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Citizenship in Heaven and Earth: Contesting Nationalism in The Waste Land

Author(s): Srila Nayak


Source: Modern Philology, Vol. 109, No. 2 (November 2011), pp. 221-244
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Citizenship in Heaven and Earth: Contesting


Nationalism in The Waste Land
SRILA NAYAK

Chicago

Our citizenship is in heaven; yes, but that is the model and type for
your citizenship upon earth.
(T. S. ELIOT, Choruses from The Rock )1

Max Webers The City (1921) anticipates Eliots The Waste Land (1922) both
in its perception of the city as the center of Western civilization and its
attention to the social and political stratification of human identities that
have characterized the Occidental city throughout its history. Webers sociological history traces the evolution of the modern Western city through
forms of citizenship and economic entitlements, from ancient communities
to the corporation of citizens and thence to the increasing complexity of
the oppositions between citizens and noncitizens, slave and free labor,
unfree industrial workers and enfranchised semicitizens or metics.2 In
Eliots poem, forms of postwar citizenship and a new experience of
national illegitimacy in a postimperial and postwar Europe collide with
other fragmented identities from a Roman imperial past. While The Waste
Land shares some evident affinities with the depiction of urban alienation
and atomization in Georg Simmels Metropolis and Mental Life (1903),
at another level the poem takes a comprehensive view of history, time, and

I thank Kirk Melnikoff and Lara Vetter for their painstaking and immensely helpful readings of my essay. I am also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers and to Lisa Ruddick, the associate editor of Modern Philology, for their valuable suggestions.
1. T. S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock, in Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot (London:
Faber & Faber, 1969), 151.
2. Max Weber, The City (Glencoe: Illinois Free Press, 1958), 213. Weber defines the metic as
an enfranchised semicitizen who enjoyed a status that was distinctly different from that of the
slaves. Although free like the citizen, the metic had to pay taxes to enter into the economic life
of the city.
2011 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0026-8232/2011/10902-0004$10.00

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MODERN PHILOLOGY

sociopolitical identities that bears comparison with Webers work. In what


follows, I will suggest that The Waste Land, in its expansive orientation,
aligns the forms of individuality, citizenship, and community in the metropolis with the imperial and Christian traditions of Europe. Much of
Eliots subsequent cultural criticism emphasizes that the history of liberal
citizenship, with its gradual separation from a European Christian tradition,
eventually ruins community and nation-state.3 Eliot shares with Weber a
sense of the constrained human existence in the metropolis as well as an
awareness that the metropolis and its subjects emerged from complex
global historical and cultural antecedents.
The relationship between modernist poetics and nationalist prerogatives remains an unanalyzed component of Eliots famed antiliberalism.
Much criticism focuses on Eliots antiliberalism through the structure of
contradictions that dominate his poetics and politics. Jeffrey Perl and Michael North focus on the tensions between Eliots conservatism and those
philosophical beliefs he held that were antithetical to the core elements of
conservatism. In a comprehensive and sympathetic assessment, Perl argues
for the consistency of Eliots antiliberal politics and his philosophical position: But however one comes to judge Eliots politics, it must be admitted
that Eliot himself found no inconsistency, chiefly, it appears, because he
viewed the connection drawn between skepticism and liberalisma connection cherished both by liberals and conservativesas a fraud.4 While
Perl argues that Eliots philosophical skepticism contributes to a more
complex system than the category of conservatism allows for, North concludes that Eliots relativism is a part of his conservative thought, most
vividly underlined in his rejection of fascism, which is motivated by Eliots
adherence to the monarchy and the Church.5 My essays argument centers
on Eliots opposition to liberalisms theory of nationalism and nationality,

3. In The Idea of a Christian Society, Eliot argues that a democracy without the positive force
of Christianity was vulnerable to an easy transformation by totalitarianism: If you will not have
God you should pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin (T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society,
in Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes towards the Definition of Culture
[New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940], 33). Christopher Dawson, a figure whose conservative
thought had a powerful influence upon Eliot, wrote in the Criterion about points of contact
between liberalism and totalitarianism: The essential principle of the Totalitarian State was,
in fact, asserted by Liberalism before Fascism was ever heard of (The Totalitarian State, Criterion 14, no. 54 [1934]: 3). Like Dawson, Eliot points out that liberalism was ultimately led by
forces of modernization into a cul-de-sac of mechanized or brutalized control and ends up
lending itself to philosophies which deny it (Idea of a Christian Society, 14).
4. Jeffrey Perl, Skepticism and Modern Enmity: Before and after Eliot (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1989), 89.
5. Michael North, The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound (Cambridge University
Press, 1991), 104.

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Srila Nayak

Contesting Nationalism in The Waste Land

223

crucial aspects of his antiliberalism that have not been sufficiently examined.
In the first section, I analyze the older Anglican poets reaction against
liberal and totalitarian nationalism through his construction of an antiutilitarian identity that tries both to encompass and to bypass the nation-state.
In the second section I investigate The Waste Land s intersecting planes of
metropolitan temporality and European tradition, the latter primarily constituted by the works of Augustine and Dante, and suggest how we might
understand the enigmatic form of postwar identity that the poem places
before us. My intention is to offer a nuanced analysis of the multiple affiliations between Eliots poetic imagination of personal and political identity
in postwar Europe and the counters of religion, empire, and cosmopolitanism. All three, especially religion and the ideal of imperial infinitude, function as antidotes to nationalism in Eliots poetry and prose, yet they work
diversely in contradictory directions. An understanding of Eliots critique
of nationalism necessarily entails a reexamination of the nature and degree
of his imaginative and political investment in the ideologies of empire,
nation-state, and Christianity, each of which represents a different form of
allegiance and community. Critical assessments of the works of an Anglican
Eliot have usually pointed to the parallels that he sees among the authoritarian structures of nation-state, empire, and Christianity. However, studies
of The Waste Land s modernism have exclusively focused on its elegiac representation of Roman and British imperial cultures and have not analyzed
the poem as a site of religious imagination, believing the latter to be predominantly manifested in the works of an older, orthodox poet. Eliots aesthetic and political opposition to postwar nationalism enables us to move
beyond the traditional critical opinion of a nexus between an idealized
empire and Christianity in Eliots oeuvre and reinterpret the relations between the two. Specifically, this essay explores how Eliots approach to antinational forms of community can help us recognize multiple and conflictual relations between imperial ideology and Christian ethos in The Waste
Land and between Christian identity and national identity in Eliots later
prose. The great interest of Eliots work lies in the way in which, as Raymond Williams pointed out, it resists both the complacencies of liberalism and complacent conservatism.6 I hope to clarify the political and
historical structures in Eliots work that displace, embrace, and sublimate
hegemonic entities of nation and empire and to shed light on certain categories of political exclusion and inclusion that were entailed by twentiethcentury modernity.

6. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, 17801950 (New York: Columbia University Press,
1983), 243.

