Jan 14

Am I Blue: 2.4 Bluets

Pale blue flowers with yellow meters against an green blurry background
Creative Commons licensed image “Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)” by Flickr user Cory Zanker

I mentioned in the last post that the Blue class was inspired by three things: a film, a novel, and Maggie Nelson’s book Bluets. As much as I love Bluets, it’s kind of hard to talk about. One source of the difficulty is because it defies categories. It is prose, but it is not fiction. It has paragraphs, but often these stand alone. They are numbered. Sometimes there are clear connections from one to the next. Sometimes the transition is more associative, or what I guess must be associative, and sometimes there’s a clear change of topic. Sometime they read as epiphany. Sometimes they read as meditation. Sometimes they read as observation. And these are mutable, shifting.

I asked my students what they made of the form that the book takes, and they described it as a list. But a list of what, exactly?

Another source of difficulty, at least with teaching the book or even just talking about it with others is the deep resonance, even recognition, that some of the the moments inspire.

A Bluet is a plant with small four-petaled blue flowers. And when I googled it just now to find an image for this post, I was startled to learn that I have Bluets growing wild in my yard. They are dormant at present, it being the middle of winter and all, but while I have been secretly pleased by these lovely little invaders (they aren’t grass, after all), I never knew what they were. Now it feels a bit like kismet. Which is probably silly. And yet.

I began that paragraph to think about the book as a collection of flowers. Wildflowers to be more specific. Small, slight, delicate. Typically found in wooded places, fields, rock gardens. Solitary. Often encountered in clusters. But not always.

Some of Nelson’s critics refer to them as prose-poems but I confess, I’m a literary critic by trade, and I don’t know what to do with the “prose-poem” as a genre. So instead, I like the thought of each of these reflections as a wildflower. Somehow it makes more sense to me. They’re unpredictable and often startling and always lovely though sometimes in ways we don’t expect or can’t appreciate.

Jan 12

Am I Blue 2.3: Blue

extreme close-up of blue glass bead mobile with book shelves visible behind
Screen capture from Blue

When I first conceived of this class, there were three touchstones: Maggie Nelson’s luminous Bluets,Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and the French film Blue, the first in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Trois Couleurs trilogy.

I freely admit that I am not a film person. I have never been a film person.

I like movies, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never studied film. Film as art object is not a familiar orientation. I watch movies the way that most people read novels: for the story. I like to think that I appreciate the visual elements of the medium, but these are things that don’t come naturally to me, perspectives that I’m not trained to appreciate, and details that I generally fail to notice. The same can be said, by the way, about other visual media: photography, painting, sculpture, but I digress.

All of this to say that I have watched maybe five French films in my life: Blue is one of them, and one that I wanted to revisit.

How? Why? What to say?

Blueness circulates through the film in both large and small ways. It’s present in details, like a manila paper folder or the ink that flows from a composer’s pen or the glaze on a large planting pot in the far corner of a room. But it’s also present in large ways: the swimming pool where the main character spends her time, the glass bead mobile which is the only object she keeps from her family home, the lollipop that she gobbles down in an attempt to swallow, quite literally, her grief from the loss of her family, the blasts of light which punctuate moments of impact. . .

Blueness here is a timbre. It’s a tone, visually but also emotionally. It dictates the choice of flute for the majority of the soundtrack . . . Blue sounds like flutes as opposed to brass or percussion.

“It’s very expressive of myself. I just lump everything in a great heap which I have labelled ‘the past,’ and, having thus emptied this deep reservoir that was once myself, I am ready to continue” (This quotation is not from the film but rather from the end of Save Me the Waltz) but it’s echoing here despite the lack of reference to anything blue . . .

Jan 09

Am I Blue: 2.2

Close-up shot of square blue stained class panels.
Creative Commons licensed image “Stained glass detail 2” by Flickr user Tony Hisgett

“Most of the time, we are content to cry out ‘fuck!’ as if pinched, but the function of our wall words in slightly more elaborate curses is more complex” (William Gass, On Being Blue 52).

