In the waste land of allusions

I still dislike Ergo Proxy. The appearance of Disney characters was just too much for me, and it didn’t help that the allusions of the series did not really improve one’s understanding of the show. The series also had inconsistent animation. There were times, however, when the series stepped up to bat and retained some of the awesome quality that it had in its first two episodes: I loved the series’s portrayal of their wasteland, and I also loved the episode where Re-l for a moment represented Ophelia, a character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

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The series had a lot of allusions to philosophy, literature, and the different humanities. There was something lacking in the series, however, because despite the allusions there wasn’t really any meaning to the series. This is purely a personal view, but the series seemed to allude simply because it was fun to do it: this, however, does not suggest intelligence. Esoterica does not connote intelligence: that would be a non sequitur. With that realization, I dropped the series without a second thought.

The series was a stark contrast to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I’m not a scholar of the poem, but I do think the time I spent analyzing the poem has some merit to it. (Besides, some people spent all their life deconstructing the said poem, and they hadn’t even found everything yet.) The Waste Land, alongside Joyce’s Ulysses, is noted by many to be among the most powerful representations of 20th century literature: Joyce took that honor of being the capstone of the novel; Eliot took that honor for the poem.

I’m not an English teacher. I’m not a literary pundit. I can appreciate majesty, however, when I see it, and The Waste Land is one of the rulers of modern poetry. The poem starts with a haunting epigraph taken from Petronius’s Satyricon. It translates to: “For once I saw with my own eyes the Cumean Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked the Sibyl, ‘what do you want?’ she answered ‘I want to die’.”

One can note the paralysis of the Sibyl: she cannot even decide for herself to die. This prefaces the whole poem because the whole poem is a reflection of modern inaction, indecision, and apathy (themes that would recur in Eliot’s future poems). The different personas and the different characters that are present in the poem share one distinct characteristic: it is the inability to act. The Sibyl herself is denied even the last resort of the self-reliant which is suicide.

The poem is sprawling: it is divided into five sections, and there are numerous allusions interspersed within each one of them. If I tried venturing deeply within every section, I could probably write a whole book (and people have done that) on just the poem. But since this is just a blog, I think that the whole poem is a representation and a restatement of the poem’s epigraph: Eliot becomes a philosophical anthropologist who chronicles the modern condition yet tries to distance himself from his own work. This is starkly contrasting with the ideas of the poet as messenger, the poet as romantic or positive, or the poet as historian. The work itself is a mesh of anachronisms, from the Shakespearean Rag of 1912 to Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy. The past and the present are enmeshed and situated as if beside one another. There is no total meaning, but there is meaning present: no matter how obscure the allusions were, the idea of the poem about the modern man as confused and paralyzed pervades the whole poem.

From the inversions of The Tempest until the obsolete Sanskrit Shantihs, The Waste Land is the modern and fragmented world, and this is what sets it apart from Ergo Proxy – allusions are only worth making so long as they create or foster meaning, not just for the sake of seeming cool.

17 Responses to “In the waste land of allusions”

  1. Lelangir Says:

    I can agree that 75% of Ergo Proxy bored me to tears. But then again I’m always up for investigating how mediums challenge its own “metaphysics”. I don’t think I’m using that word in the “correct” sense here, but I mean, and I said this on Iniksbane’s post on Kaiba: can a conduit/piece of art challenge its and our modes of communication? We always look at whats presented to us as a signification of something else, but rarely do we (I, perhaps) look at how what’s presented is a critique of the viewer – what’s presented has “no meaning” in and of itself, but rather, has meaning only in relation to how and why it is viewed the way it is. For the Kaiba post I said something along the lines of “the lack of a definitive main character challenges the way we invest our identities in protagonists,” and in a similar way, perhaps certain animes (not limited to EP) directly satire the viewer without setting up any coherent meaning that we are to assume is related to something else – anything else but ourselves.

  2. Michael Says:

    Can a conduit/piece of art challenge its and our modes of communication?

    This is what The Waste Land practically did. Eliot set out to distance himself from his own poem, and he did it through obfuscation and the massive number of allusions simply to prove the point the his poem is not self-contained.

    Eliot commands to look at his poem only as a poem, and to disregard his biography in critiquing the poem. This was what Old Crit. focused on, the biography of the author as a stepping stone to meaning. Eliot disliked this, I believe – and so he wrote The Waste Land.

    Kaiba, in your description, seems to be like The Waste Land. It doesn’t utilize allusions though, right? It’s quite self-contained as it is.

  3. Nagato Says:

    Allusions can go away. Kirai des allusions.

  4. lolikitsune Says:

    “Well, duh, Ergo Proxy is meaninglessly deep-seeming. Just like Lain. Just like Evangelion. Just like every other show in that vein.”

    Buuuut we could say the same of The Waste Land if we didn’t know the intentions of its creator. T.S. Ellot was a writer and as such we assume that, like “all good writers,” he was trying to do something meaningful with his words. Okay, so “know” was the wrong word—but we have a set of rules, a lens as it were, that we use to examine literature. We apply this to Eliot’s work because we think of Eliot as a writer and his work as literature.

