived by the poets and thinkers of classical antiquity. After his lecture, which is open to the public, the Classical Society will entertain in his honor. Before joining the Harvard Faculty, Professor Havelock. who was educated at Cambridge University, taught at the University of Toronto, where Dean Tait (Marion Tate, born in Saskatoon) studied with him. His lecture here in 1949 on Aeneas’ Journey through the Waste Land, one of the most memorable ever presented at Vassar, traced the parallelism between T. S. Eliot’s poem and the quest of Virgil’s Aeneas. Professor Havelock has published two interpretations of classical literature: The Lyric Genius of Catullus and The Crucifixion of Intellectual Man, a study of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. Both books incorporate Professor Havelock’s verse translations of the originals. His forthcoming book is Socrates and the Soul of Man. an examination of a subject in which he has long been interested.” Havelock’s 1952 Vassar lecture Why Was Socrates Tried? was published that same year in the Festschrift for his friend and former colleague at UT, Gilbert Norwood (Studies in Honour of Gilbert Norwood, ed Mary E. White, 1952). ↩
- The Waste Land, v. What the Thunder Said ↩
- ‘The Aeneid and Its Translators‘, The Hudson Review, 27:3 (Autumn, 1974), pp. 338-370; the text blocks given here are verbatum, but they have been reordered. ↩
- In a letter to Constantine Curran from July 1904: “I am writing a series of epiclets — ten — for a paper. I have written one. I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city.” This term has been a matter of some controversy in Joyce research owing to the fact that it was mistranscribed as ‘epicleti‘ in his Letters and has been taken as an allusion to Gk epiklesis — which, among other meanings, is the evocation of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of sacrifice in the mass. But surely there is no need to see an either/or at work here — Joyce’s genius worked exactly through such multi-lingual puns. ↩
- The Interior Landscape, 53, emphasis added. ↩