I’m interested in the idea of “wall words.” That may or may not have a connection to blueness beyond the obvious (the obvious being that I encountered it in a book, On Being Blue, that I read for the Blue Class.

Wall words. Words as barriers, obstructions, blockages. It seems on the surface counterintuitive. Language is a means of communication, connection, construction. And yet, as the phrase wall words reminds us, it can also serve the opposite impulse, have the opposite effect. It can create distance. It can obfuscate–that right there is a case in point.

Wall Words. Sometimes we deploy them unaware. Mostly, I suspect, we use them intentionally. We reply them in an attempt to push people away, to thwart intimacy. Gass is particularly interested in curses: “fuck you.” Curses: language weaponized, single usage or repeated almost as a fugue. Crassness, crudity. Language meant to shock, to stun, to wound.

To circle back around to blueness, obscenity and indecency seem to be relevant. Gass finds a certain joie de vivre in his use of obscenity. Some of his more generous reviews read this as a celebration of sexuality. I’m sure that it was such in its day, maybe it is even still. I appreciate the way that Gass is trying to shock us into a different kind of thinking, to open up certain portals of perspective by forcing a confrontation with nakedness–both literally and figuratively. His nakedness is not the typical tasteful nude. There are, of course, no discretely positioned fig leaves or locks of hair. Instead he’s interested in the grit. In the offensive. In the obscene. Or at least what we usually consider obscene.

While his obscenity is, I think, intended to be playful, there is also an edge–a sharp one. His playfulness is aggressive, even violent. And yet, he gives us wall words, in both senses: the concept and its deployment.

And yet. And yet.

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down. . .

Wall words. That something that doesn’t love a wall, it’s in me. Maybe it’s in most of us somewhere. (It’s pretty much impossible to think about wall words and not think about other kinds of walls in light of the current US government shut down.)

Frost wants us to ask: what are we walling in? What are we walling out?

In the time I spent with Gass over the last several days, I felt distinctly like someone he was walling out even as I wanted to be included in being blue. Who wouldn’t? On Being Blue figures blueness as transcendence; it is inclusive and accommodating. Gass’s lists of blue things have something for everyone. I recognized most of the literary references: Beckett, Pound, Larkin, Joyce, even William Faulkner’s Sanctuary, a deep-cut even for scholar of American modernism. These texts are my home, one of them anyway. But the phallocentrism of the essay (I don’t think he cites a single female author–at least none come to mind), the deployment of crude anatomical references–and the flaunting of their lewdness, the ugliness of the female objectification.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall
That wants it down.

Jan 09

Am I Blue? 2.1

blue surface with condensation droplets coating it.

Week 2, and the answer to the question “Am I blue?” is a resounding yes. In the words of William Gass, “afflictions of the spirit–dumps, mopes, Mondays–all that’s dismal . . .”

I assigned Gass without rereading him. Not the first time, I’ve done this, surely not the last. The book is called On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry. There are several reviews of the book from its 2014 reissue, all in prominent publications: The Guardian, NPR, the New York Review of Books . . .

Not once in the planning of the course, in the review of various materials that we might read or watch, or during various brainstorming sessions did it occur to me that one of the readings of blueness is as pornography, obscenity, indecency.


Sometimes things that come from out of the blue are curveballs. This one was. I should have known better with William Gass. And yet. Reading the assignment over the weekend, and within a page, we have references to blue balls and erections. Not much farther in, a quotation from Henry Miller. . .

Can one blush in blue? Pretty sure that if it were humanly possible without chemical intervention, it would have happened to me on Sunday.

But despite the phallocentrism of the essay, which I don’t think has aged especially well, there were moments of virtuosity in the essay. Gass speaks of the ways that “a random set of meanings has softly gathered around the word the way lint collects. The mind does that. A single word, single thought, a single thing, as Plato taught . . . We catch them and connect” (7). And what am I doing if not that same enterprise, just in public, with an audience or a group of collaborators, co-conspirators . . .

