Please Show You’re Working

This is an unedited version of my review for The Times Literary Supplement. The typos are, for that reason, entirely my own.

Cover: The Work of Revision, from Harvard University Press

James Joyce would often write to his patron and unofficial archivist Harriet Shaw Weaver, adding “a little waste paper to get it out of the way.” He was sending her preparatory material, work in progress, which would later become part of the British Library collection. Of the estimated 25,000 pages of drafts and sketches, less than half of these words would be printed in his ‘final’ text, Finnegans Wake. Clearly, the presence of discarded drafts and proofs, and the economies they support, provide a range of opportunities for authors, literary executors, archivists, libraries and scholars. For the latter, establishing points of provenance, compositional order, and textual transmission of these wasted notebook drafts, ‘scripts, and page proofs, along with demonstrating a technical competence necessary to marshal difficult material, can bring professional esteem, employment, promotion, publication, and many an air-conditioned holiday to an archive or research library. Studying discarded and unpublished versions creates ‘grey canons’, altered or alternative bibliographies, ever more responsive to the individuals, communities and institutions that invest in the collection, conservation, dissemination and analysis of their contents. ‘Genetic criticism’, developed by French scholars in the 1970s, has been particularly influential in the attempt to critically assess these abandoned pages, or avant-textes, for the special kind of compositional afterglow that they offer a published work and the process of its creation. And it is this effort to “make texts speak” that makes the spirit and practise of genetic criticism so intriguing – it takes muted documents to describe and thus draw us closer to the thinking that accompanied their making.

The idea of readers peering behind the curtain to gawp at textual detritus gives some authors cause for anxiety. Basil Bunting, for example, preferred that his drafts pipe down and enjoy “the damp dustbins among the peel / tobacco-ash and ends spittoon lickings” instead of the “printed ignominy” offered by their preservation. In The Work of Revision, Hannah Sullivan shows herself to be a critic who is, so to speak, willing to go through the bins. In exploring the processes of composition and decomposition, as well as providing an excellent introduction to the practical and conceptual ideas integral to comparative textual genetics, she shows how the “fossilized historical intentions” and the “traces of the action” can emerge between revised texts. Fated experiments, she argues, produce invaluable castoffs. Readers glimpse an author’s wider ambitions and, significantly, the changing shape of a work as it moves from shop floor to shop window.

What is attractive about The Work of Revision is the way Sullivan’s precise and carefully organised case histories unsettle the simple, unidirectional, and ideal passage from draft to bound copy. In her descriptions of “post-compositional revision” in particular, she reminds us of the laborious transformations that can occur prior to and after the publication of a volume. Revised texts, she argues, elicit a different kind of review, and the work, to quote Michel Contat, Denis Hollier, and Jacques Neefs, “now stands out against a background, and a series, of potentialities. Genetic criticism is contemporaneous with an esthetic of the possible.” It is with an expanded sense of possibility that Sullivan traces the labour of writing. From the failure of Henry James’s New York Edition to the posthumous publication of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land typescripts (“years of waste time, exacerbating to its author”, according to Ezra Pound), this book reflects the mixed fortunes of those that choose to revise and revise again.

The Work of Revision is organised around writings by Henry James, Pound, Hemingway, Eliot, Joyce and Woolf, along with some others. Across these case studies swirl a wider set of historical, sociological, and economic ideas, particularly about the influence that writing technologies and print histories have had in forming specific, aesthetic effects (such as ambiguity, parataxis, or autobiographical closure). Contrary, perhaps, to the intuitive idea that ‘bad’ witting needs more revision than ‘good’ writing, Sullivan argues that the history of “revising is influenced by writing technology and medium more than initial composition”. Though some writers of the early-twentieth century entertained a minimalist, Imagist aesthetic, others took to a kind of textual maximalism, exemplified by Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and the accretive method by which Joyce developed later episodes of Ulysses. Both literary minimalism and maximalism, suggests Sullivan, are best understood in terms of the technologies that permitted experiments in revision.

The typewriter brought home the clarity of blacks on blanks and, since many of Sullivan’s modernist revisionaries wrote first in freehand and then employed a typist to produce their typescripts, they benefited from an important transition between the provisional nature of manuscript and the fixity of type (“Much as I loathe the typewriter”, wrote Auden, “I must admit that it is a help in self-criticism”). Another innovation that made the period between 1890 and 1940 something of a golden era for Sullivan, were advances in automatic typesetting. In the 1880s print became faster and cheaper, publishers could afford to send their authors proofs and, in doing so, they created another opportunity to make changes to the text. The proliferation of little magazines in this period gave authors yet another opportunity to test their work against a reading public before revising for subsequent publication. Form, as well as content, emerges from these relaying acts of modification: the Pound-Eliot co-editorship of The Waste Land created a paper trail that reveals poem and “a poem that merely could have been”; Joyce’s proof-stage additions to Ulysses thicken the interior depth of his characters. More than through some totalising set of ideals that were universally shared, the significance of the period’s experimentalism returns us to the economies of print, the systems of patronage, and the matter and materialities of composition.

A revisionary history of revision, based on the distribution of writing technologies, is an important contribution to the scholarship of twentieth-century literature, and it follows a wealth of other recent studies that have focused on the historical circumstances that encouraged artistic experiment in this period. It has been presented in a book that keeps the hand busy in the margin, to mark and then return to its frequent moments of insight but also in order to take a second look at the arguments once composed and then set aside. Sullivan says Keats, Shelley, Browning and other Romantic writers did not tend to revise and could not afford to, and they scorned attempts to reignite the fading coals of the imagination and turn back time on a creative act whose authenticity was held to be unilinear in nature. Wordsworth’s Preludes marks a telling exception. The moderns had a remorseless passion for revision that reached a “perverse” state – a “fetish” for some – as they became possessed by a “psychological compulsion” to transform their texts. Wordsworth, despite conducting a project of revision that lasted decades, is described as a “penitent” reviser and is therefore categorically pre-modernist. One wonders whether Sullivan’s desire to use the history of revision to solidify rather than complicate the relations between literary epochs – Romantic, modern, postmodern, or whatever we might call them – means that these moral and quasi-medical judgements about the practise of revision must appear like the tips to some unseen mass, untethered to her arguments about writing technologies and unsupported beyond a few familiar quotes from the works of Sigmund Freud.

Encompassing statements that seem to decry the “wasteful textual attitudes” of modernist writers and their “aesthetic of textual recklessness” are contrasted to our digital present. Sullivan shows how M.F.A. programmes, which make literary revision an important and explicit part of their curricula, are as familiar as authors at literary festivals discussing the ways that they turn and return to a phrase. So long as “revising a lot turns out to be something that famous authors do” the craftiness of writing will remain the pedagogical and performative norm. But the means by which we can document textual change, and therefore the kinds of individual text histories that Sullivan creates, has radically changed in the last two decades. Accelerating the pace of publication with the almost ubiquitous use of word processing software, many writers have lost the passage from manuscript to typescript that was so influential to previous generations: electronic documents are written and edited on screen, saving over previous versions; typescript changes are approved on screen; proofs are sent by email. This makes genetic criticism, especially object-orientated, archived, and institutionalised criticism, rather more difficult to undertake. In contrast to the modernist period, Sullivan declares that revision is now “effectively free”; “there is no real danger of a work becoming fixed in a single, imperfect form.” It is a shame that these claims of digital freedom are not supported with the same kind of rigorous detail provided elsewhere. Indeed, when Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was published in the UK using first-pass galley proofs – Franzen discovered the mistake while recording a reading for the BBC’s The Review Show and a subsequent public reading commenced with the author urging his audience not to but buy the book – the costs and dangers of electronic transfer resurfaced with particular force.