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CITIZENSHIP AND NATIONALISM

The complex of ideas surrounding the relation of tradition and national


identity in Eliots later work offer a way to better understand The Waste Land s
politics of antinationalism. While criticism on Eliot has focused intently on
the compound of opposites that constitutes his definition of tradition in
Tradition and the Individual Talent (191920), not much attention has
been paid to how Eliots conception of citizenship or his later self-representation as Anglican and British subject derives from this relation of oppositions.
The 1939 Idea of a Christian Society (included in the 1940 collection Christianity and Culture) offers Eliots most cogent commentary on the relations
among individual, nation, and church. Alan Marshall suggests that Eliots
development as a writer from The Waste Land on is governed by his changing
relationship to EnglandEngland understood as the religious, secular, and
institutional forces of the nation-state.7 While mainly correct, Marshalls contention does not quite explain how Eliots understanding of the self s relationship to church, community, and nation is forged in relation to the particularizing force of nationalism, an ideology that Eliot manifestly repudiated.
The interaction between the particular and the universal that characterized Eliots conception of tradition also characterized his understanding
of political identity in a manner that pitted the tradition of institutional
Anglicanism against liberal as well as totalitarian nationalism. In short, the
nation-state of England provides a material and institutional context to
the relation between the individual and the force of tradition that had appeared in Eliot writings, at least since the publication of Tradition and the
Individual Talent and The Waste Land.8 The burden on Eliot during the
war years and after was to demonstrate that the nation-state to which the citizen had sworn allegiance was more than the sum total of nationalist ideologies that bedeviled it. Instead, the individual needed to forge a relationship with a tradition that both represented the particular nation and yet
was independent of it. Eliot linked citizenship ontologically and conceptually with Anglicanism, a philosophical system that rebelled against both
left and right political values.
7. Alan Marshall, England and Nowhere, in The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot, ed.
A. D. Moody (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 96.
8. Andrew John Miller argues that the dichotomous logic of tradition and individual
talent constitutes both a desire for autonomy and a market-driven professionalism that is
compatible with Eliots later attempts to negotiate the tensions between the aspirations of a
personal self and the cultural fixities enjoined by church and the nation-state. Millers argument contextualizes the contradictions in Eliots vocation of modernist aesthetics in terms of
the older Anglican Eliots reconciliation of institutional contingency and spiritual purity
(Compassing Material Ends: T. S. Eliot, Christian Pluralism, and the Nation-State, ELH 67
[2000]: 234, 241). Millers penetrating study has been helpful to my analysis of the conflict
that Eliot stages between Christianity and the ideology of nationalism.

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Eliots insistence on becoming a member in a national church, as a


necessary aspect of his new nationality, was a direct consequence of his
attack on the purely functional outlook of both liberalism and totalitarianism. For Eliot, a liberal theory of state and citizens results in a paradoxical
insistence on the right of private life, rendered smaller and smaller by
the encroachment of etatisme, which seems to be the last word on the secularized relation between the state and civil life. Citizenship in a totalitarian
state, according to Eliot, is a direct consequence of the destruction of the
civic function of the church: One of the causes of the totalitarian State is
an effort of the State to supply a function which the Church has ceased to
serve; to enter into a relation to the community which the Church has
failed to maintain; which leads to the recognition as full citizens only of
those who are prepared to accept it in this relation.9 Ones national belonging then comes to represent for Eliot the sphere that most visibly
reflected the effects of both the manipulative powers of totalitarianism and
the inadequacies of functional and utilitarian liberalism and conservatism
to combat it. Eliot believed that the purely functional aspirations of postEnlightenment ideologies had resulted in an acutely reductive and radical
transformation of the nature of man and his relations with institutions and
his community. If a prominent experience of modernity was the manner in
which religion was subsumed either under secularism or the state as liberalism and totalitarianism respectively saw fit, then Eliot believed this functional relativism was a result of the complete misunderstanding of the role
and purpose of religion. Thus, for Eliot, liberalism and totalitarianism were
connected to each other by the bridge of a functional context whereby, as
Hannah Arendt points out in a related context, whatever fulfills the function of a religion is a religion.10
As a recent British subject, Eliots reflections on a Christianized England
and Europe came to revolve around the subject-citizen first as a historical
entity in civic and national terms and then as an embodiment of the principle of a transcendent life of faith, constituting a community that went
beyond the nation-state to encompass the Christian order of Europe. As late
as 1951, Eliot writes thus about Virgils representation of an ideal of empire
that constructs a common citizenship for Europe: For Virgils conscious
mind, it [destiny] means the imperium romanum. . . . You must remember
that the Roman empire was transformed into the Holy Roman Empire.
What Virgil proposed to his contemporaries was the highest ideal even for
an unholy Roman Empire, for any merely temporal empire. We are all, so
far as we inherit the civilization of Europe, still citizens of the Roman
9. Eliot, Idea of a Christian Society, 53.
10. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future: Six Essays in Political Thought (New York: Viking, 1961), 102.

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Empire. . . . It remains an ideal, but one which Virgil passed on to Christianity to develop and cherish.11 For Frank Kermode, Eliots career, especially his work with the Criterion, attests to a belief that modern men
[ought] to be members of a larger polity than that of their own province
to accept their nationality yet aspire to membership of a more abstract
empire embodied in Latin Europe.12 The sentiment of nationalism thus
becomes a disruptive force that not only inhibits a citizen-subjects allegiance to a universal church and empire but also strips Christian subjects
of their rights within the states network of secular institutions, gradually
reducing them to the status of a tolerated minority.13
At the same time that he opposed nationalism, Eliot was also reluctant
to frame national identity in the light of the ethics of liberal cosmopolitanism or universalism.14 One of his pieces for the Criterion illustrates well the
particular nature of the universalism that Eliot reads into a Christian version of citizenship, something quite distinct from the secular humanist universalism espoused by institutional bodies such as the League of Nations in
postwar Britain. While Miller correctly notes that for Eliot it is only the
international dimension of Christianity that makes possible a civilized society outside the sphere of nationalism, the relationship between political
and philosophical elements in this version of humanist Christian citizenship still remains to be analyzed.15 In the January 1936 issue of the Criterion,
in an editorial on the subject of Italys invasion of Abyssinia, Eliot refers to
manifestos from the Right, the Left, and the Catholics in France. He offers a
qualified sympathy for the Rights disapproval of the inconsistency in Britain and Frances opposition to the mission coloniale of another great nation
of kindred culture. He also agrees with the charge of the Right that the
confused mixture of secular and spiritual motives of the League of Nations
has put higher and lower civilizations, superior and inferior nations on the
same level.16 Eliot ultimately reserves his approval for the Catholic manifesto: the French Rights high moral tone is ultimately empty, compromised by its material interests in colonialism; the Catholic manifesto, how11. T. S. Eliot, Virgil and the Christian World, in On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber &
Faber, 1957), 12930.
12. Frank Kermode, introduction to Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot (New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1975), 21.
13. Eliot, Idea of a Christian Society, 18.
14. Ibid., 46. Andrew Miller, similarly, points out that Eliot ultimately proves unwilling to
accept any vision of social integration that rests upon post-Christian assumptions. He has little
use for secular theologies that imagine the world to be engaged in the process of transcending
all historically particularized forms of religious belief and to be steadily advancing toward a universal religion rooted in a common humanity (Eliot, Christian Pluralism, and the NationState, 25051).
15. Miller, Eliot, Christian Pluralism, and the Nation-State, 251.
16. T. S. Eliot, A Commentary, Criterion 15, no. 59 (1936): 26668.