A few other quotations:

“Words have been thought to have magical properties. They can, we are assured by authorities, persuade, snare, frighten, bless. They can stimulate, damn, anger, kill, caress. If signs are not the same as the things that they designate, they are at least an essential segment” (21).

“blue is our talisman, our center of thought” (33).

“A color’s unity is inherent, however, since it is insistently, indivisibly present in what it is. Furthermore, every color is a completed presence in the world, a recognizable being apart from any object” (74).

“Of the colors, blue and green have the greatest emotional range. Sad reds and melancholy yellows are difficult to turn up. Among the ancient elements, blue occurs everywhere, in ice and water, in the flame as purely as in the flower, overhead and inside caves, cover fruit and boxing out of clay . . . . Blue is, therefore, the most suitable color of interior life . . .

“Because blue contracts, retreats, it is the color of transcendence, leading us away in pursuit of the infinite” (75-76).

“Blue, as you enter it, disappears. Red never does that. Every article of air might look like cobalt if we got outside ourselves to see it. The country of the blue is clear” (86).

Jan 06

Am I Blue? 1.2

boy sky as background with white net of twine superimposed
“White New Blue Sky” Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Henning Supertramp

Day two. Logistics. Favorite animals (tigers, dogs, sharks . . .) Poetry.

Is blue my favorite color? A question from a student–kind of random–maybe they did notice the shoes yesterday. Or the blouse today. Is blue my favorite color?


That answer was confusing to the class. What does that mean: “Sometimes”? I wanted to quote Whitman: I contain multitudes. But that doesn’t really answer the question. What’s your favorite color? Blue? Purple? Green? I don’t know. It depends. Which blue? How do I feel? What is the occasion?

What I can say is that I tend towards to cooler side of the spectrum; I mostly favor blues, violets, purples, sometimes greens. I change my mind. Sometimes my favorite color is blue. Sometimes it’s violet or emerald or a particular shade of fuchsia-like pink. Lately, I’ve been wearing a lot of yellows and oranges (primarily in an attempt to not get run over by a car). And then there was the period around the Kavanaugh hearings this fall when I wore black pretty much every day for a solid month.

For today’s class, we read poems: “Fragmentary Blue” by Robert Frost, “Lapis Lazuli” by W. B. Yeats, “High Windows” by Philip Larkin. Blue in nature is exceedingly rare. As James Fox has written in Bonham magazine, “The color accounts for less than four per cent of plants, five per cent of flowers and eight per cent of fruits. And though there seem to be several blue-looking birds and fish out there, only two of the planet’s 64,000 vertebrate species possess genuine blue pigment.”

Fox’s essay uses Frost’s poem as an epigraph. Frost’s poem, and Larkin’s too for that matter, both point to the intangibility of blue–not the intangible nature of color, but blue as a representation of something else–the afterlife? Heaven? Or the broad expanse of sky that stands in for those concepts. . . All of this to say that blue is multiple and abstract and complicated when linked to concepts like the hereafter, whether we read a sacred or a secular connotation.

Ultimately, I think what we are after this month is a web of connections. I’m still trying to figure out whether this is an exercise in excavation or in creation. Or both (or neither).

Jan 03

Am I Blue? 1.1

Blue tennis shoes against a brick sidewalk
“Blue shoes” Image by author.

I’m teaching a new class. It’s on blue, as in the color. This idea was born in a Canadian taxi on the way to the airport one very early morning in June 2018. I’m not entirely clear where it came from–I guess you might say it’s a bolt from the blue? It started with Maggie Nelson’s incandescent Bluets, a book that took and continues to take my breath away. From there it spiraled outward: Toni Morrison and James Baldwin; Wallace Stevens and Pablo Picasso; W. B. Yeats and Philip Larkin. Krzysztof Kieslowski. Hannah Gadsby. . . .

