The sounds come at him in a sonic Möbius of whispers;
the words are indistinct, but the tones –
Of rage and lament, of burden and cataclysm,
of dissent and vengeance and grief –
are as sharp as blades.
(Ship of Theseus, p3)
T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land is mentioned on p158 by Jen Heyward in the margins. She highlights a paragraph that describes S.’s first encounter with Vevoda’s Black Vine weapon. She and Eric discuss…
Next paper’s going to be just as hard – it’s on The Waste Land. Which I hated. *
*I THINK WE’RE GOING TO HAVE TO BREAK UP
YOU WOULD HAVE TO ASK ME OUT FIRST
Here are a few things that demonstrate resonance between The Waste Land and “S.” (Ship of Theseus)…
Joseph Campbell, a heavy influence on J.J. Abrams, says this about The Waste Land…
The Waste Land, let us say then, is any world in which (to state the problem pedagogically) force and not love, indoctrination, not education, authority, not experience, prevail in the ordering of lives, and where the myths and rites enforced and received are consequently unrelated to the actual inward realizations, needs, and potentialities of those upon whom they are impressed.
Compare this to the speech offered to the crowd at the Chateau by Edvar Vevoda VI during the climax in Chapter 10 (p444)…
We will thrive for as long as you choose extraction over creation, as long as you mistake commerce for art and destruction for progress, as long as you remain drunk on the juice that issues from the crush of a thing or place or person. We will thrive as long as you conflate power with influence, primacy with honor, goal with purpose, duty with responsibility, for thus is our business…perpetuated…thus does it hum with ever greater velocity. Our fondest hope is to continue to exploit your toxic dreams and to do so limitlessly, for thus may we claim our prenegotiated percentage of your—and, in many cases, your adversary’s—personal infinity.
And compare this to Governor Nemec’s destruction of the petroglyphs in The Territory in order to harvest the “substance” needed to create the Black Vine weapon (p362)…
“And the petroglyphs?”
“The chief understands that they’re no longer needed. There’s no proof they were carved by his people’s ancestors, anyway. It’s simply what the tribe had chosen to believe.” The man’s breathing has slowed. “Their history, mine, yours…A story of…choices. They needed their stories only because they had nothing else. Think of what Vévoda does: he helps people reshape their world in dynamic ways. Inventive ways. He offers patterns of understanding. There is destruction, yes, but it is in the service of—”
He closes his eyes, opens them.
“Of creation. And this creation is as profound as, and more real than, shapes on hillsides…or colors on canvas…or scribblings on paper—”
And in the next moment, as S. is filled with anger over this destruction, he fails to realize that he has already become the very thing he hates. As an assassin, he has destroyed the lives of many in the name of “progress.” In this moment, as he kills a man he used to care about, he completes the destruction of his own soul. This is symbolized by the death of the magpie as S. flees and by the death of his ship and its entire crew when he returns to the water. He has become part of The Waste Land himself. The chapter The Territory aptly ends with these words…
His pages are gone, lost underwater or turned to ash. He has only this empty vessel of himself. He is a ghost.
S. spends the next phase of his life as a physical ghost in The Winter City during the entire chapter Birds of Negative Space.
It is only when S. is about to kill Vevoda that he comes to himself and realizes there is no point in participating in this ongoing destruction any longer. He realizes that there is a better way. It is only then that he returns to the ship, finds the spyglass (hidden under the monkey all along), and sees a vision of a brand new ship with himself and Sola at the wheel.
I leave you with an intriguing children’s story that parallels the theme The Waste Land in Ship of Theseus and how we, as humans with free will, have the choice to either continue our march to destruction or to find a way out.
This story was published in 1936. It is about a bull named Ferdinand who liked to sit under a cork oak tree (a Sobreiro) and, because of that, learned to walk a counter-cultural path to finding his purpose in life that avoided The Waste Land. It is called The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.
Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand. All the other little bulls he lived with would run and jump and butt their heads together, but not Ferdinand. He liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers. He had a favorite spot out in the pasture under a cork tree. It was his favourite tree and he would sit in its shade all day and smell the flowers.
Sometimes his mother, who was a cow, would worry about him. She was afraid he would be lonesome all by himself. “Why don’t you run and play with the other little bulls and skip and butt your head?” she would say. But Ferdinand would shake his head. “I like it better here where I can sit just quietly and smell the flowers.” His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.
As the years went by Ferdinand grew and grew until he was very big and strong. All the other bulls who had grown up with him in the same pasture would fight each other all day. They would butt each other and stick each other with their horns. What they wanted most of all was to be picked to fight at the bull fights in Madrid. But not Ferdinand–he still liked to sit just quietly under the cork tree and smell the flowers.
One day five men came in very funny hats to pick the biggest, fastest roughest bull to fight in the bull fights in Madrid. All the other bulls ran around snorting and butting, leaping and jumping so the men would think that they were very very strong and fierce and pick them. Ferdinand knew that they wouldn’t pick him and he didn’t care.
So he went out to his favourite cork tree to sit down. He didn’t look where he was sitting and instead of sitting on the nice cool grass in the shade he sat on a bumble bee. Well, if you were a bumble bee and a bull sat on you what would you do? You would sting him. And that is just what this bee did to Ferdinand. Wow! Did it hurt! Ferdinand jumped up with a snort. he ran around puffing and snorting, butting and pawing the ground as if he were crazy.
The five men saw him and they all shouted with joy. here was the largest and fiercest bull of all. Just the one for the bull fights in Madrid! So they took him away for the bullfight day in a cart.
What a day it was! Flags were flying, bands were playing…and all the lovely ladies had flowers in their hair. They had a parade ino the bull ring. First came the Banderilleros with long sharp pins with ribbins on them to stick in the bull and make him mad. Next came the Picadors who rode skinny horses and they had long spears to stick in the bull and make him madder. Then came the Matador, the proudest of all–he thought he was very handsome, and bowed to the ladies. He had a red cape and a sword and was supposed to stick the bull last of all. Then came the bull, and you know who that was don’t you? –FERDINAND.
They called him Ferdinand the Fierce and all of the Banderilleros were afraid of him and the Picadores were afraid of him and the Matador was scared stiff. Ferdinand ran to the middle of the ring and everyone shouted and clapped because they thought he was going to fight fiercely and butt and snort and stick his horns around. But not ferdinand. When he got to the middle of the ring he saw the flowers in all the lovely ladies’ hair and he just sat down quietly and smelled.
He wouldn’t fight and be fierce no matter what they did. He just sat and smelled. And the Banderilleros were mad and the Picadores were madder and the Matador was so mad he cried because he couldn’t show off with his cape and sword. So they had to take Ferdinand home.
And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favourite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly.
He is very happy.