In a simple sense, publishing and the process of literary composition, like other aspects of craft and commerce, are not yet fully paperless. Contemporary writers also use notebooks, send hardcopy of their unrevised typescripts (some agents and presses only accept paper submissions), and uncorrected proofs are put in circulation for book fairs; the paper evidence has not entirely disappeared. Which brings us back to decisions of individuals and collectives, back to a wider set of positions – political, social, economic, ecological, and technological – that affect compositional practise. For instance, technological obsolescence may well prevent textual geneticists from accessing the working drafts of some contemporary writers, yet the primary issue, as it was with Joyce when he dispersed “waste paper” around Europe, is whether or not avant-textes, in whatever format, are kept, stored, backed up or emailed in the first place. So, while Joyce sent his working drafts to Weaver and agonised about the notebooks that he lost during his movements across Europe, Eliot was glad to see the back of his early notebook: “I cannot feel altogether sorry that this [typescript] and the notebook have disappeared” (it was hidden in a drawer and later published in 1996 as Inventions of a March Hare). As Hannah Sullivan so skilfully shows, textual waste does have a habit of returning to texts that once required its absence, but the rate of return is not yet so rapid as to be non-existent or untraceable. The Work of Revision reflects a variety of writerly attitudes to revision as well as the decisions left open to readers regarding the value of lines crossed-out and stanza redecorated. Provocative and direct, it goes to great lengths to show just how difficult it can be to elucidate the social life of texts whose use and meaning remain a work in progress.

– 1807

The ‘Introduction’ of *Waste: A Philosophy of Things* Available Here

WasteWith the official UK release of Waste: A Philosophy of Things on 22nd May 2014, Bloomsbury have supplied a preview to give you an idea of the book’s ambitions. You can read the Introduction here.


About Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.


“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

– See more at:“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

Reviews “This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.

Table Of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction
Part I: Collecting Waste
2. Narrating the Event of Waste
3. Archaeologies of Waste
Part II: Reading Waste
4. The Poetic Economies of T. S. Eliot
5. Reading Joycean Disjecta
Part III: Building Ruins
6. Ruins Past
7. Ruins of the Future
8. Conclusion


“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

– See more at:

Waste: A Philosophy of Things, Now Available on Amazon

Though it won’t be available for some months – provisionally scheduled for release in May 2014 – my first book, Waste: A Philosophy of Things, is now listed on Amazon for pre-order. The book will be published by Bloomsbury Academic at a price that will put it beyond the reach of most individuals but with the Waste-A Philosophy of Thingshope that institutions may buy enough copies for a paperback edition to be financially viable. Having worked in academic publishing, helping others to get their work published, I am delighted that I’ll be putting out something of my own. And, though my attention is now directed to other projects, my work on waste is still a source of interest to me and, I hope, not yet redundant by all that has been written and published on the subject since I concluded my research.

Things are changing in publishing and, though I am interested in open culture and, to an extent, the open source publishing models pioneered online, I am still convinced that traditional, hardcopy formats (alongside digital formats), established on flexible but globally structured editorial, publicity and marketing relations, along with the modest kinds of innovation that Bloomsbury are strong on, is a better option for me, at this stage, and for this particular project. If that sounds like I have ethical issues with the academic publishing industry as a whole, well, I do, but this is a book that requires all the support of an established and well-run press of which Bloomsbury is certainly an example.

The cover image is taken sometime in 1888, I think, during the Tower’s construction. I am particularly interested in monuments as waste or as immanent objects of waste, and the temporality of this is explored in the book’s final chapters. It is not the case that all monuments ruin in the same way nor do they always resemble ruins in their construction, but the sight and site of a building being made makes use as well as future ruin possible. It is the relationship between use and waste, use as waste, use making waste, that has captivated me and made this book project so unexpectedly relevant to my current research into the use of twins in contemporary science. More on that elsewhere, for now, I’m looking to topping off the almost-not-quite-yetness of Waste, with the index and final proofs not yet ready.

“The Stupendous Past”: Rose Macaulay’s Pleasure of Ruins

A version of this text was presented at The Writing of Rose Macaulay, in Her Historical and Cultural Context, held at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 23 September, 2011. Special thanks to Dr. Kate Macdonald for organising this event.

Rose Macaulay’s late, great work, Pleasure of Ruins is one of the first books to give an expanded history of architectural decay. It represents an inquisition into the images, philosophy, theology, archaeology and literature of ruin. And, moreover, it is a book that allows its subject matter to infect its logic and form: it is a sprawling and enigmatic work; an excessive and truly stupendous book. I’d like to suggest to you that Rose Macaulay explores what it means to write about ruins, the first of its kind to analyse in any extensive manner the relationship between the disappearance of buildings and the disappearance of words used to describe them.

I. Beginnings 

But, before I get carried off into the labyrinthine quality of this work, a word of caution; a warning that seeks to qualify what Rose Macaulay says about ruins and what I, in turn, have to say about her:

Ruin is always over-stated; it is part of the ruin-drama staged perpetually in the human imagination, half of whose desire is to build up, while the other half smashes and levels to the earth.[1]

Pleasure of Ruins is neither a work of fiction nor a scholarly journey into the purely nonfictional, but a book that follows the affective qualities of its subject to make extravagant movements between the actual and the invented. Emphasising her emphatic belief in the ruin-mindedness of human beings, Rose Macaulay’s nonfiction is thick with fictional drama, breaking down its subject only to rebuild it through a dialectical, allegorical potential through which pasts blend into the present. This provocative nature of ruin is summarised by Byron in Canto X of Don Juan, “A grey wall, a green ruin, rusty pike, / Make my soul pass the equinoctial line / Between the present and past worlds, and hover / Upon their airy confine, half-seas-over.”[2] And, I think, in form and content, Pleasure of Ruins leaves us with a tipsy sense of overstated disquiet.

Simply opening the pages of Pleasure of Ruins soon reveals its airy and enormous referential range. It has a variety of genre – poetic, epistolic, biblical, mythological, scientific and archaeological – and an equally impressive variety of historical sources. Macaulay takes extensive quotations from Egyptian, Classical, Mediaeval, Renaissance and Early Modern, 18th, 19th and 20th century texts. I’ll have more to say about this referential depth later but until then I think it is worth noting at the outset that Macualay’s relentless engagement with the writing of others is one of the overriding features of the book, it is her chosen mode of overstatement. So, Rose is clearly not the first to write with or about ruin; indeed, she was not even the first Macaulay to write with or about ruin.

Gustave Doré, “The New Zealander,” in London: A Pilgrimage, ed. Blanchard Jerrold (London: Grant, 1872).


Concluding an article for the Edinburgh Review in 1840, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Rose’s first cousin twice removed, introduced an image of ‘the New Zealander’ to the British public. He used a projective image of London’s ruin to argue that Catholicism “may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.”[3] So prevalent did this idea of the inquisitive and judgmental New Zealander become that by 1865 Punch placed it on their list of ruined rhetoric, literary devices judged to be “used up, exhausted, threadbare, stale and hackneyed.”[4] As a side note, many of you may be familiar with Gustave Doré’s rendering of this exhausted image; it shows that racial and political outsider, wandering from the periphery of things to visit the fallen core of an empire now past. It is of course the inverse image of the grand tour we receive in Pleasure of Ruins. The sentiment shared between Thomas Macaulay’s invocation of the New Zealander and Rose Macaulay’s Pleasure of Ruins concern the travels and transportations afforded by ruin, the temporal and spatial mediation that makes ruin a thing in and of history; a thing through which we engage and refashion the past and a powerful object with which we might fashion the future.

II. Writing, Imagination, Democracy

Since writing is Rose Macualay’s chosen mode of temporal and poetic transportation, I think it worth calling into question how writing informs what she calls her “random excursion into a fantastic world” (PR, xvii). She goes on to claim that it is impossible to capture the “true” ruin (ibid) – they are constantly changing, evolving and dissolving. And, compounding this material mutability, ruins share many attributes with writing; their dubious truth is always in danger of being subsumed within the contingent terms of human representation. “ruins are always on the wing” writes Macaulay, “piece by piece they crumble away, or are transformed into something else, we stalk them down the centuries, surprising them at intervals, pinning them down, and in each stage they are less” (PR, 234). In one respect, writing about ruin serves to arrest the mutability of decay but in another respect writing suffers a comparable capacity for fragmentary obsolescence – recall the scattered prayer books which litter The World My Wilderness, the “drift of grey ashes” that signal the destruction of Miss Anstruther’s letters, or, as Macaulay wrote to Sylvia Lynd, “the charred pages of my books” that were behind after the bombing raid in 1941.[5] What emerges in these images of written decay is a familiar sentiment regarding the futility and contingency of graphic description, equally at home in the Romanticism of, say, Shelley’s fading coals as it is in the textual supplementarity of poststructural linguistics: we might try to pin ruins down but can do so only partially; they will always be less and less and less, and even that which we do manage to pin down cannot compensate for the loss of the rest. Little wonder, then, that Macaulay compares ruins to “the extant fragments of some lost and noble poem” (PR, xvii).