When I got to the airport, it was still stupid o’clock early. So early that the security lines were not open yet, so I did what any academic with an idea knocking around her brain would do: I pulled out my book and started to write it down and brainstorm. I don’t always yield to the impulse, but I’m glad that I did this time around because otherwise, the idea might have slipped back into the ether from which it came. . . instead it stayed with me.

A few weeks later, I started pitching. I’d been looking for a new course for our January intercession, and this blue idea might just work. The first version of this was a bit hesitant: “This is either really great idea or a really bad idea . . .” and to be completely honest, I’m still not entirely sure. . . but here we are six months later.

A funny thing has happened over the interim: blue things have started coming out of the woodwork.

Today's snippet:               In this dynamic, I'm surrounded.
                                             The rushing juice is subsided by my observations
                                                        of matching socks.
                                             You got blue shoes.
                                             I got blue shoes. . .
                                             You don't really want this.
                                            You chase excitement, but it doesn't mean that much
                                            And in eliminating some regrets, you create others.

                                                     "F. A. B. (The Flattery of A. Brockton)"

That’s a song lyric from a band out of Nashville called Love Circle Logic. I did some low level promotions for them in the mid-1990s in grad school. I sometimes wonder what happened to those guys. They were crazy talented but also really nice. I was just some girl who hung up their posters and came to the shows at one of the bars in town. It was a time when I was kind of lost. In eliminating some regrets, you create others. In any case, this song has stayed with me. You got blue shoes. I got blue shoes. We are all birds.

Dec 31

My Year in Running: 2018

In general, this was a much more difficult year than 2017. It started with a struggle and saw me scratch quite a few races that I had hoped to run. It also involved a cortisone shot to the knee. Not the first, but hopefully the last–this one really hurt. Overall, I ran 1255 miles (or 2020 KM) over 217 runs. I ran in only two countries: the United States & Canada but added a few new states to the mix: South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Races: I didn’t get to race as often I had hoped this year. Mostly, this was because after Richmond, I dealt with a series of small injuries that just kept getting in the way of consistency. I did manage to run two half-marathons (Run Hard Columbia & Tryon, winning my age group in both); the Chattanooga Yeti Nightmare 10 mile trail run, the Spartanburg Turkey Day 8K (snagging a pair of the coveted socks!); two 4 milers: the Tread Nightly/Tread Brightly races two 5Ks (Greenville’s St. Paddy’s Day Dash and Bash & a cross-country course, also in Greenville), and the BMW two-miler.

Best run: The 10 miler I ran at Big Bird Camp. This was my first double-digit run in a while, and I got to share the course with some of my favorite Oiselle teammates as well as a few Olympians (!). There was a brutal hill in there, but mostly dirt road through the central PA countryside and some of the most cheerful aid stations on the planet more than made up for it.

Worst run: This distinction will go to the 1200m x 4 in Hilton Head that brought the knee issue to a head. I made it through the workout and hit my paces, but halfway through my cool-down, my knee got angry enough to make me stop and walk the rest of the way home. OOF. That also resulted in my scratching the Bridge Run and the Ville to Ville relay that I’d signed up for already.

Best new piece of running gear: Koala Clip. The Koala Clip is a small pouch that clips on to the back of a sports bra. It fits right between the shoulder blades and holds a phone (and possibly a key or ID). Since drowning my iPhone SE in August, I struggle with pockets that are big enough for my phone (the iPhone X). Enter Koala Clip. I put the phone in, tuck it under the back of my bra, and I’m good to go. The pouch is not something that is easy to get in and out of while running, so it has cut down on the pictures that I’ve taken on various runs, but it allows me to have my phone on me so that I can listen to my audiobooks or in case of emergency. Game changer. Also, it’s creator, Kristina Powell, is also Volée.

Best running advice you’ve received this year:  DO YOUR CORE.

Most inspirational runner: DESI.