    Ergo Proxy, on the other hand, while it employed a writer(s), was not literature. We do not assume it was created to have a deep meaning or to awe the consumer with its raw ability to evoke, allude, etc.

    It’s easily cast aside as “entertainment” (lol, remember the ABC posts about deep vs. entertainment).

    On the one hand, this might be a fair verdict. If we apply the lens we used on The Waste Land to Ergo Proxy, and if we find no meaning and a lot of stupidity, then the show has no meaning. But are we really applying the full lens? Are we taking into account the intentions of the writer(s)? Are we considering them as capable of drafting “literature” as the next person?

    I don’t think so.

    While I don’t disagree with a verdict of “entertainment, trying to be cool” for Ergo Proxy insofar as it’s a TV show that we a bunch of TV show watchers are critiquing, I don’t think we’re examining the whole shebang. Yes, I understand your comment about disregarding biographies, but you still know that the poem is written by a writer. That’s not something you can ignore.

    I’ve always wanted there to be more meaning in shows like Lain and Ergo Proxy because while they were cool, they were only cool so long as I was kidding myself into thinking that they had some direction or purpose in their coolness.

    If we examined Ergo Proxy, assuming that the creators “knew what they were doing” and “had the ability to make something meaningful,” would we still write it off as “trying to be cool?” Might it not be that we just don’t get it? I know I’ve examined works of literature and not gotten them on the first, second, or even third tries. Maybe there’s still hope for the Proxy. Maybe I’ll look at it again some day and have that AHA! moment and make an awesome post about its deeper meaning.

    And, while it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever take the time to rewatch Ergo Proxy, at the very least, I want to give a fair chance to any shows that follow in its footsteps.

  5. Michael Says:

    @lolikit

    Your comment is the reason why you should stop trolling.

    While I very much know that you could write a wonderful riposte (I’m just capitalizing on the omissions), I didn’t know the intentions of Eliot when I first read it. I just did. I still found meaning in his poem. That’s just me, of course.

    His ability to sate even different readers (even non-academic, as I am) and his ability to still present a superficial meaning (even without the lens of either New Crit or Old Crit) can still be seen, however. I saw it.

    I can capitalize on the fact that modern criticism no longer depends upon the biography of the author. It is centered within the reader itself. For example, while most of my classmates only found an allegory to memory and desire I found a toying with the absolute nature of meaning. There is no need even to think about the writer, because doing that is so Old Criticism.

    But it’s a very good point you’ve raised. You’ve certainly inverted, if only temporarily, your status of troll – you’ve become a litterateur. I hope that I can see more of these comments from the future, because I’ve no doubt with regard to your intelligence. 🙂

  6. lolikitsune Says:

    Wow, gj faggerjack, epicfailplanetling, you totally missed the entire point of what I said. Now, I know what I said had meaning. Maybe it’s the Ergo Proxy to your comment’s Waste Land! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, elitist two-legged pig.

  7. Michael Says:

    So as I’ve obtained from Michael (lolikit), this was just a subtle exercising in conversion. He’s like Saladin, and I’m like Bailian. He wants me to be a HERETIC TROLL. I want him to be a SRS BLOGGER.

    In the end, of course, Saladin won over Jerusalem. I just tend a small pasture, since we’re great friends. 😀

  8. lolikitsune Says:

    From Saladin’s my perspective, trolls are not heretics.

  9. IKnight Says:

    But trolls are like aristocrats: they need a community of SRS BLOGGERS to feed them with both material to attack, and naive, serious replies.

    Trolls should jealously guard their contingent, priveleged lifestyles in their castles of HAET and RAGE, lest too many SRS BLOGGERS become trolls, tipping the balance and resulting in incestuous trolling between people who already expect it.

    In other news, episodic blogging is like serfdom and Zac Bertschy is the Holy Roman Emperor, because he trolls the whole damn otakusphere, effortlessly.

  10. Baka-Raptor Says:

    Get thee to a nunnery.

  11. korosora Says:

    The only thing that made me laugh on this page was Baka-Raptor’s comment.

  12. Ryo Says:

    yeah :/ ergo proxy bored me majorly… I just finished it to honor the epicness of the first few episodes and to see what happened.

    lawl baka-raptor

  13. Ryan A Says:

    So in short… these things (media pieces) need a point, whether it meaning or entertainment [or both], we ask to please allude wisely and if not, please entertain.

    I have not read this poem (http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/, I like this version with all the crazy ref. links), but I understand what you were getting at. And again, indecision… the modern man. I suppose this is one reaction of our species when riddled with choices, but none of them borderline the sheer concept of survival. Perhaps we (humans) will psychologically evolve in this world of infinite decisions and break this sad trait, finally learning a stance of true assertion, but nothing is absolute, though we can improve.

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