In her hands, ruins are a series of lost words among a world of disappearing inscriptions, fragments shored with and against words. That writing might be compared to the extant fragments of some lost and noble ruin might help to explain the extraordinary number of quotations she uses to weave her history of ruin pleasure. Perhaps her architectural subjects can only speak through these textual fragments, not so much as a tissue of quotations but more like a ruinous, polyvocal mass of extant linguistic fragments, none of which may adequately stand for a lost whole or guarantee an origin to the ruinous tradition from which Pleasure of Ruins so energetically issues. A tumbling series of quotations, expressed in a grammatical form that Sarah LeFanu has described as “a tottering pile of clauses and phrases.”[6] In both senses of the word, Macaulay’s is a work of fractured stanza. This is what makes her excursion into a world of fantasy such a modern one; it is a journey into the doubtful powers of form and transcription.

Driven by the complex uncertainties of ruins and their powers to unbalance the factual accuracies of writing, Macaulay argues that ruins make “poets and artists of nearly all tourists” (PR, 73) – ruins give a licence to roam; her book is largely dedicated to recording the records of the more rapturous and fantastical responses to Classical ruin, to which she is both an aloof and enthusiastic contributor. Ruins, for Macaulay, are “the ghosts of dead ages sleeping together” (PR, 127). In these rhapsodic fantasies, often motivated by the whispered hearsay of history, we find almost a truism of contemporary ruin theory that has been neatly summarised by Christopher Woodward, in his book called In Ruins. Precisely because ruins are materially incomplete, writes Woodward, “each spectator is forced to supply the missing pieces from his or her own imagination.”[7] Hardly a revelation, one might reasonably think, but it is an intuition important to the poetic qualities Macaulay and many others attribute to ruins. Their supplementary quality operates on textual, visual as well as epistemological levels; we do not necessarily ‘experience’ ruins directly or by miraculous isolation, but do so by mediating their liminal effects that transport our attention beyond and across the material we encounter. Our experience and consequent interpretation of ruined places become dominated by structures of metonymic correspondence and spectral supplementarity, an experience of architecture metered by a rich interplay between absent and present entities. Ruins, by definition, are engines of speculation. “Such guesses”, writes Macaulay, “are among the ruin-taster’s imaginative enjoyment” (PR, 42). Here we reach a certain kind of democratic universalism – whether you be an experienced archaeologist returning to a familiar site or a young child visiting a ruin for the first time – the pleasure of ruins is open to all. “there is room” writes Macaulay, for “all approaches in that ruin-wilderness” (PR, 213).

As I have already noted, Pleasure of Ruins argues that ruin is a cognitive quality common to all humanity, “The human race is, and always has been, ruin-minded. The literature of all ages has found beauty in the dark and violent forces, physical and spiritual, of which ruin is one symbol” (PR, 20); she goes on to speak, in overstated terms, of “that eternal ruin-appetite which consumes the febrile and fantastic human mind” (PR, 39). And yet, Macaulay is keen to explore the rather prosaic and historically divisive specificity of architectural ruin – so that they mean certain things about certain people at certain times. The “ghosts of dead ages” might be sleeping together but they are not allowed to sleep in equal comfort – Macaulay, like so many other ruin writers, hosts some ghosts and banishes others. Now I must tread carefully, there’s a finger-wagging dead end to be avoided; I will not dwell on Macaulay’s frequent allusions to those “greedy and ignorant Arabs” (PR, 135) and their disproportionate abuse of the ruins she so dearly loves. Instead, I prefer to focus on how she celebrates both the plurality of ruin response and their powers to generate a history of a highly specific nature.

III. ‘Our’ Stupendous Past

The history of ruin, as it is presented to us by Macaulay, is the qualified history of western civilisation. This is a civilisation that issues out of Greece and Rome.

in the ruin-loving dreams of western man, Persia cannot compete. It is Greece and Italy which have always mainly enshrined those wistful, backward-gazing dreams. Perhaps because it was there that our civilization was cradled and grew; we yearn back to these vestiges of our past. Perhaps because we have been bred in a classical culture, given from our youth up to understand there was the glory of the world: hypnotized, our eyes dazzle with it. Here were Socrates, Plato, Pericles, Praxiteles; here was Troy, here was Athens, the Islands, there Magna Graecia, and the tremendousness of Rome. Nothing can compete (PR, 151–152, my emphasis).

Athens becomes “the very centre of ruin-pleasure” (PR, 164). And the fortune of Roman architecture becomes synonymous with ‘history’. “Age by age, piece by piece, history falls with Rome; age by age, piece by piece, history rises as Rome rises; it is the tale of western man” (PR, 165). What can we take from statements like this? I’d like to suggest that it earmarks the duplicity of ruin as an object of historical thought: ruins are open to wild flights of fancy, dramatic moments of overstated superstition, but they can also be stages for calculated and codified acts of historical regulation, the reconstruction of an us and a them, a history of our and theirs, a history populated by victors and losers.

But, as Macaulay frequently points out, ruins are always on the move, always undergoing change, forever torn between survival and dissolution. What, then, becomes of the history that we make by these mutating entities? Although the ‘tale of western man’ might be told through ruin, the architectural basis for this history is under threat. Again, Macaulay equivocates about the paradoxical “ruin of ruins” (PR, 67). Macaulay cannot decide between the fantastic romanticism of decay or the redemptive security of the past, her past, her sense of western civilisation, that might be recovered through these extant fragments.

This conflict is born out in the rough ride that archaeologists receive in Pleasure of Ruins. By being stripped of their picturesque disorder ruins lose their poetic force, their powers of provocation. She speaks of the “familiar tragedy of archaeology—the sacrifice of beauty to knowledge” (PR, 147) and, in a marvellous moment, she claims that “Shelley would have been disgusted” if he could only see the scandal of modern Rome (PR, 202). History, Macaulay’s history, fails not in picturesque ruin but in the ruin of the picturesque – there can be no more screech-owls, toads, bats or creeping ivy once the archaeologists have rolled into town. Archaeologists corrupt the poetic history of decay. Nevertheless, Macaulay also speaks of a Dionysian battle between archaeologists, the “ruin-preservers”, and the “ruin destroyers”, those that have quarried or simply demolished ruins in order to build anew (PR, 177). Archaeology maintains ruins as well as destroys their pleasures. Excavation can make them sites of scientific enquiry that save them from redevelopment, only to lose the overwhelming and overstated effects that are the object of Macaulay’s fascination.

IV. Legacies

In 1953 Pleasure of Ruins was warmly reviewed in the British press. One reviewer, writing for The Times was quick to seal its monumental stature,

There are certain dissertations so balanced, wise, and comprehensive that they go down to future generations as So-and-So on Such-and-Such. Here is one of those rarities: “Macaulay on Ruins.” The theme has been tracked once for all, extensively, exhaustively, with wit and eloquence.[8]

And despite being out of print for decades, Pleasure of Ruins is still revered. Indeed, there has been in recent years something of a ruin fever sweeping through the social sciences and humanities. I think we can reasonably place Macaulay’s book as a precursor to this more recent fad. As a brief indication of the contemporary interest in ruin among academics, here’s a selection of books dedicated to the subject:

Michael S. Roth, Claire Lyons and Charles Merewether, ed., Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1997).

Robert Ginsberg, The Aesthetics of Ruins (New York: Rodopi, 2004).

Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Oxford: Berg, 2005).

Dylan Trigg, The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the Absence of Reason (New York: Peter Lang, 2007).

Nicholas Yablon, Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of Urban Modernity, 1819-1919 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009).

Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle, ed., Ruins of Modernity (Durham: Duke U P, 2010).

Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (London: Verso, 2010).

Brian Dillon, ed., Ruins (London and Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel Gallery and MIT, 2011).

Almost all of these reference Macualay’s book, many make a point of acknowledging its formative importance. Robert Ginsberg calls it the “pre-eminent masterpiece of ruin-writing”.[9] And, in his introduction to an anthology published earlier this year, Brian Dillon describes Pleasure of Ruins as “one of the classic studies of the subject”[10].