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ever, represents for Eliot a higher morality singularly concerned with the
iniquity of the war of aggression. Unlike the Right, French Catholics are
not interested in identify[ing] Christianity with the maintenance of a particular social and political regime, or with the hegemony of Europe over
the rest of the world.17
Nevertheless, Eliots politics resist the abstract humanist aims of the
French Catholics. Eliot contradicts the Catholic doctrines at the same time
that he expresses agreement with them. Thus, humanist Catholicism errs
only when, like the League of Nations, it speaks of the equality of races:
There will probably always remain a real inequality of races, as there is
always inequality of individuals. But the fundamental identity in humanity
must always be asserted, as must the equal sanctity of moral obligation to
people of every race. All men are equal before God; if they cannot all be
equal in this world, yet our moral obligation towards inferiors is exactly the
same as that towards our equals.18 Eliot assumes that his perspective rises
above the expedient politics of both left-wing and right-wing factions. Ultimately, his view comes across as an interpretation of the philosophy of
F. H. Bradley, the Victorian antiutilitarian philosopherand the subject of
Eliots dissertationwho implied that one could believe anything about
temporal particularities as long as one also professed a belief in the union
of these particularities in the figure of the Absolute.19 This doctrine of racial
exceptionalism paradoxically becomes the condition for a metaphysical
inclusiveness. In Choruses from The Rock (1934) Eliot writes:
What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.20

For Eliot, as Terry Eagleton observes, conservatism is what stays outside


politics; its beliefs are not political beliefs but principles of the fundamental
horizon of communal life.21 In The Idea of a Christian Society, Eliot advocates a
Christianity [that] is communal before being individual, and in 1939 this
position embodies Eliots reduced ambitions for Christianity as a nonnation17. Ibid., 268.
18. Ibid., 269.
19. Francis Herbert Bradley observes, The Absolute is not shut up within our human limits (Appearance and Reality: A Metaphysical Essay [Oxford: Clarendon, 1969], 256). The thrust
of the dialectic in Appearance and Reality is toward losing ones character in the Absolute and a
transforming into a fragment of higher truth (260). Thus, various appearances come together to form a whole in the Absolute, where the human mind accepts as reality both finite
experiences and experiences that cannot be reconciled with the individuals world. Through
his study of appearances, Bradley strives to attain a higher perception of the Absolute,
where individuality is gained without forfeit of variety (271).
20. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock, 152.
21. Terry Eagleton, Nudge-Winking, London Review of Books, September 19, 2002, 67.

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alist form of community.22 Nonetheless, the example above indicates that


Eliots abstract empire of Christianity not only is differentiated from the
politics of nationalism but also contains internal contradictions, as Eliots
aspirations for a transnational community is undermined by his politics of
exclusivism. Thus, Eliots idea of a Christian community is opposed not just
to nationalism but also, ultimately, to his own vision of an imagined citizenship on earth in accordance with divine principles, as expressed in Choruses
(see epigraph). As his commentary in the Criterion reveals, Eliot insists upon
a separation between citizenship in Gods kingdom and citizenship in this
world and, thus, ultimately creates a dualism between a vision of a cosmopolitan Christian unity and the negation of this very vision in the larger context of twentieth-century colonialism.
ANTINATIONALISM IN THE WASTE LAND

Eliots affiliation with Anglicanism after 1927 bears witness to his antagonism to nationalism and to his fundamental opposition to liberalisms espousal of the nation as product and condition of the secular and collective
will of the people. A secular notion of cosmopolitan humanism is not an
ally of Eliots antinationalism but a provocation, an identity that Eliots
white British Anglicanism must overrule. The Waste Land responds to liberalisms theory of anti-imperial nationalism, a key principle in the Treaty of
Versailles (1919), which formed the basis for reconstruction of Europes
national borders. While critics tend to separate the earlier poet of The Waste
Land and the later Anglican poet, Eliots critical and creative output from
The Waste Land onward must grapple with imagining an identity that would
transcend postwar ideologies of national identity and nation-state. Like the
Anglo-Catholicism expressed in Eliots work after 1927, imperialism in The
Waste Land is represented as a constitutive part of European tradition
menaced and undone by postwar nationalism.23 The poems modernism is
shaped by a confrontation between universality, as represented in the works
of Augustine and Dante, and the territorial-political coercions of nationalist
identity. Eliots critique of postwar liberal nationalism results in an idealized
interpretation of the Roman empire as a transnational political formation,
which, in turn, is challenged by the poems adaptation of Augustines antiimperial stance in The City of God. A close attention to the complexities of
Eliots rejection of nationalism reveals that The Waste Land both accommo22. Eliot, Idea of a Christian Society, 47.
23. Frank Kermode provides a very helpful summary of the points of contact between
Eliots Christianity and his poetic incorporation of the ideal of empire after 1927. According
to Kermode, Eliots conservative-imperialist politics, like his Catholic Christianity, comes
to be eventually expressed in terms of a scholastic sense of the complexities of time and eternity (Kermode, introduction to Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, 17).

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dates an affinity to the legacy of the Roman empire and yet resists this mode
of imperial representation when it consorts with an Augustinian vision of
Christian universality.
As Michael Levenson has observed, the poems representation of the
city as a site of political, economic, and imperial influences can also be
traced to Eliots internationalism between 1919 and 1921.24 Historians and
political scientists have generally viewed this as the high period of European nation building, marked by the resurgence of nationalist ideologies
across Central and Eastern Europe and the dismantling of the Austrian,
Ottoman, and Russian empires. The codification of liberal nationalism in
the postwar peace treaty of Versailles, that appalling document as Eliot
labeled it, led to the decisive displacement of empire by rapidly formed
nation-states in Europe after 1918.25 The Waste Lands internationalism lies
in its attention to the changing map of Europe that divides an imperial past
from a nationalist present and in a critique of postwar nationalism in Europe that, in effect, amounts to a rejection of the peace treatys vision of a
new Europe. Benedict Anderson views this new form of globalization, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and consolidated in the years following the First World War, as primarily constituted by the rising significance
of nation-states in global affairs. The ascendance of nation-states as the final
political form of universality takes shape in the aftermath of the postwar collapse of multiple European empires and the formation of the League of
Nations, which compelled remaining empires to masquerade as nation24. Michael Levenson, Does The Waste Land Have a Politics? Modernism/Modernity 6, no.
3 (1999): 113.
25. T. S. Eliot to Charlotte Eliot, February 22, 1920, in Letters of T. S. Eliot, vol. 1, 18981922,
ed. Valerie Eliot (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1988). Liberal nationalism has its
roots in nineteenth-century classical liberalisms threshold principle for national self-determination, which recognized national sovereignty for a sufficiently large people who already
had a historic association with a state and territory ; smaller nationalities or communities
would eventually be absorbed or assimilated into larger nations (E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and
Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality [Cambridge University Press, 1990], 131). Following the war, liberal nationalism was defined as the alignment of territorial borders and homogeneous ethnic and linguistic communities to create postimperial independent nationstates for different nationalities. The Treaty of Versailles aligned the nineteenth-century idea
of national self-determination with a nationalist logic as it tried to ensure sovereign status
for minority and oppressed populations through its reliance upon ethnic and linguistic factors
to determine the composition of existing and new nation-states. Thus, the treatys enforcement of an anti-imperial principle of self-determination in order to create liberal nation-states
across Central and Eastern Europe, following the collapse of the Habsburg, Romanov, Hohenzollern, and Ottoman empires, was obviously an attempt to recreate the foundational principle of fully developed Western nation-states of France and Britain that had successfully combined nationality and state, factors that had always remained separate in the multi-national
polities of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism [New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951], 231).

