“Self-Begotten” Satan and Broken Images in The Waste Land:T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Milton’s Paradise Lost

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  • ABSTRACT

    This paper examines the relation between Satan’s blasphemous argument about his birth in Paradise Lost and the fragmentary images in The Wast Land. Satan in the war against God refutes the fact that all are created by God; instead, he insists that all are “self-begotten” and “selfraised,” because no one had witnessed how they were created. His argument assumes that he is uprooted from the origin and stands alone with broken relations with other creatures: He has no history, memory but insatiable desire. Likewise, the broken images in The Waste Land appear like the displayed goods in the show window of the department store. As the goods are suddenly displayed in the show window without showing how they were made in the factory, so the images in The Waste Land just pop up without explaining their deep meanings. The broken images are cinematographic. Readers see the successional images but cannot see why this image appears, what the image refers to, and how this image is related with other images. It is worth noticing that Satan’s ontological characters seem to be infused into the modern poetic expressions of The Waste Land.


  • KEYWORD

    John Milton , Paradise Lost , Satan , Self-Begotten , Self-Raised , Broken Image , Fragment , T. S. Eliot , The Waste Land

  • I

    “Difficulty” would be the key word that mirrors one of the distinctive features of modern poetry. Editors of The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry suggest the slogan “make it difficult” as another “imperative of much modern poetry.” The difficulty of modern poetry is taken to stand for the obscure, complex or indirect poetic expression. According to Christopher Hilliard, these three features are transformed into “artifice,” “frigidity,” and “intellectualism” through which ‘ordinary’ readers can be excluded (772). This difficulty becomes the main reason of reprising “anti-modernist arguments” until now, most recently by Jonathan Rose. Not surprisingly, the “anti-modernist arguments” place their blames on T. S. Eliot more than any other modernist poets. Frank Swinnerton says that “Eliot, more than any other man has been responsible for the justification of literary frigidity” (qtd. in Hilliard 770). In fact, this difficulty of his poem partly comes from his deliberate intention: in his famous essay, “The Metaphysical Poets,” he argues that

    Eliot’s idea is somewhat reasonable: the poetry should be difficult because the society is difficult to understand. Poetry should be a reflective of reality of confusing and complex modern society. To express the modern society, the poet should be more “indirect” and “allusive” in dealing with poetic language. Without doubt, the poet’s stated intention to write indirectly or allusively is revealed in the broken or fragmentary images of his masterpiece, The Waste Land.

    Interestingly, the broken or fragmentary images appear to be connected to the ontological root that Satan in Paradise Lost argues. Satan’s polemical argument about his birth that he is “self-begotten” and “self-raised,” is recreated and resurrected in The Wast Land in a modern way. It is well known that Eliot gave his unfavorable opinion of Milton’s works. In his essay, “Milton 2,” which is written for defending or softening his intense criticism against Milton in “Milton 1,” Eliot still reveals his uneasy feelings towards Milton. While mentioning Samuel Johnson, who was also very critical of Milton, Eliot does not hesitate to say that Johnson’s discontent with Milton’s works is due to “a prejudice which I share myself; an antipathy towards Milton the man” (167-68; italics mine). Eliot allegedly confesses that he cannot see Milton’s poems without considering his radical idea on politics or religions, which he rejects. The characterization of Satan in Paradise Lost was undoubtedly influenced by the great enemies of Milton himself. Although it is still controversial whether Satan is heroic or simply diabolic, it is certain that Satan mirrored Milton’s political or religious enemies, which had deep “antipathy towards Milton.” Satan’s idea on his origin appears very similar to Eliot’s poetic expression. Satan firmly denies that he is created by God, and this leads to his denial of his direct relation with creator and neighboring creatures. Satan’s assertion that he is self-begotten makes himself actually “allusive” and “indirect.” According to his belief, there is no clear reason or explanation for his birth: he just popped up. Likewise, Eliot shows and presents his images instead of telling or explaining them. The pop up images in his The Waste Land are related with ontological root of Milton’s Satan. The difficulty of its poetic allusiveness reminds us of the inexplicable birth of Satan.

