January 26, 2003 6:56 PM   Subscribe

"Exploring The Waste Land" is one of those sites that defines for me what the Internet should be. It utilizes the medium of the webpage to produce a result - an incredibly useful annotation of T. S. Eliot's masterpiece The Waste Land - that wouldn't work well at all on the printed page. [more inside]
posted by UKnowForKids (35 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Web design courtesy of Ted Nelson.
posted by inksyndicate at 6:59 PM on January 26, 2003

In a way, the site reminds me of Alan Moore's Watchmen - both works use their respective media (Internet and comics) to accomplish incredibly striking results that would be impossible to duplicate in, say, a printed scholarly annotation or a novel about vigilante crimefighters. Anyone know of other poetry annotation sites out there of this caliber? More generally, what other sites do you know of (present company excluded, of course) that are doing things with webpages that would have been almost inconceivable in the available media of fifteen years ago?
posted by UKnowForKids at 7:03 PM on January 26, 2003

Oh, here's a link for the monitor-impaired.
posted by UKnowForKids at 7:10 PM on January 26, 2003

Well, that page is about as confusing to me as the poem itself.
I hate frames.
posted by konolia at 7:13 PM on January 26, 2003

I think the concept is great. The execution however is pretty rough. The relationship of annotation to annotated material seems too unbalanced. A more sophisticated typographic treatment and color palette would help scale back the sense of overwhelming information. This is actually a pretty good use of frames, though some judicious DHTML could make them unnecessary.
posted by Jeff Howard at 7:26 PM on January 26, 2003

Although I'd have to break out some of my critical editions (which, somehow, didn't quite get unpacked after my last move...) to validate the content, it appears to be a quite accurate and useful page. And, what's more, a labor of love, as nowhere is there any indication of Packer's scholarly affiliation. He doesn't even link to it from his home page!
posted by MattD at 7:55 PM on January 26, 2003

I agree -- terrific concept, but (for example), the current design of the page reproduces one of the problems that typically confronts the reader of an intensely annotated poem in, say, a heavily footnoted text edition-- namely, that Eliot's lines are overwhelmed by the annotation and supplementary material.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, for many readers. But surely there's a better balance than what we see here. That said, this looks like a rich linking-together of resources which would make this a very handy thing for anyone chasing down the various and sundry points of reference.
posted by BT at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2003

impressive content. thanks for the link!
posted by dobbs at 8:10 PM on January 26, 2003

In a way, the site reminds me of Alan Moore's Watchmen

Hey - funny you should mention that, there's a similar site (not nearly as well developed) where the subject IS Alan Moore's The Watchmen, in chapter by chapter notation format. I haven't looked at it in years, but a quick Google reveals it to still be live.
posted by jonson at 8:20 PM on January 26, 2003

Yeah, jonson, that was a fun site to find when I had just finished reading Watchmen for the first time. (There's also a really useful Sandman annotation hosted at the same site. Also good: Swamp Thing annotations.)
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:28 PM on January 26, 2003

Well posted, UKnow!
posted by languagehat at 8:33 PM on January 26, 2003

I really enjoyed that link... I plan to visit it often. Thanks!
posted by adrober at 9:57 PM on January 26, 2003

now if there were only one for Gravity's Rainbow...
posted by Vidiot at 10:36 PM on January 26, 2003

Thanks for the link. On the poem itself, I say that

Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look

ought to be -

Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a look

Heresy, I know, but I think Straight throws off the metre and detracts from the strength of the line.
posted by emf at 2:17 AM on January 27, 2003

sweet jesus, the pink, the pink. WHY?

its not 1998 anymore, why are we still designing that way?

posted by three| at 4:09 AM on January 27, 2003

The layout and workings of the page seemed to me like being hit in the head three times with a hammer - and the aesthetic design was like the hammer being followed by a poke in the eye.

I would have presented the poetry text with hyperlinks to anything I wanted to explain or annotate. The explanations would appear in a pop-up or new window.
posted by nthdegx at 5:29 AM on January 27, 2003

I find as I get older I become more of the opinion that The Wasteland is a load of pretentious old twaddle.
posted by Summer at 5:48 AM on January 27, 2003

More fun with Ezra Pound's Canto LXXXI.
posted by four panels at 5:59 AM on January 27, 2003

Very nice. Not pretty. Pretty useful, nonetheless. I might take out the frames and spruce it up a little, but I would leave the functionality alone...

In a somewhat similar vein:
Bulgakov's Master and Margarita.
posted by syzygy at 6:03 AM on January 27, 2003

Summer: I find as I get older I become more of the opinion that The Wasteland is a load of pretentious old twaddle.

Well, it's no Four Quartets, that's for sure. But I still like it.
posted by UKnowForKids at 6:04 AM on January 27, 2003

now if there were only one for Gravity's Rainbow...

They'd have to pry my laptop from my cold, dead hands.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:16 AM on January 27, 2003

Thanks Uknow, great link - I will have fun with this. Also, what Jeff Howard and other said about the frames, but great & useful link nonetheless...a keeper!
posted by madamjujujive at 8:51 AM on January 27, 2003

If ever a book begged for something like this, it would be Nabokov's Pale Fire. Spent so much time flipping back and forth between the poem and the "annotation," I practically broke the spine of the book.

