"The Waste Land"
Figure of Tiresias, Unity or Disparity?
(Work Cited: M.A.R Habib,“Tiresias in The Waste Land,”, “Irony as Form: The Waste Land,”“The early T.S Eliot and Western Philosophy,” Ch.8, Cambridge University Press, 1999.)
In his footnotes to Waste Land, Eliot mentions how the figure of Tiresias is “yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest” and that what he sees is in fact “the substance of the poem.” But Habib sets out to argue against Eliot’s own declaration, affirming that Eliot’s Tiresias is an irony in itself and a divided character that cannot unify anything in the poem because he is, in himself, a dual being. Habib will conclude that, if Tiresias is really meant to represent “the substance” of the poem, like what Eliot sets out to do, then Waste Land is a poem about fragmentation and the inability to find “Unity among the multiplicity” (pg.232)
There are many interesting aspects in this article I could agree upon, if we consider that, in Waste Land, Tiresias appears as a character “throbbing between two lives.” He is a dual being, trapped between two orders of existence.” According to Habib, the myth of his blindness contrasts with his prophetic visions of the future, and his body contains both sexes in one, while his gender vacillates between male and female. Also, on a metaphysical level, his existence is informed by his situation in time: although living in the present, his visions encompass the past and the future.
To Habib, Tiresias’ wisdom is abstract, which means “from above,” but because it is so abstract, Tiresias can only perceive the events of the human dimension as a puzzle of disconnected particulars without ever seeming to really understand what goes on. Then, Tiresias remains a perpetual, passive witness: “I can connect nothing with nothing” (300) But, because Habib also approaches Waste Land philosophically, he reads many aspects of the poem as moments of tension between unity and the multiple circumstances of reality: “Waste Land can be read as a poem, precisely, about the construction of reality” (pg.230). Given Eliot’s scholarly background in philosophy, this could be true. And so,to agree with Habib is to state that Tiresias is a character trapped in the middle, between the sacred world above, and the multiplicity of fragmented values found in Eliot's post-war reality, and he cannot seem to reconcile them together.
To Habib, All the voices that Tiresias hears “at the violet hour” exceed his wisdom, because he can mainly “over-hear them” and this is why he has to let them merge through him without any reconciliation, instead of letting the voices “blend into him” like Eliot intended to craft it. And, if Teresias really is supposed to represent the substance of the poem, then The Waste Land, seen as a construction of reality, is divided in two dimensions and two worlds (past/present, male/female, unity/multiplicity) and Tiresias embodies the irony of it: Its failure to find Unity.
(Carolina D., Feb.2, 2006)