    II

    In angelology, good angels have been regarded the “messenger” of God. They speak and behave only in the direct and intimate relation with God. Therefore, they are used as “linguistic devices through which the Divinity speaks to his creation,” and they are only “spoken by the Divinity to the world” (Maggi 22-23). According to two church fathers, Augustine and Aquinas, good angels are only “mute matter,” through which God’s utterances are delivered. Milton in his Christian doctrine follows the tradition too: “[good angels] know by revelation only those things which God sees fit to show them, and they know other things by virtue of their very high intelligence” (YP: 6.348-49).1 Consequently, their language is flawless and perfection: their language is pure knowledge, and their knowledge is telepathic or intuitive. In Paradise Lost, good angels like Michael or Raphael perform the role of messenger delivering God’s warning or describing God’s creation and heavenly war to Adam. The good angles’ words spoken by God makes possible to establish strong connection between God and man. And the first awareness the good angels have intuitively and spreads as a messenger is that they are all created by God. The “mute matter” first conveys a message about their origin.

    Satan denies serving the role of God’s messenger and rather desires to be the “preacher” of the message. He writes the message and passes on it: His battle against God begins with writing his own speech, “Sleep’st thou, Companion dear” (5. 673) and delivering it to his companions. And soon after he rejects his position of “mute matter,’ he loses his intuitive awareness. He now needs sufficient evidence, relevant experience or logical syllogism to acquire the knowledge. That signifies that Satan’s language becomes a perennial exclusion from its exact meaning. Eventually, he denies the first intuitive knowledge, the creation by God, because there is no credible evidence to support that “argument.” When he bitterly argues with one of the Seraphim, Abdiel, he makes this clear. Abdiel possesses the telepathic knowledge that all are created by God, but Satan refutes this:

    Here, Satan declares that no one remembers how we were created and had seen our creation, so no one can prove that we are created by God. According to him, it is more rational to believe that we are self-begotten and self-raised by our own power. His logic is simple: because they remember nothing, they are self-begotten. How does the idea that they remember nothing jump into the blasphemous conclusion that they are self-begotten? Regina M. Schwartz attempts to account of this problem. She points out that “remembering” has been regarded as the important subject in God’s redemptive history. In Deuteronomy, “a second Moses enjoins the Israelites to remember the events of the exodus, and he proceeds to repeat that story—a second time—a repetition designed to inscribe the memory of what is to be remembered on his hearers”(5). They have to remember God’s deed, and Israelites’ future is in that stake in that memory:

    Satan loses that memory, and this is the most unique feature of the devil: “Satan remembers nothing and learning nothing” (Schwartz 93). According to Schwartz, this makes fallen angels different from the fallen man: “memory plays key role in their movement toward repentance”(106). Because Satan remembers nothing, he constantly repeats or returns to his fallen state. What he forgets for the first time is his own creation and the creator, God2, and he repeatedly returns to chaotic conditions, the opposite state of God’s creation. His loss of memory and his loss of intuitive knowledge lead to his outright denial of his own ontological origins. Naturally, Satan is disconnected from his root.

    “Self-begotten” Satan remains detached from his root, God, and simultaneously this makes himself alienated from his equal creatures of God. In this epic, Satan is always described as solitary figure (for Romantic poets, solitary hero). He is always alienated from his own surrounding place and even from his companions, other fallen angels. Soon after the Son of God is honored and proclaimed as Messiah King anointed, Satan is consumed with envy at the Son of God. Satan, “unworshipt, unobey’d the Throne supreme,” (5. 670) attempts to persuade angels to be rebels against God. Here, his place where he speaks to the rebellious angels is described as the following:

    Satan stands apart from the surrounding place. Raphael says that Satan’s place seemed to be built on “a Mount raised on a Mount” and dressed with diamond quarries and rocks of gold. Satan’s seat is not “in” but “on” the hill in the “far” blazing. It shows that Satan is not a part of the place but actually out of the place. Satan stands outside of his relation with the place. In fact, this is the distinguishing mark that represents Eve’s fall in Eden. Ken Hiltner shows how Eve has a direct relation with the garden before her fall. He suggests that Eve speaks to part of the place she inhabits, and even speaks directly to the tree, but after the fall, she views with desire the place as object (45-46). Eve makes a certain distance from her surrounding place. Hiltner gives us important clue why Eve makes such distance: “The Fall comes about from a lapse in which Eve seeks to pull herself free of Creation(to “uproot” herself from the Garden) so as to gain a God’s eye view of the Creation” (46). Like Eve, Satan “uproots” himself from the place he inhabits to acquire the objective eye view. He wants to see what God created while forgetting he belongs to that place. His question, “Who saw when this creation was” (5. 856) represents such perspective. He desires to gain the creator’s eye rather than be the part of the creation. This is why as soon as he desires to gain such objective view point, he becomes alienated from his surrounding places where God created for his beloved creatures.

    Interestingly, separation from God and the place he inhabits results in the separation from his companions, fallen angels. It is noteworthy that Satan’s armies are represented as “his Powers” (5. 743). Satan gives the fallen angels inferior status and they become Satan’s possession: His companions are actually “the object” to be possessed. In the Pandemonium, when Stan delivers his public address to the fallen angels, this becomes very clear. Soon after Satan finishes his speech, he “Self-Begotten” Satan and Broken Images in The Waste Land 479 “prevented all reply, / Prudent, lest from his resolution rais’d / Others among the chief might offer now / (Certain to be refus’d) what erst they fear’d (2. 467-70). Satan is not a part of the companions, but he stands apart from them like dictator. And the fallen angels are even called “his[Satan’s] Rivals” (2. 472). To contrast, God in the heaven calls angels “Progeny of Light, / Thrones, Domination, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers” (5. 600?601). Although angels are God’s creatures, God is not reluctant to admit that they fully share God’s authority and virtues. For Satan, his armies are identified with his powers, tools for showing his powers. God’s angels, however, are the progeny of his powers, the owners of them; God’s angels are not possessions of anyone. Satan’s alienation not only from good creatures but also from the corrupted ones signifies that he completely stands alone. He stands outside of any “relation” with all exterior creatures. Satan seems to arise from nowhere and belong to nowhere; he has no history. There are no clear things that identify Satan.

    John Guillory makes the provocative argument about Satan’s inexplicable birth and identity. He explains that Satan’s idea about self-begetting shows the fundamental shift of the poetic theory during the Renaissance period. He says that “poetic inspiration” began to be distinguished from the idea of “prophetic inspiration” (5) at that time. Many poets used to write their sacred poems with their prophetic “inspiration,” which “visitations upon us of powers outside of ourselves, not the working of our own minds” (qtd. in Guillory 6). They believed that the poetic visions came from supernatural powers, outside their own minds. But, new idea about source of writing poems began popular with the conception of “imagination,” which is “an autonomous power of mind” (6). They began to consider that poems are the “product of the mind alone” (8): “the imagination enters upon the English scene uneasily allied to a view of poetry emptied of divinity” (11). According to Guillory’s view, broken relationships and alienated images of Satan reflect the change of the poetic theory how the poems are created. The poems are widely considered to be “self-begotten” and “self-raised” by division of outside power and the individual poets. Not surprisingly Milton considers the imagination inferior to the inspiration. With anxieties at writing forbidden knowledge, Milton calls for the help of “Heav’nly Muse” (6), the Holy Spirit. The poet needed the powers outside his mind to pursue “Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme” (16) and express them guiltlessly. On the other hand, he was very critical about imagination: the imagina-tion was Satanic. Especially in Paradise Lost Satan’s imagination is identified with false description. When he tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he describes in detail how he could eat the forbidden fruit and reach the “degree of Reason (600),” but it is all his imagination, which is downright lie. Satan’s bold argument that he is “self-begotten” shares the same root with the “imagination” regarded as the new source of writing poem, which Milton devaluates as vicious and blatant “lie.”