7 women piled on a couch, tired and happy
Bourbon Chase Van 1. #RunLove #FasterAsAMAster

Favorite picture from a run or race this year: See left. I could have chosen any number of pictures from the Bourbon Chase or Big Bird camp, but I opted for this one of the women in van 1, whom I got to hang out with for my birthday weekend. I love them all.

Race experience you would repeat in a heartbeat: The Bourbon Chase. No question. I didn’t run this race. Instead, I drove one of the vans for the Oiselle Masters Women team as they chased a random assortment of other runners over the course of 24 hours, many of which were dark and rainy. I was a late addition to the team, but I’d do it again in the heartbeat. I had such a good time cheering for these women and getting them from point to point, and I came away with several new friends, who also happen to be badass #FasterAsAMaster Oiselle runners.

If you could sum up the year in one phrase: Teamwork makes the dream work. Totally cheesy, but also totally true for 2018. My best times were the times that I shared with my team. Even the Bridge Run, which I didn’t do, was a fun weekend because I got to hang out with a couple teammates in Mount Pleasant. The Bourbon Chase and Big Bird Camp were two of the most inspirational weekends I’ve gotten to enjoy in a really long time. I can’t wait to see what 2019 will hold!

Dec 31

Boston: Week 1

And just like that, we’re off. This first week was a good week, I think. It began on Christmas Eve and finished yesterday: As I mentioned in my previous post, this marks an ending of sorts (to 2018) and also a beginning.

This first week’s workouts were a good entry back into the structure of marathon training. Mostly, I ran 6 milers. As it turns out, running 6 milers is just as much of a pain in Pittsburgh as it is in South Carolina. I have a really great 5 mile route in both places. Adding a mile gums up the works, so to speak, or at least it feels that way.

M: 6 miles in North Park. My legs felt tired and the run, which was just easy miles, felt like more of a challenge than I’d have liked.

T: Switched it up and went to Millvale to run along the Allegheny River. It was windy, but since it was Christmas, there weren’t many people around.

W: Usually my day off, but one of my Oiselle Volée friends was also in Pittsburgh to visit her family, so we decided to meet up and run together. The plan was an easy 6. As it turns out, her easy pace was not so easy for me, so this run turned into my tempo run for the week. That worked out really well since I was having such a good time catching up with my friend, that I couldn’t worry about hitting my paces.

T: Easy 6. I went back to the river and had a really nice run.

F: OFF (Finally!!)

Sat: Easy 6 back in Spartanburg.

Sun: Long run = 13. This was something of a struggle. It was drizzly and 50 when I left my house, so I was dressed in a lightweight long sleeve top and shorts. After 3 miles or so, I was very warm and sweating quite a lot, so when I got stopped at a traffic light pretty close to my house, I decided to detour back to my house and change into short sleeves. That was the right call–I was much more comfortable for the second part of the run. But around the halfway mark, my stomach decided it was unhappy. This was not long after taking a gel. I hope it was just a fluke thing and not a harbinger of future issues with Gu, but we’ll see. The remaining miles were okay, but my shins talked to me a bit in the middle there, and I was very glad to be done at 13. My armpits started to chafe around the 10 mile mark, and they’re still pretty unhappy a day later. I’m counting this as a deposit in the GRIT account.

All in all, a solid week. I’m back to box-steps and core/hip strengthening in hopes of warding off further shin issues. It’s work I should be doing anyway.

Dec 26

And so it begins. Again.

brick path with pavement o either side. blurry building far aheadWhile I’ve been keeping up my CV and my reading list here, I haven’t posted much in 2018. But today felt like a good day to crank things up again since it’s a beginning or a re-beginning of another kind: I began another marathon training cycle this morning. In exactly seventeen weeks, I’ll run marathon #5: BOSTON.