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states.26 The Waste Lands response to the seismic shift from empire to
nations represents modernisms engagement with forces of global transformation.27
Simon Gikandi emphasizes a distinctive topology for reading that is
required for post-imperial sites of crisis, which are constituted by relations
between colonial pasts or imperial cultures and the unstable present of
a disappearing imperialism, that ill-defined space in which the experience
of empire and its long past seem to cast an aura which is also an anxiety over
contemporary culture.28 In The Waste Land, metropolitan borders cannot
be hermetically sealed off from postwar Europe, and a devastated and
ghostly London is a reflection both of the collapse of empires in Europe
and of the encroaching formation of national affiliations and homogeneous
nations across Europe. As a premature post-imperial polis29 haunted by
ghostly fragments of Europes imperial tradition, London is constituted as a
site of crisis by the violence of the passage from empire to nation making in
postwar Europe. The poems swarming hooded hordes30 underscore the
contested and spectral frontiers that accompany the reconstruction of territorial borders as empires transform into nation-states in Eastern Europe.
If The Waste Land consists in searching out the absence of the imperial
idea, as Marshall has noted, then surely its participation in the postwar
historical transition from a disintegrating transnational empire to insular
nation-state helps to explain the poems nostalgia for empire.31 David
26. Benedict Anderson, introduction to Mapping the Nation, ed. Gopal Balakrishnan (New
York: Verso, 1995), 117.
27. Melba Cuddy-Keane points out that modernism contributes to an emerging global
consciousness in the early twentieth century and influences, as well as is shaped by, the transition from an era of hegemonic economic globalization to a modernity characterized by cultural globalization (Modernism, Geopolitics, Globalization, Modernism/Modernity 10 [2003]:
540). A number of assertions have been made about the qualified nature of Eliots modernist
internationalism and its differences from cosmopolitanism. Sheldon Pollock regards Eliots
lifelong preoccupation with Virgils thought and poetry as a provincial vision of a European comprehensive universalism (Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History, in Cosmopolitanism, ed. Carol Breckenridge, Homi K. Bhabha, Sheldon Pollock, and Dipesh Chakrabarty
[Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002], 29). Rebecca L. Walkowitz points out that while
The Waste Land s wide-ranging cultural and literary coverage presents a certain internationalist
literary practice, the poem is devoid of a concern with those ethics of cosmopolitanism that
contest fixed conceptions of the local (Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism beyond the Nation [New
York: Columbia University Press, 2006], 7).
28. Simon Gikandi, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 2.
29. Ibid., 9.
30. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land 5.367, in The Waste Land: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism,
ed. Michael North (New York: Norton, 2001). All quotations of the original 1922 published
version of the poem are from this edition and are hereafter given parenthetically by section
and line number.
31. Marshall, England and Nowhere, 103.

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Roessel, perhaps, comes closest to capturing the historical particularities


within which The Waste Land is embedded: That Eliot saw the disintegration of empire as decay, rather than the growth of nationalism as progress,
is a key to his political thinking in the years in which the map of Europe was
being redrawn. However, Roessels argument focuses exclusively on British newspaper reports on the disputed national identity of Smyrna (the disputed territory between Turkey and Greece) and the influential role of
Smyrna in Eliots portrayal of Mr. Eugenides as a symbol of the decay of
Europe.32 The political universe of the poem is shaped by this conflict
between nationalism and empire, in which the latter is ostensibly aligned
with a tradition of Christian cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity. The
coincidence of the degradations of city life in industrial London with postwar European nationalism spells an annihilation of imperial subjectivities.
One has to also contend with the changed nature of Eliots political aesthetic of anti-Semitism in the context of his postwar antinationalist modernism. The Waste Land s collision with postwar nationalism follows closely
upon the anti-Semitism in Eliots earlier poetry, in which an aesthetic cosmopolitanism is predicated precisely upon the exclusion of Jews from the
national body politic. Vincent Sherry argues that Eliots modernist poetry
of anti-Semitism before the war ought to be understood in the context of
the poetic sensibility of the Anglo-Americans [that] exhibits all of the defensive aggressiveness of the arriviste.33 In his persuasive reading of Eliots
early modernism, Sherry points out that a decaying English liberalism produces The Great War for English civilization (191). As a foreign national,
Eliot can lay claim to the resources of an older English res (192) and gain

32. David Roessel, Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna Merchant, and Post-war Politics in The
Waste Land, Journal of Modern Literature 16 (1989): 171.
33. Vincent Sherry, The Great War and the Language of Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 189. In a similar vein, Anthony Julius points out that Eliot adopted antiSemitism to assimilate with European cultural and literary traditions: France showed Eliot that
a vigorous anti-Semitism could yet be thoroughly literary, and that it was compatible with cordial, salon relations with Jews. English anti-Semitism made available to Eliot a literary tradition
in which the adverse characterization of Jews was consistent with work of the highest quality
(T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form [Cambridge University Press, 1995], 16). In Burbank
with a Baedeker, Eliot with a Cigar: American Intellectuals, Anti-Semitism and the Idea of Culture, Modernism/Modernity 10 (2003): 126, Ronald Schuchard presents a contrasting view
about Eliots relations with anti-Semitism. Schuchard views anti-Semitic imagery in poems such
as Burbank with a Baedeker, Bleistein with a Cigar as primarily manifestations of the fragmented mind of Europe, its deracinated Jewish characters far removed from their Sephardic
origins and adrift in a post-Versailles diaspora (8). Schuchard reads the portrayal of Jewish
personages in Eliots poetry as evidence of Eliots awareness that the new foundations of postwar Europe were being laid on the corpses of Jews (10). Schuchards essay is part of a widely
publicized, two-issue debate in Modernism/Modernity on Eliots relations with anti-Semitism. See
Modernism/Modernity 10, no. 1 ( January 2003) and 10, no. 3 (September 2003).

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poetic legitimacy (191) by disavowing an alien likeness between the


Jew and the American poet, which is achieved by revil[ing] the opportunistic ( Jewish) condition, even as he implements it as the enabling situation of
his verse (192). It is imperative to note that the force and impact of liberal
nationalism upon Europe after the war considerably diminishes Eliots
investment in anti-Semitism and its role in the innovations of his modernist project (189). In other words, postwar nationalism takes the place of
Jews as the thing that has eroded cultural and imperial authority. Eliots hostility toward nationalism shapes the antiterritorial poetics of The Waste Land
and serves as a new receptacle for anxieties about cultural degradation in
Europe and England.34
In Dante (1929), Eliot refers to the Treaty of Versailles as the origin of
the process of disintegration for the twentieth century.35 Eliots criticism
of the peace treaty takes its inspiration from John Maynard Keyness The
Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920), which clearly foresaw the disastrous consequences of the punitive measures the treaty imposed on Germany. Keynes had famously labeled the treaty as a Carthaginian peace
forced on continental Europe by Britain and her allies.36 Eliots similar
denunciation of the peace treaty stemmed from his work as an employee
34. Christopher Ricks draws our attention to religious and intellectual distinctions
between Eliots anti-Semitic poetry leading up to The Waste Land and his attack upon freethinking Jews in After Strange Gods (T. S. Eliot and Prejudice [Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1988], 2554). According to Paul Morrison, Eliots Anglo-Catholic religious commitment prevents an aesthetic commitment to a poetics of fascism, unlike the poetry of Ezra
Pound: Pound is committed to the construction of the fascist city of man; Eliot awaits the
coming city of God (The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Paul de Man [New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996], 37). Maud Ellmann proposes a connection between Eliots
earlier modernist poetry and later works such as After Strange Gods and, contra Schuchard,
views Eliots writings on deracinated or free-thinking Jews as expressing a specific antiSemitic fear or paranoia: The fear of deracination or displacement is the wellspring of much
of the anti-Semitism to be found in Eliot and Pound (The Imaginary Jew: T. S. Eliot and Ezra
Pound, in Between Race and Culture : Representations of the Jew in English and American Literature, ed. Bryan Cheyette [Stanford University Press, 1996], 89). Although I agree with Ellmann
and others that Eliots later works occasionally suggest a continued anti-Semitic sentiment,
Eliots literary anti-Semitism changes when he links the ideology of nationalism with the cultural degeneracy in Europe that was formerly attributed to Jews. The deletion of anti-Semitic
passages in The Waste Land, under the direction of Ezra Pound, is also evidence of Eliots changing relationship with anti-Semitism. As Ellmann points out, Eliots early poems would never
have survived such cuts (85).
35. T. S. Eliot, Dante (1929), in Selected Essays, 19171932 (New York: Harcourt Brace,
1932), 202.
36. Eleanor Cook explains that Eliot probably saw London as another Carthage. The
bloody fate of Carthage in the second and third Punic Wars gave rise to the phrase Carthaginian Peace, which meant a peace settlement so punitive as to destroy the enemy entirely and
even to make sterile the land on which he lives (T. S. Eliot and the Carthaginian Peace, in
T. S. Eliots The Waste Land, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1986), 88.