I’ll end with this: just as responses to ruin are always overstated, it would be wrong of me to overstate Macaulay’s role in the history of ruin writing. Ruins are both a very old and a very contemporary concern. But hers is a distinctive contribution: collating sources from an extraordinary range of generic and historical locations, equivocating the precise relationship between architecture and its description, emphasising the semantic democracy of ruin whilst advancing an exclusionary history of it, and, finally, chiding the work of archaeologists with one hand and praising them with another. If I can conclude that Pleasure of Ruins has entered some kind of ruin writing canon, attaining that monumental status of ‘Macaulay on Ruins’, then I do so and it does so through a host of speculations, contradictions and idiosyncrasies, all of which remain a pleasure of remains.

[1] Rose Macaulay, Pleasure of Ruins (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1953), 100. My emphasis. Hereafter PR in the text.

[2] Lord Byron, Don Juan, ed. Truman Guy Steffan, E. Steffan and W.W. Pratt (London: Penguin, 2004), X 61.

[3] Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Review of Leopold von Ranke’s The Ecclesiastical and Political History of the Popes During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, trans. Sarah Austin”, Edinburgh Review, 72, October 1840, 227-58.

[4] “A Proclamation,” Punch 48, 7 January 1865, 9.

[5] Quoted in Sarah LeFanu, Rose Macaulay, 233.

[6] Sarah LeFanu, 177.

[7] Christopher Woodward, In Ruins (London: Chatto & Windus, 2001), 15.

[8] “Ancient Splendours: The Lure of Ruins”, The Times, 9th December 1953, 10.

[9] Robert Ginsberg, Aesthetics of Ruin (New York: Rodopi, 2004), 463.

[10] Brian Dillon, “Introduction: A Short History of Decay” in Ruins, ed. Brian Dillon (London and Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel Gallery and MIT, 2011), 11.

Waste Effects – Table of Contents

As a quick way of navigating this site I thought it might be helpful to upload my table contents and provide links. These are not verbatim extracts but versions or papers that have a close correspondence to the final text. And there are lots of other incidental posts on this site, which closely relate to the subject of waste, that have not made it into the final draft. Now that this project is almost complete, the work in progress found here will be left up as a record of the various iterations it went through before being handed in, together, as my PhD thesis.


Chapter 1. Introduction
– Use-time and the End of Ends
– Waste-time and the End of the End
– Epic Wastes: “Nothing will come of nothing”
Sovereign Wastes: Unproductive and Uninhabited
– For a Temporal Poetics of Waste
– The Beginning of the End


Chapter 2. Narrating the Event of Waste
Interrupting Waste
Continuities of Waste
Narrating The Event of Waste in the Work of Cornelia Parker

Chapter 3. Archaeologies of Waste
Gathering Waste
– The Contingencies of Narrating Waste
– Anthropologies of Waste: Collecting Culture, Collecting Time
– Archives and the Afterlife of Collections
– Waste Remains, Dust Dissolves


Chapter 4. The Poetic Economies of T. S. Eliot
Make it Waste
– Bringing the Waste Land to Order
– Allusion, Intertexuality and Manuscript Drafts

Chapter 5. Reading Joycean Disjecta
Waste Words and Throwaways
– A Language of Flotsam and Jetsam
– Narrating the Place of Textual Waste
– Waste in Progress
– Eliot and Joyce: Writing into Disappearance


Chapter 6. Ruins Past
– The Temporality of Use
The Temporality of Ruins
– Ruins and the Past

Chapter 7. Ruins of the Future
Apocalypse, Then
– The Ozymandias Complex
– Encountering Last Things
– Concluding with Ruins

Basil Bunting – Ode 11

To a poet who advised me to preserve my numerous fragments and false starts

Narciss, my numerous cancellations prefer
slow limpness in the damp dustbins among the peel
tobacco-ash and ends spittoon lickings litter
of labels dry corks breakages and a great deal

of miscellaneous garbage picked over by
covetous dustmen and Salvation Army sneaks
to one review-rid month’s printed ignominy,
the public detection of your decay, that reeks.

From Basil Bunting, Complete Poems, ed. Richard Caddel (Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 2000), 107.

T. S. Eliot and the Writing of Waste

As the sculptural work of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion has demonstrated, the inclusion or representation of waste reveals a key, self-reflexive quality of incorporating temporal redundancy within an artwork. The inclusion of waste in these works of art, and in the literary works considered below, foregrounds the positional nature of waste – striking distinct temporal relations between processes of deposition, composition and decomposition, motivating an engagement with the work that either acknowledges an explicit severance between times of use and non-use or plays upon their uncertain commingling. Arriving at this self-reflexive, propositional potential we might begin to comprehend the temporal positions at stake when identifying objects of waste in sculpture and literature.

Writing, as an object and a process that produces objects, can be said to give rise to various encounters with ‘textual waste’ and to an idea of waste as it is mediated by texts: on the one hand, a text can describe certain things, people and landscapes that have fallen from a temporally co-dependent relationship with human activity; on another, texts might suggest a compositional form of waste by alluding to or including the drafts, excisions or textual variants; and on a third, more ghostly limb, writing may also signify its status as an object, as a thing that might be discarded, a thing to be jettisoned. This chapter and the chapter that follows will approach these different yet intrinsically related stratum of textual waste to conclude that the significance of waste in literature cannot be reduced to one strata or another; all three play a fundamental role in how we evaluate objects within texts and how we take these things to function and perform within a literary work. For the reasons outlined in my introduction, waste plays an essential role in our attempts to apportion, organise and regulate the world of things; objects and events of waste help us to trace and retrace the passage of objects through time. Rather than focusing too much on the commonplace epithets ascribed to certain literary genres, which describe particular forms of writing as ‘trash’ or ‘pulp fiction’, the following chapters attend to the dynamic, propositional presence of redundant or exhausted things within canonical works of twentieth-century poetry and prose. Thus, the condition of waste is not considered an antithesis of ‘literature’, or writing more generally, but constitutes an essential aspect of textual formation.

Simply because a particular object has been singled out for examination, this should not exclude the formal, material or historical conditions by which that object entered a particular work of literature. The theoretical works that might guide us through this first level of textual waste, whereby objects of waste are described in a text, are relatively few in number. Francesco Orlando’s Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination attends to this dilemma by accumulating an extraordinary range of literary examples to construct a complex taxonomy of literary waste, a taxonomy that stabilises each example by comparison and normalisation. In doing so, Orlando provides a remarkable number of examples from European literature where particular kinds of objects come into view and, if it achieves nothing else, confirms the enduring presence of redundancy in literary works.

Orlando’s Taxonomy of Literary Waste, in Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination, 205.

In taking a rigorously structuralist approach to the idea of waste in literature, advancing through a taxonomy of things that “consist[s] only of binary oppositions” and “terminal contrar[ies]”, Orlando argues that literary works can confirm and conform to certain set a priori categories.[1] This matrix orders types of waste according to whether the objects described have been collectively or individually perceived, whether they appear within a natural or supernatural environment, whether they form a significant or peripheral role in the narrative, can be considered wrought or raw.[2] As a taxonomy that attempts to absorb every possible form of literary waste, the scheme assumes an air of infallibility; should Orlando’s terms be unable to account for a particular obsolete thing then the failure highlights a flaw in text concerned; where these categories cannot be satisfactorily applied, “the substance of the texts is insufficient”.[3] The images of waste that we might encounter in works of literature are to be resolved and categorised within a predetermined series of categorical bifurcations; if they cannot be categorised in this way then they cannot be considered objects of waste.