Great link(s), Uknow.
posted by RKB at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2003

syzygy: The Bulgakov site is fantastic—when I saw "Maps" my eyes lit up, I clicked on the "Evil Apartment" and saw it clearly marked on a period-appropriate map of Moscow, thought "This is great—but it would be even better if you could click on the map and get a close-up"... then I clicked on the map and got a close-up! And the timeline, and the themes... A brilliantly done site. Many thanks!
posted by languagehat at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2003

Well, the color choice is completely alien to the poem's feel and content, but it's still a great idea. UKnow is absolutely right when he points the Web as the best medium for both annotation and reference.
Regarding Alan Moore, all of his major comic series would profit from an annotated version: see, for instance, his own commentary to the printed version of "From Hell". Moore's scripts are said to be obsessively detailed down to characters' physical traits, the panels' backgrounds etc, and most of these details bear some relation to the events of the main story being.
Jorn "robotwisdom" Barger has been working on a shorter annotated "Finnegans Wake" almost as mindboggling as Joyce's book.
posted by 111 at 11:56 AM on January 27, 2003

main story being told
posted by 111 at 11:58 AM on January 27, 2003

One of my favorite uses of the web ever is the collection of classical texts at the Perseus Digital Library. (To jump straight to an example of the wonderfulness, see, for example, Antigone.)

Texts, translations, definitions and morphological analyses of every word, cross-references, and commentary. And a yummy little hypertext interface to it all.
posted by moss at 2:19 PM on January 27, 2003

Summer -

That was my reaction to it when I first read it when I was 15. I've read it repeatedly since then, and my opinion has never changed.
posted by Irontom at 2:48 PM on January 27, 2003

oh c'mon, summer + irontom - this is pretty damn good just from a "technical" pov (rhythm/sound), ignoring all the references and associated twaddle. i remember reading this thing first in a book i picked up cheap somewhere and not understanding half of it, but still thinking it wonderful.

anyways, as a bunch of other people have said, it looks terrible and works like a dream. every spare moment i've had at work i've been following links; this evening i read the whole poem through, trying to include the odd link without losing the rhythm, and it still worked. it's making me think that beautiful is over-rated.

on a more technical level, i (maybe alone here, amongst the wiser(r)) can't see how to re-implement this in a robust way without a pile more data being transmitted. any suggestions?
posted by andrew cooke at 3:15 PM on January 27, 2003

There's also an old, abandoned (and far more modest) attempt at hyperlinking "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" here.
posted by mattpfeff at 4:22 PM on January 27, 2003

Two more annotated Prufrocks.
posted by Vidiot at 8:08 PM on January 27, 2003

Andrew - I used to adore it. In fact I knew it off by heart when I was studying for my Oxford entrance exams. One of the questions was actually 'Do you think it is necessary to understand the meaning of a poem to appreciate it?'

In the case of the Wasteland I think no. I've waded through the various references many times. I know what the Starnbergersee is. I know what the cockney women are talking about. I've been to King William St. It adds nothing. The meaning is utterly irrelevant to everyone but Eliot himself. For example, from the annotations:

There have been several suggestions to the significance of the name Stetson. Stetson was the name of a co-worker at the bank at which Eliot worked. However, Eliot's friends saw this as a reference to Eliot's American friend, Ezra Pound. The name may stand for "everyman"; a less common verson of Smith or Jones.

You see, you can never really know what it's about. What's the point in writing in Greek or Italian instead of English? There is none. It's just a snobbish affectation. It makes adolescent Eliot fans feel very intelligent though.
posted by Summer at 3:31 AM on January 28, 2003

Summer: It must feel good to know more about poetry than Eliot (or Pound, or the many other poets who have gotten a great deal from "The Waste Land"). You don't think maybe there's a slight chance you're just rebelling against something you had to learn for your Oxford entrance exams?
posted by languagehat at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2003

summer, but what does that have to do with whether the poem is good or not? i read it when i knew nothing about eliot - or poetry - and it still felt good (as you agree, i think). maybe i'm misunderstanding you, and you're not actually criticising the poem, just saying the meaning is irrelevant? if so, fair enough (it's kind of fun finding out, though).

ps. imho the hollow men is even better (yes, i was a teenager when i read it). and this will surely make you either laugh or wince.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:27 PM on January 28, 2003

It must feel good to know more about poetry than Eliot (or Pound, or the many other poets who have gotten a great deal from "The Waste Land").

I don't believe in respecting something just because other people do. Anyway where did I say I knew more about poetry than Eliot, or even imply it? I'm saying that the poem's meaning, which may or may not have been completely clear to Eliot, adds little for his audience.

you're not actually criticising the poem, just saying the meaning is irrelevant?

I'm doing both, perhaps not as eloquently as I'd like. I found the Wasteland impressive when I first read it, but having studied Eliot a lot at university, I've come to know the tricks he uses with timing and language, and he uses them a lot. I just don't rate him as highly as I used to.
posted by Summer at 4:15 AM on January 29, 2003

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