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in Lloyds Bank on the settlement of German debts. In a 1920 letter to his


mother, Eliot talks about Vienna and Germany in despairing tones and
recommends Keyness book: I wonder if America realizes how terrible the
condition of Central Europe is. I can never quite put Vienna out of my
mind. They say there is no hope unless the treaty is revised. I believe by the
way that J. M. Keynes: Economic Consequences of the Peace is an important book,
if you can get hold of it.37 A few months earlier, Eliot had written to his
mother about Wilsons utter helplessness before the French presidents
unflinching advocacy of the peace plan: Wilson went down utterly before
European diplomacy. It is obviously a bad peace, in which the major European powers tried to get as much as they could, and appease or ingratiate as
far as possible the various puppet nationalities which they have constituted
and will try to dominate.38 Eliots letter reflects a common contemporary
view according to which Wilsons well-meaning liberal policy of national
self-determination was ultimately unsuited to and ignorant of the political
realities of Europe.39 Although Eliots animus toward the peace treaty is explicitly documented in his letters and essays, less well known is the extent to
which its principles influenced his portrayal of Europe in The Waste Land.
The literary innovations of The Waste Land register the territorial and linguistic crises that follow the peace treaty, through implicit and explicit signification of the whole lost order of European empires.
The treatys enforcement of the principle of liberal nationalism primarily
brought about the establishment of weak nation-states in Central and Eastern Europe, following the collapse of the Habsburg, Romanov, Hohenzollern, and Ottoman empires. The disintegration of these empires, particularly the breakup of the colossal Habsburg, or Austrian, dynasty/monarchy,
ended the legitimacy of Legitimacy, and put paid to the dream of a United
States of Greater Austria.40 Rob Nixon calls the period from 1917 to 1921
the high era of European national birthing.41 Territories were ceded and
seized, and nations were made and unmade, as nationalists of various
stripes cobbled together hastily formed governments across Central and
37. T. S. Eliot to Charlotte Eliot, January 6, 1920, in Eliot, Letters, vol. 1, 18981922.
38. T. S. Eliot to Charlotte Eliot, October 2, 1919, ibid.
39. Eliots criticism of key participants in the peace conference closely resembles Keyness
analysis that pitted Wilsons well-meaning liberal policy of self-determination against the political maneuvering of Clemenceau and Lloyd George, who were almost exclusively interested in
a Carthaginian peace for Germany that went beyond the Peace of magnanimity prescribed by the fourteen points of President Wilson ( John Maynard Keynes, The Economic
Consequences of the Peace [New York: Harcourt, Brace & Howe, 1920], 111).
40. Anderson, introduction to Mapping the Nation, 7.
41. Rob Nixon, Of Balkans and Bantustans: Ethnic Cleansing and the Crisis in National
Legitimation, in Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, ed. Anne
McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1997), 246.

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Eastern Europe. The Waste Land is populated with those troubled sites in
Europe whose material and cultural spaces can no longer be mapped in
terms of a prewar cartography. The poem moves from references to Germany, Russia, Lithuania, Switzerland, and Smyrna to the past and recent
empires of Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, and Vienna. London is represented through this critique of territorial nationalism; its spatial and temporal fixity is dismantled as fragmented inscriptions of classical European
pasts float across its surface. In his famous essay DissemiNation, Homi
Bhabha points out that a national feeling of oneness or citizenship within
the political society of a modern nation is fostered by the incessant mimeticism of the realist narrative in the novel that reflects the everyday life of
the nation.42 The thoroughly absurdist universe of the poem is replete with
spaces and landmarks of urban existence that have been wrenched from a
representational matrix of chronology and local and national community.
In one of the poems most vivid instances, the portrayal of London Bridge
as a daily thoroughfare for crowds undone by death, and as the site of a
conversation about a planted corpse expected to bloom and sprout,
amounts, as Franco Moretti brilliantly suggests, to a radical devaluation
of the realist conventions of an emplotment of the nation and its community.43 The surreal transformation of the commonplaces of community
and nation, such as a mundane conversation or the daily journey to work
(A crowd flowed over London Bridge [1.62]), collectively mark a setting
in which the alienated consciousness resists homogeneity and insularity.
The opening sequence of The Waste Land invites a political reading, as it
challenges the treatys principles for designating nationality, which had
created new and untenable political identities:
we stopped in the colonnade
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm aus Litauen, echt deutsch
(Im not a Russian woman at all; I come from Lithuania, a true German).
(1.1014)

This section highlights a paradoxical fluid modernist subjectivity, caused by


a rapidly dissolved national affiliation in the wake of the Russian empires
collapse, as well as an inflexible new national ethnic identity (true German). Arendt characterizes the new era that was shaped by the peace
treaty as the century which naively assumed that all peoples were
42. Homi K. Bhabha, DissemiNation: Time, Narrative, and the Margins of the Modern
Nation, in Nation and Narration, ed. Bhabha (London: Routledge, 1990), 294.
43. Franco Moretti, From The Waste Land to the Artificial Paradise, in Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms (New York: Verso, 1983), 222.

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nations.44 The speakers self-identification underscores the nationalist or


ethnic affiliations that arise in the aftermath of the disintegration of the
Russian empire, as well as the relations between a professed ethnic identity
and the physical borders of the state (whether Lithuania or Russia). The
Waste Land, which was planned and written between 1919 and 1921, is
directly concerned with and indeed influenced by changing national frontiers across Europe.
The poems imagination of identities radically other to the claims of
nationalism captures the shifting boundaries between self and foreigner.
Toward the end of section 1 (The Burial of the Dead), the speaker observes the crowd undone by death flowing over London Bridge and is surprised to recognize someone from his past: There I saw one I knew, and
stopped him crying: Stetson! / You who were with me in the ships at
Mylae! (1.6970) As Eliots note tells us, the speakers recognizes Stetson
as a compatriot in a battle in the first Punic War between Rome and Carthage. The other level of discourse in this scene of recognition is, of course,
the blurring of boundaries between the self and the other. Hence, at the very
end of the same stanza the speaker ends the drama of his meeting with Stetson with a line from the introductory poem of Baudelaires Les fleurs du mal
(1857): You! hypocrite lecteur!mon semblable,mon fre`re! (1.76).
This relationship between self and other, flitting between self-alienation
and identification, expresses a conception of affinity or community that
flouts conventions of nationalism.
In the post-1918 world, Eliot confronts the emergence of the nation-state
as the new signifier of universality, which ends the Edwardian dream of imperial consolidation in Europe. If the decline of the British empire is an integral
part of Eliots early modernism, as Sherry argues, then the complex interplay between nationalism and the cultural poetics of empire can be understood as a significant aspect of Eliots modernism.45 Eliots poetry harmonizes the contemporary and the historical scales of the British empire and
the Roman empire through a reading of the devastating effects of postwar
liberal nationalism upon empire altogether. The disintegration of empire
and imperial civilization in the poem is poised between spectral echoes of
an imperial Roman past and the degradation and emptiness that dominate
contemporary London, which is haunted by remnants of English imperialism. At least since Eleanor Cooks identification of the Roman empire as a
prototype in the poem, The Waste Land s elegiac preoccupation with the

44. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 567.