I’ve wanted to run Boston from the time that I began to train for my first marathon in 2014. Qualifying for Boston is a common goal among the distance running community. It’s a kind of status symbol. As much as I try not to care about external signs of merit, I care about a few of them, and I’m proud of my BQ. I qualified last November and dealt with a smattering of minor injuries from then through the spring, culminating in another bout of bursitis in my knee (hello, Cortisone my old friend . . . I’ve come to deal with you again . . . with apologies to Paul Simon). In any case, I finally was able to start building back up consistently this summer. In case you’re wondering, building back mileage in the South Carolina summer SUCKS like a proverbial vacuum, but I managed, and I’ve been running an average of 40 miles a week this fall. No workouts. Just miles.

Today was the first day of my 16 week training plan. If I’m honest, I’m kind of freaked out about this. I only have one workout this week, and I think that it’s going to be completely manageable. But I’m still really nervous about the miles and weeks to come. I’m not entirely sure why I’m feeling anxious–were I to guess, I’d guess that it has something to do with my investment in the race, the fact that it’s not just any race I’m training for, it’s BOSTON. I think I’m letting that fact put on more pressure than it should. Marathons often make me feel like I have something to prove. I hate that, not least because running with something to prove is a surefire way to end up injured, but also because it brings out ugliness: a kind of competitive drive that feels toxic.

The semester will, I hope, be less hectic than this previous one, which saw me with way more things on my plate than usual: not one but two time-consuming committees (both of which did important work and gave me the chance to work with some of my favorite colleagues but still consumed a lot of time and energy); not one but two conferences (and conference papers) and an extra essay to boot; plus the usual teaching responsibilities and study abroad work. There’s been a lot of noise in my mind about what comes next for me professionally. A couple of doors have closed, and I’m not sure yet which one(s) I want to open. There are a few different possibilities, but I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about them. Also, no matter what, I find transitions and change, even the good kinds, incredibly stressful.

The plan is to get back into the weekly posting throughout this training cycle in an effort to be more reflective. We’ll see how that goes.

[Creative Commons licensed image titled “Freedom Trail” by Flickr user Tim Sackton]

Sep 21

Boundaries: Reading The Waste Land With the #MeToo Generation

[This is a text version of a paper given at the T. S. Eliot Society Annual Meeting, held at Emory University on 22 September 2018. I was part of a roundtable titled “Reading The Waste Land With the #MeToo Generation.” My fellow panelists and I were each asked to choose a section of the poem and a keyword. I chose lines 111-138 or so, the middle section of “A Game of Chess,” and the keyword I selected is “Boundaries.”]


The keyword I have chosen is “Boundaries.” I’m thinking about boundaries as they relate to “A Game of Chess,” specifically the middle portion of the poem, which begins with “My nerves are bad tonight.” This is the section on which Ezra Pound comments “photography?” and also the section which features annotations not only by Pound, but also by Eliot’s first wife, Vivien. I selected this episode because it demonstrates to me one of the most important and most difficult elements of #MeToo: the messiness of boundaries: emotional, intellectual, physical, and (in this case) textual.

Cover of the paperback edition of the facsimile edition of T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land

Cover of the paperback edition of the facsimile edition of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land

Essential to my reading of the poem is the facsimile edition of the manuscript, which was first published in 1971 and edited by Eliot’s second wife Valerie. This edition sent shock waves through the world of modernist poetics by forcing scholars to acknowledge, in Eliot’s own words, “the extent of my debt to Ezra (Pound).” But as I’ve already suggested, the manuscript reveals another debt as well, the debt to Eliot’s wife. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Vivien Eliot’s contributions to The Waste Land should overshadow Pound’s.  Her marks on the facsimile manuscript are confined to a few pages, and Pound’s marginalia is far more extensive. But, while my colleagues have focused their remarks on representations of women in the poem, I want to complicate things by adding a real woman into the mix. “A Game of Chess” not only features several different female voices (Cleopatra, Viv and her “friend” and the woman with the bad nerves), it also features material traces left by an actual female hand, marks that offer comments and suggest emendations. In other words, while it’s important to thing about the ways that representations of women circulate within the poem, it’s also crucial to attend to the real human beings for whom these representations are more than mere abstractions.