The peculiar permanence that Orlando gives the waste he reads relies almost exclusively upon the stasis and reliability of what he calls the “nonfunctional”, a term that we have already rendered problematic in various ways. In my view, concepts of waste do not simply stand in opposition to concepts of use but represent a specific relation to or augmentation of the time we make through things. So, when Orlando argues that “What is used, what is needed, what serves a purpose, what is useful: these are the contraries of those things whose images we are studying”[4], he seeks to separate his study from the categorical volatility that makes waste a fundamentally reversible condition. And Orlando overlooks one of the central paradoxes of waste: in works of literature, images of waste are frequently needed, purposeful and useful for communicating a whole range of meanings. We are left to wonder about the usefulness of including images of waste, the author’s intentions in mobilising the idea of waste in their work and the various impressions available that might not be easily termed ‘collective’ or ‘individual’, ‘pertinent’ or ‘impertinent’, ‘raw’ or ‘wrought’ but might, in fact, comprise combinations of some, none or all of those terms. Textual waste is neither absolutely terminal nor absolutely contrary to the useful time that renders it articulate. And objects of waste do not necessarily herald a time of absolute or unequivocal nonfunctionality – what is discarded by one group or individual might be instrumental to another, things might change their function over time by becoming discarded, reused or recycled. And, at a less pragmatic and more conceptual level, the temporal arrangement by which waste comes into being must reconcile the use that has passed and make the idea of use present at precisely the moment where it is said to have dissolved. In other words, we cannot take for granted a polarisation between use and waste, but must, instead, seek to understand the transient co-dependence and cross-contamination of these terms. This is as true when we confront works of sculpture and literature as it is when we confront cigarette ends found in the gutter or the refuse found at a landfill.

Whilst we have discovered some flaws with one of the few works of literary criticism that has focused on the subject of waste in literature, it provides a useful departure for what follows. In response to Orlando’s attempts, I would like to suggest that when approaching the subject of waste in literature it is a mistake to isolate the object of description from the objects that make that descriptive act possible, i.e. the inevitable waste that accompanies acts of inscription and reading. The making of texts involves the production of waste, as well as references to it – a waste in both form and in content. One of the more compelling effects of waste as it is transcribed into textual forms is its capacity “simultaneously to create a fiction and to make a statement about the creation of that fiction.”[5] This metafictional potential encourages a relay between the various methods of making things, whether decaying, dissolving or going to waste, and the innumerable things that appear before us, either on the page or screen. Just as waste facilitated an analysis of productive destruction, decay and recovery that were felt to be intrinsic to the artistic practice of Parker and Dion, so we should try to understand the relationship between the textual descriptions of waste and the qualitative act of producing a thing called a ‘text’; that is to say, we should look to how waste is not simply a passive and inactive species of object, innocently tucked into works of literature for the pleasure of those with a penchant for the redundant, but as an idea that informs the construction, consumption and deconstruction of literature more broadly. These are some of the principles and ambitions that motivate the criticism below, loosening some of the burden of literary variety for the sake of a more thoroughgoing theory of how waste and writing intersect. If one assumes that literature must make recourse to a material text, then the value of waste in literature resides in the relationship between its content and the textual medium.

The following chapters concentrate on the work of just two writers, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, in order to exemplify a number of pertinent areas where ideas of ‘waste’ and ‘literature’ intersect. In restricting myself to a narrow range of authors I hope to give greater room to the theoretical implications of the thesis as a whole and, in particular, to explore the ways in which we both compose and decompose meaning when assessing the effects of waste in and upon the literary. What might be lost in not highlighting the importance of discarded things in the work of Shakespeare, Swift, Sterne, Shelley, Keats and Dickens, as well as the modern and the contemporary writers with whom the concept of waste can be readily associated,[6] might be compensated by a more thorough-going and comprehensive analysis of how waste converses with the idea of the literary, the images that are created and the textual things that mediate their potential.

As a literature that contemplates the leftovers of literature, the poetry of T. S. Eliot has gained some of its distinction through the identification and mobilisation of waste, both as an object of writing and a critical concept used to interpret that writing. At an immediate level, Eliot’s poetry is composed of substances spent, discards of image and text that seem to at once achieve and to resist the condition of absolute redundancy; there seems no end “To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage” (CPP 186).[7] But it is not simply a literature dominated by images of discarded things, nor is it simply a literature about discarded things, but a literature that seems uncannily aware of what remains of its composition, a poetics that positions Eliot’s work among the residues of his texts and countless others. And, whilst this poetics of residua absorbs within it a whole range of modernist mantras – to ‘make it new’ and to ‘make it difficult’[8] – it keenly pursues one other, less observed imperative: to ‘make it waste.’ This final imperative, though rarely acknowledged and partially achieved, accounts for the difficulty of Eliot’s writing as a productive and reflexive effect of wasted words.

We will not begin where one might expect but, instead, with a notebook, a notebook of early poems and poetic fragments that was sold by Eliot to the patron and collector John Quinn in 1922, as replete with vacant spaces as The Waste Land and an important source for that work. For many years after Quinn’s death in 1924 it was thought that this notebook had been lost or destroyed. There were a number of instances when Eliot expressed his opinion of this work. The first occurs just a few months before the publication of The Waste Land, when Eliot sent Quinn the notebook: “You will find a great many sets of verse which have never been printed and which I am sure you will agree never ought to be printed, and in putting them in your hands, I beg you fervently to keep them to yourself and see they are never printed.”[9] In a letter dated 28th July 1963, Eliot refers to the contents of this missing notebook as “unpublished and unpublishable”[10] and, in another letter to Daniel Woodward a year later, “I cannot feel altogether sorry that this [typescript] and the notebook have disappeared. The unpublished poems in the notebook were not worth publishing.”[11] These poems were not lost, however, but tucked away in a box and later bought by the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library in 1958. Their acquisition was announced to the general public ten years later, on the 25th October 1968.[12] Access to these works was limited until in 1996, when they were published as the collection Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917 and for the first time scholars interested in Eliot’s notebook were permitted to take direct quotations from it. This might seem an unremarkable case of emancipated juvenilia; work the author had hoped would remain a unique and private thing emerging into the light of public scrutiny. But the notebook’s contents and unpublished status, cancellation and subsequent publication, prove highly relevant to our consideration of textual, technical and material value. Its passage from manuscript draft to published work shows an alternative trajectory to The Waste Land, which was published in The Criterion, The Dial and as a book in 1922, but also as manuscript facsimiles in 1971. We will have time to consider what effect the publication of The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Typescript of the Original Drafts did for the understanding of that poem, but not before attending to the dynamic waste content of Inventions of the March Hare.

Discarded Inventions: Inscription on Eliot’s First Flyleaf

The notebook’s title represents a synecdoche for the changing fortunes of its contents. Inscribed “INVENTIONS OF THE MARCH HARE” on the first flyleaf, Eliot later cancelled out these words by replacing them on the front free endpaper with, “COMPLETE POEMS OF / T. S. Eliot” alongside a dedication to Jean Verdenal and an epigraph taken from Dante. Comparing Eliot’s habits in naming and dedicating his work, Christopher Ricks makes the case that Eliot probably changed the title when he knew that the contents of the notebook were to go unpublished, “between 1920 and 1925 […] when he sold it to Quinn in 1922.”[13] Double-named, no-named, one can only wonder whether Eliot deleted the former title and added the latter because he knew that ‘The Complete Poems’ was an unpublishable title for an undesirable publication. His notebook did not include the poem that had made him famous and the notebook’s fragmentary, protean correspondence to his later, published work would show it to be wholly incomplete; an embarrassing work in progress. No doubt conscious of how an act of naming can help legitimise a new publication, Ricks recovers and reinstates the cancelled title, cancelling Eliot’s cancellation. The title, ‘Inventions of the March Hare’, according to Ricks, is “likely to be less inappropriate than any other [title], as memorable, and as figuring in TSE’s correspondence.”[14] Such editorial interventions into the work of a dead writer are certainly not unusual and the cancellation of words, phrases and whole passages from a text are to be expected in a notebook to which time was given to “visions and revisions”. But what seems telling about the title and its sardonic ghost intimates the temporal relation between invention and completion, between the sketches discarded as “unpublishable” and the apparent closure of a ‘complete’ work, not to mention the figures of waste that Eliot so regularly employs to reflect how his work has been composed, what it describes and the material things it requires to make that process of composition and description possible.