45. Vincent Sherry, T. S. Eliot, Late Empire, and Decadence, in Modernism and Colonialism: British and Irish Literature, 18991939, ed. Richard Begam and Michael Valdez Moses (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 11135.

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dissolution of empire in Europe has received significant critical attention.46


The juxtaposition of Dantes purgatory or second kingdom with the fallen
imperial capitals of Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, and London also
suggests an opposition between the strictly physical scope of nationalism
and an eternal realm that defies territorial borders and that Eliot projects
through the voices of Augustine and Dante. The falling towers of Vienna,
erstwhile capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, signify the end of a projected Roman paradigm of imperial universality: the ideal of limitless linguistic cultural heterogeneity without national frontiers.
The Waste Land expresses a sense of affiliation with Augustines The City of
God that testifies to Eliots zeal to confront the seemingly unalterable reality
of nationalism. Written during the Roman empires years of unstoppable
decline, The City of God tries to comprehend the afflictions that beset the
empire, ranging from the loss of lands to invaders to the moral corruption
of its rulers and citizens. Cook brilliantly highlights the correspondence
between Rome and The Waste Land s postwar British who enforce a Carthaginian peace on their defeated enemy that also has a terrible impact on the
victor. Rather early in his work, Augustine writes of the fragility of the Roman
empire, as its victory in war foreshadows its ruin: I should like first to inquire
for a little what reason, what prudence, there is in wishing to glory in the
greatness and extent of the empire, when you cannot point out the happiness of men who are always rolling, with dark fear and cruel lust, in warlike
slaughters and in blood, which, whether shed in civil or foreign war, is still
human blood; so that their joy may be compared to glass in its fragile splendor, of which one is horribly afraid lest it should be suddenly broken in
pieces.47 Augustinian echoes in The Waste Land suggest that the glories of
empire are outweighed by an Augustinian vision of anti-imperial pacifism. It
would be rather nave to conclude that The Waste Land overcomes nationalism exclusively through the idealization of a vast Roman empire and its
hybrid linguistic and religious traditions.
Eliot was more intent upon capturing the paradigm of Augustines free
city of God, infinite in time and space, as a counterpoint to the lustful,
fleshly, and sordidly industrial city of London as well as postwar European
nation-states. Augustine derives his vision of citizenship in the city of God
from Latin influences that included Ciceros political ideals for a Roman
republic that had unfortunately remained unrealized in practice: For
Cicero briefly defines a republic as the weal of the people. And if this defi46. According to Cook, The Waste Land is both a London poem and a European poem
whose place-names recall the Roman empire at its most expansive. Urban vision, imperial
vision, world vision: each illuminates the other (Eliot and the Carthaginian Peace, 82).
47. Augustine, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dodds (New York: Random House, 1950), 4.3.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from The City of God are from Doddss translation and
are hereafter cited parenthetically by book and chapter number.

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nition be true, there never was a Roman republic, for the peoples weal was
never attained among the Romans. For Augustine, Ciceros De republica
grounded citizenship in the community of interests fostered by a common acknowledgment of true justice, which would turn a promiscuous
multitude into a people (19.21).48 This definition of citizenship could be
adapted by Augustine to understand fellowship in the city of God beyond
the citizenship conferred by shared territorial identity. Augustine mingles
the secular postulates of Republican citizenship with biblical testimony
on the spiritual experience of citizenship in the city of God.49 He cites
scriptural texts that testify to the existence of the heavenly city: In
another psalm [86:3] we read, Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness, increasing the joy
of the whole earth. . . . From these and similar testimonies, we have
learned that there is a city of God, and its Founder has inspired us with a
love which makes us covet its citizenship (11.1).
In What the Thunder Said, the godly city in the mountain is juxtaposed to a postwar Europe enveloped in chaos, nationalisms curse of exile,
homelessness, and imperial disintegration, all mingling with Augustines
own categories of citizen and alien in the city of God: Who are those
hooded hordes swarming / . . . What is the city over the mountains / Cracks
and reforms and bursts in the violet air / Falling towers (5.36770). Eliot
is drawn to The City of God not simply because it presented an ethic of citizenship that helped him to expose the fragility of national identity. Augustines work, in its rapt portrayal of the distinctions between the city of spirit
and the city of material lusts, figures forth a connection between heavenly
citizenship and earthly exile that becomes the basis for human allegiance
to the city of God. As we shall see, Eliot adapts this very correspondence
between alienation upon earth and community in the city of God to represent both the dark repercussions of postwar nationalism in the Unreal
City (1.60) and what might constitute citizenship in the transcendent city.
It is important to take note of the account that Augustine provides of
the relationship between the civitas Dei and civitas Romae in order better to
understand The Waste Land s preoccupation with Augustines work. In the
first version of The Waste Land, an imagined identity that transcends the
limitations of territorial boundaries is captured in a line from Platos Republic : Glaucon / Not here, O Ademantus, but in another world.50 In the
48. Henry Bettenson and Gillian Rosemary Evans (introduction to Augustine, Concerning
the City of God against the Pagans, trans. Henry Scowcroft Bettenson [New York: Penguin, 2003])
point out that Augustine adapts a Ciceronian definition of a commonwealth to make it fit a
Christian context (xlv).
49. Ibid., xliv.
50. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the
Annotations of Ezra Pound, ed. Valerie Eliot (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 31.

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same book of the Republic, Socratess response to Glaucons statement


about the fictitious nature of the described city affirms the existence of
another realm of citizenship: Well, said I [Socrates], perhaps there is a
pattern of it [the city] laid up in heaven for him who wishes to contemplate
it and so beholding to constitute himself its citizen.51 Cook writes that this
Platonic ideal, which also inspired Augustines vision of the civitas Dei,
could not be sustained in the final version of The Waste Land: Eliot finally
cut all references to an ideal city, because, I think, the developing theme of
urban and imperial apocalypse refused to accommodate so firm a hope.52
Cooks assertion, unfortunately, underplays Eliots continuing use, in the
1922 Waste Land, of Augustines portrait of the civitas Dei to illuminate the
phenomenal historical changes in postwar Europe. Given The Waste Land s
adaptation of the Manichean conflict between body and soul that occurs
in Augustines Confessions (To Carthage then I came / Burning burning
burning burning / O Lord Thou pluckest me out [3.3079]), one might
be tempted to entertain the notion that the poem explores a similar opposition, between sinful and ideal cities, gleaned from The City of God. After
all, in The City of God Augustine himself explicitly describes the contrast
between the two cities as echoing the diametric relationship between flesh
and spirit set forth in Confessions : Though there are very many and great
nations . . . , yet there are no more than two kinds of human society, which
we may justly call two cities. The one consists of those who wish to live after
the flesh, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit (14.1). Augustines examples of lustful human societies are Rome and Babylon, which
he contrasts with the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in this earth (17.3).
However, despite the Manichean resonances, The City of God is interested, above all, in emphasizing the simultaneous existence of the ideal city
and its opposite upon earth. In fact, as Augustine points out, the coexistence of the two cities means that human beings can be citizens of the
godly city while it is on a pilgrimage on earth. It is this very notion of the
presence of the city of God in the world53 that Eliot enshrines in his poem
and that allows him to reformulate nationalisms determinations of citizen
and alien in terms of the requirements of mortal citizenship in Gods city.
Thus, the suppression of a Platonic reference to a heavenly city in the 1922
Waste Land does not betoken an attempt to replace the notion of an ideal
city with the specter of imperial apocalypse in the unreal city. Rather, the
omission serves to emphasize the physical proximity of the civitas Dei to the
earthly city as imagined by Augustine, further underscoring the geographi51. Plato, Republic 9.592, quoted ibid., 128.
52. Cook, Eliot and the Carthaginian Peace, 92.
53. See Bettenson and Evans, introduction to Concerning the City of God, xlviii.