    1John Milton, Complete Prose Works.  2Of course, we do not know whether he pretends to forget this or not. Throughout the epic, Satan’s memory is selective.

    III

    Interestingly, the shock that the Christian society might feel from Satan’s daring argument on his birth seems to be the continuing wave that modern society might feel from pop up images of The Waste Land. Before looking at the indirect and allusive images of this poem, it is very important to see the significance of the giant department store in the modern society. Alan Trachtenberg in his famous book, The Incorporation of America points out the department store as “a pedagogy of modernity” (131). The lavishly ornamented department store in the modern cities deployed all new technology like electric lights, telephone or elevators and presented gorgeous and “irresistible” goods. As a place where the modern technology is introduced to people, the department store, however, represented the “bafflement” and “mystery” within the modern cities. He explains that

    Unlike early stores, the department store hid making process of the goods. People did not know how the objects were created and where they came from. The displayed objects suddenly appeared under the sparkling light of the show window without betraying “the origins of goods.” So, many people wondered “what seemed the only final truth behind the performance” (133). They seemed to be alienated from their roots and also from surrounding places, because they looked aloof from real and dark circumstances of the dangerous city. These “self-begotten” goods in the department store represented the complex, confusing and fast changing modern society.

    It is worth noticing that the “self-begotten” items are designed for satisfying consumer’s needs and desires: “all those desirable things which directly satisfy human needs and desires” (130) were displayed in the department store. “Comsumability” often referred to desirability.” This is important because Satan’s “self-begetting” and the “imagination” are also considered as the embodiments of that “desire.” As stated above, Satan in his argument about “self-begetting,” remembers nothing, and his “desire” to be God’s eye replaces the place where his sacred memory used to take. In fact, in Paradise Lost, the desire is usually identified with the sin itself.3 Soon after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they burn in the insatiable desire and lust.4 It is no doubt that the imagination was considered as the result of the desire too. Francis Bacon is famous for having such insight: “the imagination is nothing other than the mask of desire; it inhabits the space between the way things are, and the way we wish them to be” (qtd. in Guillory 13). The poem with the imagination reflects the desires of each individual poet. “Self-begotten” and “self-raised” goods and poems do not have history, memory, origin and connections between others, but instant desires.

    The “self-begotteness”of the displayed good in the department store is infused into The Waste Land. It is no doubt that the poem occupies the central place in the modernist movement. Especially, the impact of the modernist experiment in the poem is recognized in its broken and fragmentary images of ‘that long poem.’ It is true that since its publication, many critics, especially New Criticism had tried to unify its fragmentary images searching for its “larger spiritual meanings” (Litz 455). They had worked out formula for piecing together the puzzles by suggesting moral significance. They tried to find mythic or religious themes on which every image can revolve. This critical trend had continued mainly due to Eliot’s influential prose like “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Eliot wanted to embrace tradition to make it new and peruses for the historical sense to complete grand modern poems. However, Walton Litz and Ruth Nevo suggest that now it is time to make it free from its “burden of Spiritual significance.” Walton Litz points out that “early admirers of The Waste Land were determined to give every line a moral meaning in order to rescue Eliot from charges of negativism and nihilism” (458). According to him, however, it is more required to examine each symbol and image rather than drama and grand narrative. This is, as Ezra Pound points out, “cinematographic” ideal: to simply follow succeeding visual images sometimes overlapping or overcrossing. They seem to be “selfbegotten” and “self-raised” without any origin and relations. These pop up images dissociated from other images should be the main focus of the study. The third stanza of the first part provides the “cinematographic” effect most obviously:

    More than any other scenes, this scene needs a visual help to grasp its meaning. Suddenly, Madame Sosostris appears and shows her cards without any explanation. Like people in the department store, readers are dazzled and confused by the sudden appearance of Madame Sosostris and pack of cards. Like merchant, Madame Sosostris shows her goods saying “here it is. . . Here it is. . . Here it is. . .” Seeing them, consumers (readers) get confused because they do not know which one is appropriate for them (meaningful connections seem to be all broken here). While the visual images dominate this part, however, the invisible also penetrates here. Madame Sosostris, the seeress, actually cannot see her future (she had bad cold), the eyes of Phoenician sailor are transformed into the pearls, some merchant is blind in one eye and the speaker, “I” is forbidden to see something on the card. These double images of the visible and the invisible amplify cinematographic effect. Readers see the successional images but cannot see why this image appears, what the image refers to, and how this image is related with other images. According to Nevo, in The Waste Land,

    It is unnecessary to accept wholly Nevo’s deconstructive view point, but his idea at least suggests that there is no clear axis to explain or unify the fragments, contrary to our expectation.

    As Nevo points out, there is no narrative in this poem, so there is no memory by which the narrative is constructed and developed: No past, no narrative development. The famous opening lines actually begin with the outcry to remember what happened in the past: “April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain” (1-4). April is the cruelest month that recovers our memory out of the “forgetful” snow of the winter. The memory scenes of the past, depicted in the rest lines of the first stanza, however, returns to the forgetfulness of the winter again: “I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter” (18). The unknown speaker no longer uses the past tense, but the present tense alarming that there is no description of the past any more. Now, the image of the forgetfulness dominates increasingly this poem: “ ‘Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember / “Nothing?’” (121-22); “Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead, / forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell / And the profit and loss” (312?14). Naturally, the loss of memory results in the constant repetition. The repetitive images or lines succeed to the theme of the forgetfulness: for instance, repetition of the “Phoenician Sailor” (47), “unreal City” (60), “Philomel” (99), “HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME” (141). Therefore, the poetic beauty of The Waste Land comes from the dramatic variation of the “forgetfulness” and “repetition.” These two themes revolving in this poem are very Satanic. Because it remembers nothing, it learns nothing and returns to nothing. This is why the word, “nothing” appears again and again, “Nothing againnothing” (120), “Nothing with nothing” (302). It is true that this poem is motivated by the Holy Grail myth, and the poet sometimes alludes to ritual ceremonies about birth and rebirth in his poem. It is also true that the rituals are usually gone through and repeated to remember something, the origin: founding fathers, ancestors or God for Jews. However, the repetition here is more like Satanic rather than ritualistic. The ritualistic unification of the dissociated images is not achieved because of its constant turning back to “nothing” and “forgetfulness.”

    “Nothing” represents the ontological essence of “self-begotten” and “self-raised” Satan. Paul Ricoeur explains it very well by identifying “nothing” with the satanic vanity, the idol. He says that “the idol is Nothing in the eyes of Yahweh, it is real non-being for man.” (76). He adds that

    According to Ricoeur, the idolatry, the great sin in the Christianity is symbolized with the image of “nothing” like “mist” or “breath.” Therefore, when people have to choose between God and Satan, it is equivalent to choose between God and “nothing.” It is very interesting that the fragmentary images in The Waste Land can be identified with the idolatrous images. The fabulous images mixed with some phrases of the classical texts are actually “nothing” such as “unreal city” (60), “Under the brown fog of a winter dawn” (60) and “Under the brown fog of a winter noon” (208). All are converged into “nothing” here with the “nonexistent city” and the “forgetfulness” of the winter fog.