During an interview in 1959 Eliot would observe, “As a rule, with me an unfinished thing is a thing that might as well be rubbed out. It’s better, if there’s something good in it that I might make use of it elsewhere, to leave it at the back of my mind than on paper in a drawer. If I leave it in a drawer it remains the same thing but if it’s in the memory it becomes transformed into something else.”[15] As a rule, things are rarely so simple. The poems in Inventions of the March Hare are works that have been rubbed out, placed in a drawer and transformed into something else; they reflect a number of possible material outcomes. But their presence in the wider body of Eliot’s writings, as both a source and another conclusion to the works published in his lifetime, means that being left at the back of drawer means that a work can still be available for reuse; those poems that were never published by Eliot became important sources for his published work. It would seem that, as time passes, the distinctions between rubbing out, remembering or discarding draft material prove far from absolute, especially when it comes to the detritus that Eliot employs in his early poems. ‘First Caprice in North Cambridge’ and ‘Second Caprice in North Cambridge’ are both manuscripts written in blue ink, composed in November 1909 and reproduced in typescript for Inventions of the March Hare:

‘First Caprice in North Cambridge’

A street-piano, garrulous and frail;
The yellow evening flung against the panes
Of dirty windows: and in distant strains
Of children’s voices, ended in a wail.

Bottles and broken glass,                                                  5
Trampled mud and grass;
A heap of broken barrows;
And a crowd of tattered sparrows
Delve in the gutter with sordid patience.
Oh, these minor considerations! . . . . .                            10

                                                                                         (IMH, 5)

Readers familiar with the work that was published during Eliot’s lifetime will recognise a number of tropes and images, many of which relate to images of waste. Compare “The yellow evening flung against the panes” (2) with the “yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes” found in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (CPP, 13), or “Bottles and broken glass, / Trampled mud and grass” (5–6) with the “Our dried voices […] As wind in dry grass / or rats’ feet over broken glass” found in The Hollow Men (CPP, 83). Finally, and most pertinent to this study, “A heap of broken barrows” resonates with and anticipates one of the most cited lines from The Waste Land: “A heap of broken images” (I.22).[16] Inventions of the March Hare is full of these whispers and sketches, migratory phrases that we can recognise as being put to use “elsewhere”. That it should be images of waste that brings this pattern of use, reuse and rubbing out to light only seems to intensify certain compositional processes of textual variation, revision and self-reference. Firstly, the appearance of “A heap of broken barrows” shows that, thirteen years prior to the publication of The Waste Land, Eliot was taking serious interest in the capacity of waste to figure semantic and visual fragmentation. Secondly, the “broken barrows” of ‘First Caprice’, which might signify animal, tumuli or tool, carries a productive uncertainty that feels at odds with the reparative promise of Eliot’s end-rhymes (glass/grass, barrows/sparrows), foretelling a tension between lyric enclosure and figurative multiplicity that can be readily traced into The Waste Land and the works that followed. And it is important to note how the catalogue of waste found in ‘First Caprice’, an inventory of muddy and discarded matter, presses against a sense of formal poetic containment. It is the specificity of waste that makes this not just a formal or semantic complexity but a lingering temporal one too – these frail, dirty, broken, trampled things remain to be considered, to be reworked, reused and open to renewed assessment. Bringing a deliberate and formal momentum to the gutter, the final lines are both a statement and summary of minor tone and reflect the temporal openness of waste, a reflexive declaration of provisional exhaustion. The final ellipsis marks both the failure to say more and the promise that these images will continue to reverberate and reappear, as they do so in Eliot’s next caprice:

‘Second Caprice in North Cambridge’

The charm of vacant lots!
The helpless fields that lie
Sinister, sterile and blind –
Entreat the eye and rack the mind,
Demand your pity.                                                     5
With ashes and tins in piles,
Shattered bricks and tiles
And the débris of the city.

Far from our definitionAnd our aesthetic laws    10
Let us pause.
With these fields that hold and rack the brain
(What: again?)
With an unexpected charm
And an unexpected repose                                         15
On an evening in December
Under a sunset yellow and rose.

                                                                                           (IMH, 15)

Whilst textual scholars such as Lyndall Gordon have argued that Eliot began writing the early fragments of The Waste Land in 1914, reading the detritus of Inventions of the March Hare reveals how Eliot’s interest in images of waste can be found scattered throughout his earlier work.[17] And it is the relentless and recurrent aspects of waste, the temporal disjunctures that makes it an actively redundant thing, which allows us to trace its passage through Eliot’s writing and expand the traditional, historical horizons given to the genesis of his later works. Waste is encountered as a strange and compelling object, with “unexpected charm” (14) these “vacant lots” (1), scattered with broken bricks and tiles, might demand pity but they also “entreat the eye and rack the mind” (4) and give pause to the conventions of philosophic discourse. Eliot produces this sense of surprise and enchantment through a canny circularity of phrase and a rhyming self-reproach, “With these fields that hold and rack the brain / (What: again?)” (12–13). Here is matter that persists in the mind in order to be taken up again in other circumstances, matter for which the future is open and without obvious closure. In the description of these vacant lots lies an involuntary aspect of Eliot’s theory of composition and memory that we noted earlier; the incomplete, vacant contents of his writing are used to signify the compulsion to write, the compulsion to respond to the salient intellectual and poetic ‘demands’ of waste. The “unfinished thing” causes a problem both materially and mentally for Eliot, prompting him to glean the unfinished object for anything that might be used again in another form. “It might as well be rubbed out”, if it is to be reused it must be left “at the back of my mind.” The failure of the draft, its incompletion makes it available for reuse, recollection and permutation; in this openness comes the force to hold and rack the mind.

The repetitions of waste in Eliot are twofold, especially when reading Inventions of the March Hare: these poems describe the outward performance of gleaning wastes for their poetic effects whilst giving an implicit, reflexive performance of drafting, discarding and retaining ideas for subsequent use. In what will be a key and revisited scene, the waste land will never be entirely “Sinister, sterile and blind” (3) but also the scene of contemplation, meditation and unforeseen light, a waste land that holds and racks the mind in a way that will secure its reprise in later works. Both with respect to the individual poem and within the context of Eliot’s wider oeuvre, ‘Second Caprice in North Cambridge’ displays a waste for repeated viewing and, typical of Eliot, one that cannot be easily understood as the ‘source’ for later work since it contains a passage written by another writer. It is, in this respect, at the intersection of a huge variety of textual wastes, both forwards and backwards in time. Note the tins, piles, vacant lots and rosiness found in Henry James’ The Bostonians:

the red sunsets of winter […] a collective impression of the meanness of boards and tin and frozen earth, sheds and rotting piles […] loose fences, vacant lots, mounds of refuse, yards bestrewn with iron pipes, telegraph poles, and bare wooden backs of places. Verena thought such a view lovely, and she was by no means without excuse when as the afternoon closed, the ugly picture was tinted with a clear, cold rosiness.[18]

These are images of animated desolation to which Eliot will again turn in when drafting ‘Preludes’ in his Inventions notebook; a poem first drafted eleven months after his first and second caprice and containing the mutated, discarded scraps, lots and images we found in those poems.[19] In section I of ‘Preludes’, gusts of wind wrap “grimy scraps / Of withered leaves about your feet / And newspapers from vacant lots” (IMH, I.5–8), section III speaks of “a thousand sordid images” (IMH III.27) and “the sparrows in the gutters” (IMH III.32), whilst section IV will conclude with the thought that “worlds revolve like ancient women / gathering fuel in vacant lots” (IMH IV.54–55). All these images of waste and redundancy we can find in earlier work, proving that Eliot’s deployment of waste occurs not by casual accident but by a discontinuous yet traceable migration from draft to draft, notebook to notebook to publication; by trial and repetition these images become animate, move, migrate and attain mutation in their multiplicity. It is in the publication of ‘Preludes’, first in Wyndham Lewis’ Blast (July 1915) and then as part of Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), that all these images of waste become publicly distilled and consumed, meanwhile, the discarded caprices remain left in a drawer and, later, secreted in the collections of the New York Public Library until their publication by Harcourt in 1996. When Eliot argues that something kept in the mind is more likely to be reused elsewhere this does not detract from the fact that we can trace this process of reuse through the trail of discarded material left behind, the drawer can be reopened and patterns of use can be described through acts of disposal.