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cal infinitude of the city of God, which represents a challenge to nationalisms territorial imperatives.
Of the correspondence between the two cities, Augustine writes, the
heavenly and earthly, which are mingled together from the beginning
down to the end. While the earthly city worships false gods, she which
is heavenly, and is a pilgrim on the earth . . . is herself made by the true
God, of whom she herself must be the true sacrifice. The citizens of both
cities lead similar mortal lives amidst good and evil, until separated by the
last judgment (18.54). The parallel courses of the two cities signify that
Gods city lives in this worlds city, as far as its human element is concerned; but it lives there as an alien sojourner.54 The Waste Land attempts
to capture this Augustinian sense of the ordinary mortal who forsakes citizenship in the earthly city, becomes a stranger and pilgrim in it, and is
rendered a member of a heavenly society. The famous last stanza of Eliots
poem powerfully and eloquently captures the alien voices that try to transcend the coercive identities of a postwar world:
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi sascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidonO swallow swallow
Le Prince dAquitaine a` la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymos mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih
(5.42633)

The collection of foreign tongues dramatizes the alternative to unreal


nationalist identities. Augustine further makes the point that While this
Heavenly City . . . is on pilgrimage in this world, she calls out citizens of all
nations and so collects a society of all aliens, speaking all languages. . . . Thus
even the Heavenly City in her pilgrimage here on earth makes use of the
earthly peace and defends and seeks the compromise between human
wills. . . . In fact, that city relates the earthly peace to the heavenly peace,
which is so truly peaceful that it should be regarded as the only peace deserving the name.55 It appears then that The Waste Land s evocation of multiple
languages and universal peace in a crisis-ridden Europe (Shantih, shantih,
shantih) echoes Augustines attempts to project a different ethic of citizenship that would rise above national or territorial bonds to create a peace that
had eluded a dissolute, violent, and corrupt Rome. It is not surprising that
the association Augustine makes between earthly exile and heavenly mem54. Bettenson, Concerning the City of God, 18.1 (p. 609).
55. Ibid., 19.17 (p. 878).

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bership would be attractive to an immigrant poet intent upon expressing


a modernist sense of identity within the fragmented spaces created by
postwar nationalism. Eliots post-Augustinian expression of a universality
achieved through the shoring of fragments of alien languages defies a unitary tradition of language, culture, and national and political allegiance of
the sort advocated by the Treaty of Versailles.
The unedited version of The Waste Land makes it apparent that the heavenly city derives its conceptual significance from the unreal city of London.56 In the first draft, Socratess response to Glaucon occurs in the same
section as the description of the unreal city. Also in this version, the unreal,
earthly city of London is described at some length to emphasize the postwar
industrial degradation of the city and the lives of its inhabitants: London,
the swarming life you kill and breed, /. . . London, your people is bound
upon the wheel! / Phantasmal gnomes, burrowing in brick and stone and
steel!57 Ultimately, the contrary states of a dehumanized industrial London and the beatific world imagined by Socrates give way, in the 1922 publication, to a Dantean vision of the living death of industrial masses: Unreal
City / Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, /A crowd flowed over London
Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many (1.60
63). Nonetheless, both versions contain the critical realization that the most
viable form of national identity for early twentieth-century England derived
from the shaping influence of industrialization and the concomitant production of mass cultural and political uniformity. In his classic work Nations
and Nationalism, Ernest Gellner argues that if nationalism means homogeneity or a condition in which culture and polity are congruent then it is
the age of industrialism that produces nationalism by assigning fixed roles
to people, which extends to a formation of citizens distinct political identity
in relation to the nation. Gellner describes the latter phenomenon as a ho56. Denis Donoghue stresses the equation between the city of God and the unreal city in
the poem: A Tiresias would see the City of God as clearly as the unreal city, its malign counterpart. So the poem moves between Heart of Darkness and heart of light (The Word within a
Word, in North, Waste Land: Authoritative Text, 223).
57. Eliot, Waste Land: A Facsimile, 31. Pounds deletions in this section (The Fire Sermon)
remove much of the explanatory content that captures a contrast between industrial London
and a transcendent world, and in so doing contribute to the poems discontinuities and help
to sharpen the theme of a world of mingled fragments in which the presences of heaven and
earth, living and dead, are left indistinguishable. Although Eliots contradictory commitments
to religion and empire as alternatives to nationalism are unique to his poetic and intellectual
sensibility, Pounds editing undoubtedly heightened The Waste Land s universalist heterogeneous tendencies, facilitating a critique of the peace treatys vision of a new Europe. In his
study of Pounds influence upon the shape of the mythic material in The Waste Land, Leon
Surette focuses on Pounds impact upon the thematic coherence of the poem and not on its
rhetorical structure (The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and the Occult
[Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1993], 239).

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mogeneity imposed by objective, inescapable imperative [that] eventually


appears on the surface in the form of nationalism.58 Industrial Londons
imperatives toward homogeneity are implied by The Waste Land s verbal
and atmospheric landscape, as seen in the lines above. The poem brings together a spiritually vacant metropolitan industrialism and collapsing European empires to suggest new forms of postimperial and postsecular national
identities.
In The Waste Land, Eliots pessimistic vision of postwar and postimperial
nationalism draws on Dantes construction of hell and purgatory to dismantle the rigid political status of European subjects that is imposed by the
peace treatys new conditions. Dantes imagination of a global community
was manifestly different from that of Augustine, and their opposing conceptualization of community contributes to the poems unique density
and complexity. As we shall see, Eliots recognition of the cultural and linguistic diversity in Dantes poetry diverges from his perception of the community of alien tongues that characterizes Augustines godly city. The former belongs to the privileged system of the Roman empire, and, thus,
Dantes evocation of universality in Purgatorio has a different character
from Augustines evocation of the same. If London is the malign counterpart of the city of God, it is also a transnational Dantean megapolis that
stands in for Europe. Julia Kristeva points out that the megapolis was an
ideal of the Roman empire, implying a universalism that encompassed
the entire universe from citizen to the stars, including Greeks and barbarians as well, slaves and free men.59 So, how should a reader interpret these
two contrasting possibilities of antinationalist communities in the poem?
Critics have not always been sensitive to the poems conflicting allusions to
Augustine and Dante. According to Jean-Michel Rabate, Eliots allusions to
Dante, Virgil, and Augustine point to a comprehensive notion of civitas
that prioritizes people or citizens over the state or city: In the Latin mind,
the adjective civis is anterior to the concept of civitas, which means a city
as a group of people. However, a kinship between a modernist polyphony
of all the citizens voices60 in the poems finale and the Latinized civitas
exists alongside its disruptive counterpart, a dissolution of the civic world
within a mythologized London. The latter is represented in terms of a
new strangeness overtly acknowledged by the poem in its reference to an
Unreal City. The plight of the souls in Dantes Purgatorio is reflected in
the dispossession and displacement of the hooded hordes of disintegrating Eastern European empires. The Waste Land represents citizenship as
58. Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), 4.
59. Julia Kristeva, Nations without Nationalism, trans. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1993), 21.
60. Jean-Michel Rabate, Tradition and T. S. Eliot, in Moody, Cambridge Companion to T. S.
Eliot, 214 15.