“A Game of Chess” as I have argued elsewhere (at this conference, actually, back in 2009!) is a poem that is deeply concerned with heterosexual intimacy, both physical and emotional. The section that I’m focusing on, “My nerves are bad tonight” has been read by both critics and those who knew the Eliots personally, as a portrait of the couple’s marriage. “Photography?” Pound inquires in his crayon scrawl. In her notes to the facsimile, Valerie Eliot interprets this comment as “Implying too realistic a reproduction of an actual conversation (126). If it is a photograph of a marriage, whether the Eliots’ or someone elses’, what does that photo show us? What, in other words, is the poem’s vision of marital intercourse? (Spoiler alert: It’s not good).

Facsimile reproduction of "A Game of Chess"

Facsimile reproduction of “A Game of Chess” from The Waste Land Facsimile Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1974) Edited by Valerie Eliot

‘My nerves are bad tonight. Yes bad. Stay with me.
‘Speak to me.  Why do you never speak.  Speak.
‘What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
‘I never know what you are thinking.  Think.’


Anxiety. Desperation. Isolation. Neurosis. . .  And that’s just the first few lines. The poem continues:

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

This portrait is not a vision of marital bliss–not even close. The female speaker desperately longs for companionship and sympathy from her partner, and he quite obviously wants to have nothing to do with her but is unable to escape the sound of her voice.  Despite the fact that he never speaks (there are no quotation marks around his side of the discourse), she seems to be intuiting his thoughts and repeating key words and phrases back to him. The couple thus present us with a nightmarish version of intimacy: all boundaries between the man and woman have disintegrated.  Even the unspoken thoughts of one find their way into the consciousness of the other.  There is no such thing as privacy—even inside one’s own head.

Facsimile Reproduction of The Waste Land manuscript "Game of Chess" page 2

Facsimile reproduction of “A Game of Chess” from The Waste Land Facsimile Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1974) Edited by Valerie Eliot

This section of the poem highlights the dark side of intimacy. Marriage in the world of the poem seems to be ill-advised for all sorts of reasons. It is exploitation, invasion, suffocation—even harmful to one’s health if we keep reading a few lines further when we get to Lil . . . and yet, at the most elemental level of textual production, the facsimile edition points to a successful and positive marital collaboration. That is, the poem’s depiction of marriage in its thematic sense is fundamentally incompatible with its status as a material artifact.

On a textual level, at the exact moment that Eliot’s speaker (who may be a poetic version of Eliot himself) is desperately trying to shut out the female voice of his companion (who may represent his real-life wife), the poet is gladly letting her in by incorporating her suggestions written in the margins of the manuscript into the body of the text.  And she, for her part, is applauding Eliot’s depiction of what seems to be a truly wretched relationship, which may well be a vision of their own marriage, by proclaiming WONDERFUL! Not once or twice but THREE times alongside these lines of the poem. Put another way, the poem says one thing and does another. And in both cases, at heart is the line which divides one individual from another (or it’s lack).


In one sense, this section of The Waste Land is all about the problems that come from a lack of boundaries: what happens when we don’t see them, don’t observe them, don’t respect them (don’t have them?). We have a terrifying vision of post-war mind-meld where anxiety and neurosis travel freely from one psyche to the other.

But on a textual level, the poem is also enacting the productive possibilities of border crossings: collaboration.  Tending to these material particulars brings me, I hope, back around #MeToo. I’m not advocating for the dismissal of boundaries. Not at all. If anything, I think that this part of “A Game of Chess” highlights the need for clear and legible lines. When we have them (and can read them), they can facilitate powerful collaborative exchanges, such as the ones that we see in the manuscript of this part of the poem. But the passage should also serve as a reminder of the dark side of such boundaries: the consequences of their violation.