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 from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.T. S. Eliot, "Tradition the Individual Talent"
Yes, this is an unusual document, but it is also perfectly normal. It is not meant to be handed in on paper, but is meant to serve the same purpose as a thesis handed in in the traditional method. It is not a flashy example of what the internet can do, for this is not intended to showcase graphical design or programming abilities. Instead, it is meant to demonstrate a powerful new tool that can enhance literary scholarship, while exploring an equally powerful literary tool in the hands of one of the English language's great poets. What I intend to do in this thesis is examine Thomas Stearns Eliot's use of literary allusions in the poem "The Hollow Men", making the point that it (along with most of T.S. Eliot's poetry) lends itself well to the hypertext format, and in fact could be said to be inherently hypertextual.
This project is presented in three major sections, in addition to the traditional introduction and conclusion: an essay on allusions, an essay on hypertext, and a hypertext version of "The Hollow Men". The portion on allusions seeks to work towards a definition of literary allusions that takes into account their use by the author and their interpretation by the reader. In the section I have titled "Why Hypertext?" I explore some of the benefits of this form as a means to explain my reasons for choosing it to write in it. The hypertext version of the poem puts these ideas into practice by allowing a reader to explore the allusions that are the driving force behind the poem. It is not necessary to read these sections in any particular order, though there is a sort of progression in reading them in the order given above.
I've often found that studying the sources behind a work allow me to piece together a comprehensive understanding of what the author is presenting and allows me to come to my own interpretation much more than simply studying the words themselves could ever do. When I first read Eliot's The Waste Land, which has been called the best poem of the twentieth century by many, I felt bombarded by words and images that had no meaning to me. It was not until I had many of the sources behind its allusions pointed out to me that I began to understand it as a comprehensible and incredibly powerful work of art. And it was not until much later that I realized that not only did the use of allusions add to its quality, but that they were the very thing that gave it its beauty and power. That first examination felt much like the piecing together of a puzzle, a puzzle that constantly shifts form as more pieces are uncovered, old pieces are found to have new shape, and a picture of the whole gradually begins to emerge. Without an attempt to gain the knowledge to discover and understand the pieces, the reader may miss a large portion of the author's intent, but with that knowledge, the reader gains an incredible power of interpretation.
Just as allusions form a link between two pieces of literature (or between two ideas) hypertext allows links to be created between the pieces of data that can represent those ideas. This format, in combination with the world wide reach of the internet allows writers and scholars to do certain things with an ease that has never been possible before. While the writer as an artist can produce multimedia works in new ways, perhaps the greatest benefit is to the writer as a scholar. Such a writer can do as I have done: use the resources of the internet as a valuable research source, and link to these sources in such a way that offers the reader far more chance to explore them readily than any footnote on the written page can possibly do. Additionally, I can link with in the document to more easily demonstrate ties between different areas of thought than I ever would have been able to before. Some questions do arise from this new methodology: how does doing this change the study of literature? Is this truly a benefit to the field or merely a new and catchy gimmick? And how does hypertext lend itself particularly to the study of allusions?
One may take my presentation of "The Hollow Men" as a hypertext document as an argument in and of itself to answer all three of those questions. This particular presentation is the portion of this project least like a standard paper in that it allows the reader to examine the poem itself on one side of the screen and follow links imbedded with in the text of the poem to the appropriate annotation and analysis on the other side of the viewer's monitor. Not only does this demonstrate a valid use for hypertext, but it allows the reader to judge for him or herself the value and contribution of the medium to the study. The allusions I have found (with the help of other scholarly works) are plainly evident and can be clearly connected to their sources. When possible and fitting, additional information, and the sources themselves can also be included.
I chose to use "The Hollow Men" specifically because of the way in which Eliot uses allusions in that poem. Unlike The Waste Land, which is extremely sprawling in it's length and scope, "The Hollow Men" is of a much more manageable length, and the scope of its allusions is much more confined to one historical event (The Gunpowder Plot) and three narratives (Dante's The Divine Comedy, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness). In addition, those very sources are interrelated, both thematically and in their own references to each other. The vast majority of the allusions I focus on in "The Hollow Men" relate to one or more of those sources, but occur in different ways and for different reasons. For all of these reasons, that particular poem fits well as an example of what I wish to focus on, though many of the concepts I address are equally as applicable to many of Eliot's other works, and to any work that makes use of literary allusions.
What I hope to accomplish in this project is to show the ways in which
literary allusions work to the benefit of both the author and the reader,
and to do so in a way that makes use of a modern tool well suited to the
exercise. Allusions provide a puzzle and a tool for the reader within
which meanings may be altered from what the original words on the page
may suggest. They provide a way for the author to convey more with
a few words than they would be able to do otherwise. My intent is
to use hypertext to do both of these things: I will be able to say more
and an active reader will be able to comprehend more than would otherwise
be possible within this space.
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