arc-ing the waste land

I am loving TextArc, though I am somewhat amazed that I have never heard of or seen it, especially since it has been around since the mid-late 1990s. The creator, Paley, tapped into Project Gutenberg to be able to TextArc thousands of works. The TextArc of The Waste Land brings a whole new dimension to the spatiality of the poem:

TextArc of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

In the few (wonderful) chances I have had to discuss The Waste Land with students, I have brought them into it by conceiving of the poem as a series of spaces–lands that the protagonist was traversing in search of multiple meanings. The TextArc shows that landscape in a new way–as Paley puts it (.pdf; this link describes the process of designing a TextArc): they can “serve as a visual seed, evoking new insights into a text’s meaning.”

Consider the lower right, just below the midpoint of The Waste Land arc, which maps to the final lines of “A Game of Chess”:

TextArc segment of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot–
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

Paley suggests that viewers consider the placement of scattered words in the center in this way: “think of the word as being attached to every place it is used in the text by tiny rubber bands. Those forces pull each word closer to where it appears most often in a text.” This is why we are getting words like “HURRY” and “Goodnight” so far to the right, and helps to visually show, as Paley points out about such phenomena, that the “text is episodic in nature.”

It is interesting to note that Paley included Eliot’s and Editor’s notes to the TextArc of the poem. This has the effect of shifting to the center such words as “Editor” and “Bill,” effectively altering the episodic nature of the poem (unless, of course, one considers the Notes to be part of the text of The Waste Land):

TextArc segment of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

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