T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)



Impossible Body, Invisible Pain: The Waste Land From Dante to Eliot

One of the significant features of punishment in Dante’s Inferno is its collective nature. Dante’s Hell is full of fellow-sufferers. Furthermore, this infernal place is a spectacle –at least for Dante who is an observing visitor in Hell. In other words, in Dante pain is physical and visible.
Dante’s Inferno has a strong presence in Eliot’s The Waste Land. Unlike the sufferers in Dante’s Inferno, however, the sufferings of the speaker(s) in The Waste Land are essentially psychological and remain invisible. Unlike the inhabitants of Dante’s Inferno who suffer collectively, the speaker(s) in The Waste Land suffer singly. In The Waste Land, Eliot undertakes a meticulous and detailed translation of the physical torments suffered by Dante’s lost souls into the psychological agonies experienced by the alienated subject of Modernity.
For your symposium, I would like to propose that Eliot uses Dante’s physical, visible and collective Hell to introduce the psychic, invisible and private inferno of the modern subject. I will argue that, in fact, in Eliot the translation of suffering from the physical to the psychological plane is itself a form of damnation.

Simten Gurac
Lehigh University
Department of English
35 Sayre Drive, Drown Hall
Bethlehem, PA 18015

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