We must revisit, as Eliot did, the value of these vacant lots: the phrase alludes to spaces and objects to be bought, sold and resold, to the actual landscapes of Boston described by Henry James, to the poems that compose Inventions of the March Hare. It might be easy to dismiss Eliot’s vacant lots as minor stanzas within the Eliot estate. Jayme Stayer has been keen to keep these poems in the drawer that Eliot cast them into. Stayer argues that the poems of Inventions of the March Hare, and the ‘Caprice’ poems in particular, show an “insecurity on the poet’s part as to whether or not his new-found tools are working […] the images of sordidness cannot be trusted to do the work he intends.”[20] Finding that various rhetorical and technical aspects of these poems to be “unconvincing”, “forced” or “derivative”, Stayer concludes that the notebook prepared Eliot for “the public stage of poetry” but is full of inferior and unfinished works.[21] But Stayer seems to degrade the potential of juvenilia or manuscript notebooks, reinforcing the rarity and singularity of the published and ‘definitive’ work over and above all the fascinating insights that draft material can provide. Failing to account for the way in which Inventions of the March Hare has, indeed, found publication, Stayer emphasises the oppositional status between draft and publication and, by employing the uncertain images of sordidness that he found so unsatisfactory:

The chaff of the notebook – its rhetorical uncertainties, self–defeating gestures, and pornographic excrescences – Eliot will sweep away, and to the public he will present the wheat that is left over: the telling allusions, hallucinatory squalor, transcendent intimations, muted suffering, eclectic fear, bilious ennui, all of it spoken, sung, or growled in virtuosic registers of irony, obliquity, deadpan, and directness.[22]

As our brief analysis of waste in the early work of Eliot has shown, Inventions of the March Hare is a vacant lot from which critics might gather their fuel. If there is such a thing as ‘chaff’ then it cannot be swept away as easily as Stayer or, perhaps, Eliot would like us to believe. This is partly due to the images of waste that are retained, reworked, refashioned and made to reverberate in more popular or accessible poems, images that describe both the transitory contents of drafts and their base materiality. It is the provisional and temporary nature of writing waste and creating the waste of writing that allows this matter to spill into and inhabit a text assumed to be free of its effects.

Although modern manuscript studies frequently stresses the difference between published and unpublished versions of the text, to note changes in meaning, structure or effect, and often to reinforce a calculating and taxonomic separation between draft and publication, our brief analysis of Eliot’s wasted revisions issues certain textual and interpretative challenges that complicate this separation. Tracing Eliot’s preoccupation with waste from around the time that the ‘Caprice’ poems were written, through to, as is our aim, the publication and critical reception of The Waste Land, will lead us to question the exclusive and independent status of the ‘published’ or ‘complete’ work. When Eliot said that the “unpublished poems in the notebook were not worth publishing”, he might be said to overlook how his published poems frequently contained the poetic residues of those unpublished drafts and that publishing one version and not another must account for their process of validation. Such a view must lead us to confront the way in which unpublished and published materials penetrate and contaminate one another, especially when ‘unpublished’ drafts are then made available as published facsimiles or typescripts. Just as other chapters have been keen to stress that there can be no such thing as an absolute form of waste, just the contingent separation of use and waste in time, so it is that manuscript or draft material cannot be expected to remain inert when interpreting works of literature. Such a view of writing means that we can supplement some views about literary composition and the writing of The Waste Land. The first concerns the ‘scene of writing’ and the stories told regarding literary manufacture. For example, it is commonly held that Eliot struggled and struggled with The Waste Land until finally, and with a lot of help from Ezra Pound, the work came together in the miraculous summer of 1922. Some have suggested that Eliot conjured the poem from nothing; he “found himself” writes Louis Menard, “with nothing to construct a poem on”.[23] But by tracing the figure and figuration of waste, the discarded scraps and drafts that preceded The Waste Land and the phrases, images and atmospheres they conjure, we can show that the construction of the poem can be found in the deconstructed wastes of earlier works. In other words, we can challenge where the composition of The Waste Land is said to have begun, an important point for a poem which throws doubt over its functional ends and beginnings. The second commonly held belief that we can supplement is the idea that The Waste Land should be understood primarily as an exchange between the text and the intertexts it alludes to and transforms, as a competitive game between Eliot and the Western canon. Whilst this intertexuality is no doubt a fundamental and distinctive aspect of Eliot’s poetic method, it overlooks the intratextual aspect of his work. That is, the correspondences established between the various kinds of writing he has authored and the sedimentation and redundancy required to shore up his work. This proves an important compositional dynamic of hoarding, storage and reuse. As Richard Badenhausen observes, “[Eliot] often scribbled fragments of verse and then hoarded them for a later time when they might blossom into larger works or be inserted into another text.”[25] The compositional and interpretative importance of so-called ‘intratexuality’ will help us appreciate not just the scene of writing but the multiple scenes of writing and rewriting, unearthing an author’s compositional relation to the texts of others and their own, both published and unpublished.


[1] Francesco Orlando, Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination: Ruins, Relics, Rarities, Rubbish, Uninhabited Places and Hidden Treasure, trans. Gabriel Philas, Daniel Seidel and Alessandra Grego (New Haven: Yale UP, 2006) 79, 102.

[2] For Orlando’s schematic in full, see Francesco Orlando, Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination 205.

[3] Francesco Orlando, Obsolete Objects 207.

[4] Orlando, Obsolete Objects 102.

[5] Patricia Waugh, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction (1984; London: Routledge, 1996) 6.

[6] See Susan Cahill, Emma Hegarty and Emilie Morin, ed, SubStance 116, 37: 2, 2008.

[7] These and subsequent references are taken from T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot (1963; London: Faber, 1969). Brief quotations will be cited as CPP with page references, additional line numbers accompany more extensive quotation.

[8] These are the mantras suggested by Sean Latham, Joyce’s Modernism (Dublin: National Library of Ireland, 2004) 1–3.

[9] T.S. Eliot, The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume I 1898–1922, ed. John Haffenden (London: Faber, 2009) 749.

[10] Quoted in B. L. Reid, The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends ([…], 1968), 540.

[11] Daniel H. Woodward, Notes on the Publishing History and Text of The Waste Land (Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America, lviii, 1964) 268.

[12] See Christopher Ricks, “Preface”, in Inventions of the March Hare, ed. Christopher Ricks (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1996) xiii. [xi–xxxiii]

[13] Christopher Ricks, Inventions of the March Hare (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1996) 4.

[14] Ricks, Inventions 5.

[15] T. S. Eliot, “T. S. Eliot, The Art of Poetry No. 1” Interviewed by Donald Hall, 1959. Online: <;. Accessed 2nd October 2010.

[16] Quotations from The Waste Land are from the 1922 edition, reprinted in T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Typescript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, ed. Valerie Eliot (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1971) 133–149.

[17] Lyndall Gordon, “The Waste Land Manuscript”, American Literature, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Jan., 1974), pp. 557-570. John T. Mayer is one of the few critics to have traced the relations between the Inventions notebook and The Waste Land but makes no mention of waste, see John T. Mayer, “The Waste Land and Eliot’s Poetry Notebook”, in T. S. Eliot: The Modernist in History, ed. Ronald Bush (Cambridge: CUP, 1991) 67–90, esp. 72 .

[18] Henry James, The Bostonians, ed. R. D. Gooder (1886; Oxford: OUP, 1984) 167, 168.

[19] See ‘[Preludes]’, Inventions of a March Hare, 334–337.

[20] Jayme Stayer, “In Search of the Early Eliot: Inventions of the March Hare” in David E. Chintz ed., A Companion to T. S. Eliot (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) 117. [107–119]

[21] Jayme Stayer, “In Search of the Early Eliot” 117, 188.

[22] Stayer, 188.

[23] Louis Menard, Discovering Modernism: T. S. Eliot and His Context, Second Edition (Oxford: OUP, 2007) 76.

[25] Richard Badenhausen, T. S. Eliot and the Art of Collaboration (Cambridge: CUP, 2004) 75.