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MODERN PHILOLOGY

deterritorialized and denationalized, an inversion of the universal imperial


ideal of Virgilian Rome: Who are these hooded hordes swarming / Over
endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth (5.36768). The poems representation of the undone souls of Ugolino, Arnaut Daniel, and La Pia,
which reside in deaths other kingdom, not only signifies modern alienated identities that are immune to nationalist interpellation but also renders London unreal, transforming its spaces into surreal echoes of a shattered European tradition and, thus, effacing the material territory that is a
primary concern of nationalism.
The Waste Land s lament over the sacrifice of a transnational European
tradition on the altar of nationalism once again finds expression in Eliots
essay on Dante. Eliot writes of the accessibility of Dante to the foreigner
of his own time because of a shared European tradition: Dante is easier
to read for a foreigner who does not know Italian very well, for other reasons: but all related to this central reason, that in Dantes time Europe, with
all its dissensions and dirtiness, was mentally more united than we can now
conceive. It is not particularly the Treaty of Versailles that has separated
nation from nation; nationalism was born long before; and the process of
disintegration which for our generation culminates in that treaty began
soon after Dantes time.61 When the poetic I says of the fractured European tongues, These fragments I have shored against my ruins, he is
motioning toward a European past whose text of a unified consciousness
would have been legible to a foreigner but presently exists as a collage of
disconnected textual pieces.
For Eliot, Dantes Roman cosmopolitan paradigm was naturally evocative of empire, not only because his poetry transcended linguistic and territorial borders but also because it engendered meetings or reunions
between poets living and dead, chief among them the long shared journey
of the narrator and protagonist Dante and Virgil, the creator of an ideal of
imperial Rome. In his essay What Is a Classic? Eliot takes Virgil, whose
Aeneid portrays the destiny of the Roman empire, to represent the epitome
of classicism for Europe. Virgil is also Dantes guide in Purgatorio ; for Eliot
this relationship culminates when Virgil bestows upon Dante the vision of
Christian culture in Europe at the end of his pilgrimage: Son, the temporal fire and the eternal, hast thou seen, and art come to a place where I, of
myself, discern no further.62 Dantes parting lines to Virgil, translated by
Eliot and cited in his essay, give us a hint of the poetic voice that Eliot was
developing in The Waste Land: a voice constituted by a transcendent literary
tradition and committed to evoking a transnational imperial imaginary of
Europe. Dantes reunions with once living poets, through much of Pur61. Eliot, Dante, 202.
62. T. S. Eliot, What Is a Classic? in On Poetry and Poets, 71.

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Srila Nayak

Contesting Nationalism in The Waste Land

243

gatorio, provide a remarkable basis for Eliots own emigre-pilgrim voice that
is shaped by forging connections with dead European poets who are closely
associated with the cultural imaginary of empire. Dantes gift of a double
vision of the temporal and the eternal is also owned by the speaker in
The Waste Land. However, the latter testifies to the disintegration of this
ideal of a universal imperial Christian culture in Europe. The Christianimperial cosmopolitanism expressed by Virgils vision of the temporal and
the transcendent is not the legacy of the speaker in Eliots poem, who
admits, I can connect / Nothing with nothing (3.3012). Something of
the same evaluation motivates The Waste Land s reference, in its last section, to the non-Italian poet Arnaut Daniel, who speaks with Dante and Virgil in his native Provencal tongue in canto 26 of Purgatorio : Poi sascose
nel foco che gli affina (5.427). Eliot was attracted to the cultural diversity
entailed in a meeting between poets of different linguistic traditions, and
he returned again to this scene of reunion in his essay Dante.
The political value of this aesthetic becomes clearer in Four Quartets,
where Eliot uses the theological framework of Dantean universalism to
represent England in terms of a universal design outside time.63 However, in The Waste Land, the fragments from Dantes texts should not be
confused with a totalizing transcendent imagined community. Rather, they
represent disembodied presences that intensify the poems defamiliarized
landscape of alienation, thus contradicting a nationalist impetus toward political or cultural or ethnic community. As we have seen, Eliots prose and
poetry repeatedly point to a correspondence between Dantes poetry and
antinationalism. The tensions between a representation of the transcendent value of Roman classicism, as a critique of liberal nationalism, and a simultaneous portrayal of its vulnerability and destruction, in the context of
postwar nationalism, point us toward the most interesting paradox of The
Waste Land. The modernist Eliot who had learned his philosophical lessons
from the neo-Hegelianism of F. H. Bradley was not content merely to show
how a mythical and classical European tradition threw light upon the contemporary. In other words, the poems portrayal of an extreme fragmentation of the classical mind of Europe also gives space to the very possibility
of an enduring European tradition that the larger structure and movement
of the poem attempts to counter.64

63. Paul Stevens, England in Moghul India, in Imperialisms: Historical and Literary Investigations, 15001900, ed. Balachandra Rajan and Elizabeth Sauer (New York: Macmillan, 2004), 67.
64. In a similar account of The Waste Land, Michael North observes, It is as if Eliot could
only approach peace through conflict, as if he could only grasp linguistic unity as an implication of linguistic disorder, and, finally, as if he could imagine social solidarity only by extension
of social chaos. Disorder thus becomes not a fault to be overcome, but a necessary moment in
the process of arriving at order (Political Aesthetic, 104).

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MODERN PHILOLOGY

Like the poems use of myth and classical allusions, the presence of the
self-conscious voice of the emigre poet challenges the sense of unitary identities fostered by nationalism. In a penetrating analysis, Rabate refers to
Eliot as a metic with a status distinct from that of the citizens whose voices he
attempts to record at the end of The Waste Land. No wonder that the
metic has not turned into a mimetic capable of imitating all the citizens
voices!65 Rabates employment of the term metic is highly appropriate
insofar as it focuses on the city as a locus of the metic s being and significance.66 However, the distinction between metic and citizens that Rabate
sees as applicable to The Waste Land as a whole is in fact undermined by the
poem, as we have seen in the context of Eliots use of The City of God.
The concept of polis, if we apply it to the sociocultural space denoted by
the poem, leaves a trail of confusing options. Does the poems polyphony
imbue the polis with an acknowledgment of differences made up of a collectivity of metics just like the poet? Or does the poem, precisely in recording
fragmented voices across eras and cultures, aspire toward a transnational
universalism like that of Augustines heavenly city? Although the poem prevents any central definition of universalism as symbolic of the Roman
empire, its universalismas signaled by the crowding of truncated European subjectivities67 from past and present in the city of Londonis both
a reminder and a distortion of the classical ideal of a universal empire.
Eliots position as a self-conscious metic acquires a particular significance in
light of the last stanza of the poem. The voices in the poems finale belong
to those who, despite their European heritage, are also metics unable to
read each other, rendered foreign by the political alienation of European
nations from one another. The disunified consciousness is that of Europe, and the poet is one metic among countless others. In the chaotic present of Europe, universalism and otherness cannot be separated, an echo of
Augustines vision of citizenship in the city of God during the disintegration
of the Roman empire. The poem thus approaches a state of universal
otherness68 in which citizen, foreigner, and metic are difficult to distinguish from one another.

65. Rabate, Tradition and T. S. Eliot, 214.


66. Ibid., 213.
67. Gikandi, Maps of Englishness, 192.
68. I take this term from Julia Kristeva, who writes about a universalism produced by a
Freudian discovery of our intrinsic difference: Let us know ourselves as unconscious,
altered, other in order to better approach the universal otherness of the strangers that we are
(Nations without Nationalism, 21).

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