TimeWaste of Half-Objects©
(First thoughts, 1986; Second thoughts, 1994: in Colombo)
One early morning during the first weeks of 1995, I tossed a manuscript on T. S. Eliot into the trash and grunted in disgust: There! to the land of waste. Just imagine Southern Review publishing a piece like that. It would be heresy!
This was an oh-so-Eliotic literary piece about how Eliotís Four Quartets were an attempt to expurgate his sense of guilt for having contributed significantly to the causes of the Second World War. The first of the Quartets, Burnt Norton, was, of course, written before outbreak of the war, printed 1935, but no matter, Eliot clearly saw the writing -- so to speak -- on the wall throughout the period of composing Wasteland, which was published in 1922.
Several months following the trashing of this piece on Eliot, I ran across a newspaper article about Robert McNamaraís book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, which referred to McNamaraís quoting of Little Gidding, the last of the Quartets. The reporter was scathing in his ridicule of the fact that the likes of McNamara should have recourse to Eliot, coming down particularly hard on McNamaraís analytical mind for misunderstanding the intent of Eliotís mystical Four Quartets. I found this laughable and thought, Well, you should never have thrown away that manuscript on Eliot.
But during the coming weeks, reading more and more commentary on In Retrospect, seeing how impoverished the public discourse on it was, in the end I decided Iíd done well by tossing the Eliot manuscript. I could find nothing in the newspapers and magazines I hadnít heard over and over again and again since the early Sixties: not a single new thought in the twenty years since ending of the war! How could such people possibly assimilate the notion that, in the realm of ethical agonizing, Eliot and McNamara struggled with the same, shall we say, sins of the father? It would be emotionally impermissible.
Eliotís big chance was when Bertrand Russell came to Harvard prior to World War One. As an undergraduate star in the firmament of the, for the moment, finest Oriental Studies program in the English speaking world, he was drawn into the great logicianís personal entourage. Budding Sanskrit scholar face-to-face with Russell, who was then in high back-reaction against the infection the Oriental Renaissance had inflicted on the European mind, a virulent inflammation of the dura mater (hard mother) invading the collective unconscious, which only Logical Atomism could cure. Eliot was positioned to prevail against the metaphysical short-sightedness of the logician, and by extension of the physicists -- and thereby prevent the Second World War. It is as if the Gods had placed the young scholar on the scene in exactly the time and location required to perform a mission of salvation: Save the species from itself! Sadly, he failed.
The central issue involved what Rilke called making objects out of fear. (I have no intention of reproducing an article wisely trashed, but I will give the general theme.) Rilke was full onto this when Eliot first met Russell at Harvard. His Ding-Gedicht or object poem (Neue Gedichte, 1907-08) was an attempt to capture the plastic essence of the physical object as a simultaneous stack of occurrences in spatialized time -- an attempt going quite some distance beyond the Einstein of 1905 Special Relativity. Rilke realized a full account of this one year after Wasteland was published: 1923, with Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies.
The ironies involved are incredible. While Rilke experientially mastered the percepts behind the object poem, Eliot at Harvard intensively textually studied the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in Sanskrit, laying the foundation for his writing of Wasteland, which was based upon a limited understanding of what Rilke was already by 1907 well onto experientially mastering: object-constitution relative to nonlinear time. Eliot was so vectored by analytical (not unlike McNamara) doctrinal reconciliation compulsions (encouraged by the academic environment of Harvard) that he neglected the experiential dimension and did not pay adequate attention to his immediate intellectual milieu: what was happening in logic, higher mathematics, and physics. Had he been more balanced, he might have successfully performed the mission vouchsafed him by the Gods.
Transfinite set theory, Analytical Cubism, Husserlís reductive phenomenology, Emil Postís m-valued logics were well on the scene before Wasteland was published, and each provided more insight into object-constitution than Eliot had gleaned from his Upanishadic studies. The Vedic and Upanishadic simultaneous points-of-view, the aperspectival, the all equally correct does not refer to interpretations, as the textural analyst and poet of Wasteland, Eliot, supposed. It refers to the notion that the object is not selfsame. In order to gain perceptual admittance to the non-simple identity of the object, however, one must waste linear time -- as Rilke and Husserl well knew. This involves actually entering the infinite regress of self-reflexivity (the accomplishment of which transfinite set theory can aid) so much a part of Hindu thought.
Reading a text and experiencing a world are not absolutely the same, even in principle. The act of interpretation in literary criticism is not identical to psychological projection in perceptual experience. The two might have much in common, but they are distinguishable. Eliot began, early in the century, to act -- inwardly and outwardly -- as if the reading of a natural language and experiencing the natural world were the same. This was a tragic miscegenation leading his generation directly into a wasteland the civilization has yet to emerge from.
Eliot, himself, eventually escaped that wasteland and found his way to the TimeWaste of Half-Objects. In Wasteland he had struggled with LandWaste, escaping spatial notions of reference; it was necessary for him to move on to a consideration of temporal reference. Another brave soul to accomplish the same feat was Yukio Mishima, so clearly described in his Sun and Steel. As illustration of the principles involved, consider haiku poetry. One core meaning of the haiku poem is that a full realization of any any-one-thing (Rilkeís plastic essence of the physical object) is a complete summation of All-every-thing. Hologramic poetry! Any any-one-thing cannot exist in absence of All-every-thing because the infinite images, or facets, or horizons -- needed to Cubistically constitute it (all equally correct) in the object-constancy -- each correspond to the infinite points-of-view upon itself (regress in reflexivity) possessed by all the any-one-things of All-every-thing. The state of any any-one-thing is relative to the state of All-every-thing: relative-state as a premise in set theory. TimeWaste is needed to stack, to superpose that is, the all points-of-view required to constitute any any-one-thing. Hence, the timelessness invoked by haiku, by play-verse evocation of the essence of any-particular-occasion (once cultivated by hokku-haikai in ritualized social diversion-flirtation as cosmological metaphor 575-77-575-77-575-77-575-77-575-77-575-77-575-77 forever).
It is not the emptiness (shunyata), not the Impressionistic perceptual moment of intense immediacy, not the epiphany of James J. that is both here and not here, but the ponderable physical object itself, which is dependent upon infinite regress for its very existence. Half-object: both here and not here: both A and not-A. The half-objectís third position is not only outside linear-time, it is outside the traditional binary logic that Russellís Logical Atomism tried to shore up, outside the fundamental law of syllogism: no A is not-A.
Sometime between 1922 and Burnt Norton, Eliot realized his mistake: burnt, he understood the importance of the half-object to physical theory (relative-state, superposition, quantum logic, higher-order time), and saw the political consequences of what-had-not-transpired-at-Harvard rise up in flames before his very eyes. One enormous irony he must have felt looking back from 1939 to the year Wasteland was published, 1922, was that the first German scholar invited to lecture at University of London after World War One was Edmund Husserl: 1922. Obviously, few other than Eliot registered what the great phenomenologist had to say.
When I heard McNamara was convening a conference in Hanoi to rehash the Vietnam War, I sent him much declassified intelligence information he could not have had access to in the early 1960s -- given his position at the time. Too many filters on raw data flows. I thought this information might prevent him from making a fool of himself in Hanoi. Well, obviously, his mail sorter shunted aside what I sent. Some things never change.