    Eliot believed that the poets should not harbor the personal desire or emotions in writing the poems; instead they have to strive for the ideal of esthetic impersonality. He scoffs at the idea of Romantic expression, and probably rejects the idea on the imagination, which has been believed as “the autonomous power of the individual mind.” He argues in his “Tradition and the Individual Talent” that “poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” He adds that “but, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these things” (947). However, most recently, scholars like Tim Dean, Jewel Spears Brooker or Charles Altieri begin to focus on the hidden desires found in Eliot’s poems. Tim Dean argues that “Eliot imagines figures for the ideal impersonalist poet we eminently rapable” (45). According to him, the “rapable” subjects like women (madame Sosostris) or sexually ambiguous youths are actually Eliot’s impersonalist persona. Jewel Spears Brooker in “Mimetic Desire and the Return to Origins in the Waste Land” tries to connect images of blood, sexuality, the city with the real life of Eliot’s personal marriage life. Charles Altieri in “Theorizing Emotions in Eliot’s Poetry and Poetics,” also states that contrary to Eliot’s argument on emotion in his prose, his poetry is actually full of affect(emotion). These scholars suggest that contrary to Eliot’s original design, The Waste Land would not be completed such successfully without the poet’s personal and Freudian desire, which sometimes comes up to the external surface. In fact, in the opening lines, memory and desire appear like twin brother. Let’s see again the opening lines. “April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.” As above stated, the anonymous speaker begins to say, “Remember something,” and simultaneously, “remember something to desire.” To live is to desire, and to awake from the forgetfulness of the winter is to desire something. Soon, the experience of personal “I” follows the opening lines: “And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s / My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled, / And I was frightened . . .” (13-15). Interestingly, while the memory of this “I” never reappears again in the rest of this poem , the “desires” of other “I”s continuously reappear in every following scene like that of Madame Sosostris, Unreal City and the parts of “A Game of Chess” and “The Fire Sermon.” The broken images in this poem do not have history, memory, origin and connections between others, but instant desires like “self-begotten” Satan, “self begotten” imagination, and “self begotten” goods in the modern department store.

    3It is controversial if the desire is the reason of sin or it is the outcome of it.  4Paul Ricoeur in his The Symbolism of Evil says that in the story of the serpent’s temptation in Eden, the “desire” springs up as an sinful symptom: when Satan tempts Eve, “a desire has sprang up, the desire for infinity; but that infinity is not the infinity of reason and happiness, . . . it is the infinity of desire itself; it is desire of desire, taking possession of knowing, of willing, of doing, and of being” (253).

    IV

    Studying Satan’s character in Job, Elain Pagels brings her attention to the similarity between the sound of the Hebrew satan and shût, the Hebrew word “to roam” (41). According to her, in Job Satan is described as the “roving intelligent agent” (41). Milton’s Satan on the earth is also a wanderer without permanent home to inhabit and name to identify himself. This characteristic of Satan signifies his permanent dissociation from his origin, birth father. His argument that he is “self-begotten” and “self-raised” signifies his orphanage. The fragmentary world in The Waste Land also embodies Satan’s “self-begotten” and “self-raised” world. The modern poet, Eliot had seen the modern world being permanently dissociated from what he had believed as the true or mythic origin. In the cultural decay and political decline, the poet observed the modern world being uprooted from the true origin and humanity, which can be called “tradition” obtaining “the historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together” (Eliot 942). The fragmented world in The Waste Land ironically reflects poet’s affiliation with the unification of the fragments, the cultural wholeness as Eliot in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” asserts that “the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe form Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has simultaneously existence and composes a simultaneous order” (942). Therefore, the grand poem, The Waste Land is contradictory itself. As Hugh Kenner points out in The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot, the poem is “invisible” having “Voice with no ascertainable past and no particularized present” (qtd. in Hart 175), and as Matthew Hart says in “Visible Poet: T. S. Eliot and Modernist Studies,” it is also “too visible” seizing “cosmopolitan modernism” view (180). “A heap of broken images” (22) of The Waste Land share its contradictory feature with Milton’s Satan. Milton’s Satan is extremely radical in terms of his argument about birth, at the same time, is very conservative in terms of his plans to build his whole world. In particular, in Paradise Regained, Satan’s vision for “cultural wholeness” appears when he tempts Jesus in the desert. He shows the great tradition of Greek philosophy, which is the root of the Western culture:

    It is not Satan but Jesus who rejects the “tradition.” In this point of view, Jesus is more radical or “dangerous” than Satan is. The Waste Land exists between radical poetic expression and conservative cultural wholeness. Likewise, Milton’s Satan vacillates between new emphasis on “selfness” and conservative view on universal wholeness. If Milton’s Satan was “self-begotten,” he was reborn in The Waste Land by the hand of Eliot.

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