On the Etymologies of Waste

It is worth recalling the etymology of the word ‘waste’ and its relationship to ideas of the divine, the human and the land. We take the word ‘waste’ from vastus, giving it the same Latin root as the word ‘vast’ and meaning a space that is void, immense or enormous. The vast etymology of waste takes in its vacant neighbours, vanus and vaccus, and includes the verb vasto, “to make empty or vacant, to leave unattended or uninhibited, to desert”.[1] Waste is both an a priori emptiness and a thing that has become empty: it is both a pre-exiting desert and a space that was once but is no longer inhabited. It is important to stress the landed nature of this conception of waste as well as its temporal and causal flexibility. The earliest uses of the word invariably denote an enormous and empty sense of a depopulated landscape, “uninhabited (or sparsely inhabited) and uncultivated country; a wild and desolate region, a desert, wilderness.”[2] The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the first recorded use of the word ‘waste’ can be found in the Trinity College Homilies, written in the first half of the twelfth century: “Ac se[ò]en hie henen wendend atlai pai lond unwend and bicam waste, and was roted oueral and swo bicam wildernesse.”[3] It appears that the earliest uses of ‘waste’ describe any large or uninhabited space, spaces where humans had either left uninhabited, literarily land that had “bicam waste” or land where humans could not inhabit such as deserts, seascapes or mountain ranges. Through words like ‘devastation’ we see one concept of waste, as destroyed or depleted material, conjoin with its vast etymological root, a space in which humans cannot or can no longer subsist, a space where their relation to the environment overwhelms utilitarian exchange. What is important is the relationship struck between land and the human capacity to cultivate and make that land a productive place in which to dwell. This landed notion of waste exceeds more modern associations with the commodity form, environmental depletion, financial excess or bodily excreta, carrying with it broader intimations of stewardship, scale, shelter and time. Moreover, imbued in the concept of waste that originates from these Latin and Medieval roots is a problem of waste’s relationship to time, a time codified by how, if and when humans might use something and the apparent emptiness, the ‘nothing’ that characterises all that falls beyond human control. These are spaces that gain definition from the productive time that they cannot perform. Put another way, waste is a condition that which does not coincide with the time of human activity.

Our etymological excursions have led to a somewhat Biblical cause. Waste is not only something created by humans but is something primeval, a condition that occurs prior and in distinction to the human, a condition that separates the sacred and the profane. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, waste forms the condition by which humanity can come to be and take ownership of its environment, it is the condition that precedes a “heaven[ly] benediction”. This is something to which King Lear appears all too aware when, in response to Cordelia’s refusal to accept the gift of his land, he expounds the classical maxim ex nihilo nihil fit, “Nothing will come of nothing” (F.1.1.88). In doing so, he recalls how God’s creation and redistribution of the earth’s resources was founded upon a formless void that is described in the Book of Genesis. Lear’s act of division parallels God’s intervention, both are done in distinction to and against a sense of ‘nothingness’. From what kind of ‘something’ does God create? Many Biblical scholars continue to translate the formless, primeval vacuum that precedes God’s division of earth from sea as a state of waste. Genesis 1:2 can and has been translated, “And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”[4] Variants suggest that the earth was “without form or void”[5] or was “formless and empty”[6] but, semantically and etymologically, all conclude the original state of the earth prior to God’s intervention was one dominated by the immense and uninhabitable conception of waste that medieval uses of the word upheld: “a wild and desolate region, a desert, wilderness.” This variation is born out of the peculiar and rather idiomatic Hebrew expression, ּובהוּ תהו tohû wābohû, which Judaic scripture describes the condition of the earth in this ambiguous and desolate condition. The expression tohû wābohû is of obscure providence, appearing at just two other occasions in Judaic scripture (the others are Jeremiah 4:23 and Isaiah 34:11, both of which effectively return the earth to Gen 1:2). There remains considerable debate about how to interpret and translate tohû wābohû but, following David Tsumura, we may make the following distinction: tohû means a “desert” or “waste land” and bohû meaning “empty” or “uninhabited place”. Comparing the twenty other occasions that tohû appears in the Old Testament, Tsumura concludes that tohû wābohû should be understood as “unproductive and uninhabited”.[7] For Albert Barnes this amounts to “an absence of all that can furnish or people the land” and Keil and Delitzsch gloss that, “The coming earth was at first waste and desolate, a formless, lifeless mass”.[8] The state of the earth prior to God’s intervention has been considered, therefore, to be one of mingled confusion, a noisy and desolate plane of water that can produce nothing.

[1] See Charles Lewis and Charles Short (eds.) A Latin Dictionary: Founded on Andrews’ Edition of Freund’s Latin Dictionary (1879; Oxford: Clarendon, 1945).

[2] The Oxford English Dictionary: Second Edition. 1989.

[3] Quoted in ibid.

[4] S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis (1904; London: Methuen, 1948). Others have “a formless waste”, see E. A. Speiser, The Anchor Bible: Genesis (New York: Doubleday, 1983) 3.

[5] Revised Standard Version

[6] New International Version

[7] David Toshio Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989) 31, 42.

[8] Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1866) vol. 1, 48.

School of English Research Seminar 2010 – University of Kent

Wednesdays, 4.00 p.m., Darwin Lecture Theatre 3

20 October – Geoff Dyer, ‘Cameras are Clocks for Seeing: on Camera Lucida’. Geoff Dyer is a novelist and essayist whose books include The Ongoing Moment (2005), Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (2009) and a new collection of essays, Working the Room (2010). He has written the foreword to a new edition of Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, and will explore in this talk its legacy after thirty years.


27 October – Nina Power, ‘Stony Ground but not entirely: Beckett and Humanity’. Nina Power is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Roehampton University. She is the author of One-Dimensional Woman (Zero Books, 2009) and co-editor of Alain Badiou’s On Beckett (Clinamen, 2003). Her writing appears regularly in such publications as the Guardian, New Statesman and Radical Philosophy. In this paper she will explore Samuel Beckett’s relation to the Humanities, via a reading of his understanding of humanity itself.


3 November – Will Viney, ‘‘Make it Waste’: The Poetic Economies of Eliot and Joyce’. Will Viney is a Ph.D. student at the London Consortium, and is working on a thesis about the cultural and aesthetic significance of waste in twentieth-century literature and visual art. His research engages the history of ruins aesthetics, the temporalities of decay in Modernist fiction and poetry, and the catastrophic imagination in contemporary art.


10 November – Tom McCarthy, ‘Modernism and the anti-humanist novel now’. Tom McCarthy a novelist and artist. He is the author of C (Jonathan Cape, 2010), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010. His previous books include Remainder (Metronome Press, 2005), Men in Space (Alma, 2007) and Tintin and the Secret of Literature (Granta, 2006). For this event, he will be reading from C and discussing the legacies of Modernism for the contemporary novel.


17 November – Sophie Ratcliffe, ‘Beckett and Abortion’. Sophie Ratcliffe is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford. She is the author of On Sympathy (OUP, 2008) and is currently editing the letters of P. G. Wodehouse.


24 November – Elaine Hobby, ‘On The Birth of Mankind’. Elaine Hobby is Professor of English and Drama at Loughborough University. She is editor of Jane Sharp, The Midwive’s Book (OUP, 1999) and The Birth of Mankind (Ashgate, 2009), and is working on a history of the midwifery manual from 1540 to 1720.


1 December – Laura Doyle, ‘Postcolonial or Inter-Imperial? The Dialectics of Culture in the Longue Durée’. Laura Doyle is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her books include Bordering on the Body: The Racial Matrix of Modern Fiction and Culture (OUP, 1994) and Freedom’s Empire: Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640-1940 (Duke University Press, 2008). She is currently working on a book about the dialectics of global literary history and a book-length essay on cubism in art and fiction, informed by the philosophies of Frantz Fanon and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.


8 DecemberMonica Mattfeld, ‘Spectacular Masculinity: Visable Centaurs and Virtuous Horsemanship in the British Long Eighteenth Century’ and Fiona Masterson, ‘Patches, Powder and Paint: Cosmetics in Literature 1790-1820’. Monica Mattfield and Fiona Masterson are Ph.D. students at the School of English, University of Kent. In this seminar, they will both discuss the content and scope of their research and explore the particular implications of research on material culture in the context of literary studies.

15 December – Brian Dillon, ‘A Short History of Hypochondria’. Brian Dillon is AHRC Research Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Kent. He is author of In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005) and Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (Penguin 2009). A novel, Sanctuary, will be published by Sternberg Press in 2011. In this paper he’ll discuss the development of hypochondria from an organic disease in the seventeenth century to its flourishing as a psychiatric and aesthetic concept in the nineteenth.