Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

The Adjective, My Daughter: Staging T. S. Eliot's `Marina'

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

The Adjective, My Daughter: Staging T. S. Eliot's `Marina'

Article excerpt

A text provides the elements for a narrative in which, after long years of separation, a man can scarcely believe his eyes to find the daughter he never thought to see again. `A text provides the elements ...': that is to say, criticism acknowledges receipt of a certain number of `images'. These do not tell the story directly: they are `for a narrative'. That is to say, they are in lieu of, or contributions towards, or fragments of, a whole. The narrative in its given form, then, is a screen, a germ, or a wreck. In each case, a present state of incompletion demands to be seen through, brought to maturity, or repaired. In short, the text is found to be deficient in itself. But this weakness is the text's strength: its very fragility only makes us wish all the more fervently for its safe passage and ultimate restitution. Its proper self, the totality, beckons as through a veil. Soon, with a little patience, we may be reunited with it. We may even encounter `grace [...] in a more human form, no longer veiled, but close as family'. (1) The text, then, sets the stage for a recognition scene, the longed-for moment of recovery of a lost loved one. But this reading, peering through the fog of partial images, itself participates in a recognition scene. In criticism, the loss and recovery of a child, and the loss and recovery of a meaning, seem to coincide.

I want to trace some ways in which T. S. Eliot's `Marina' (2) lends itself to this little critical drama. In the first instance, this means looking at ways in which a number of existing readings stage the recovery of meaning from this text. The object of this part of my inquiry is thus not the `interpretation', in the sense of `meaning', of the text offered by a given critic. Rather it is the process of interpretation as it is narrated in the critical text; its reckoning of obstacles, their overcoming, and the difficulties that are said to remain. Criticism generally finds `Marina' to be peculiarly equivocal. Indeed, it may even be taken as an exemplary enactment of doubt. In such accounts, then, a certain doubt regarding meaning becomes, precisely, the meaning of the text `Marina'. The meaning of the text that exemplifies doubt is thus not, in itself, in any doubt. The problems of this situation do not seem to have been recognized. Focused on the equivocal knowledge of the `I' of the text, criticism is seemingly blind to another sort of dubiety in its own position. This is what I want to focus on.

My comments are not, however, preparatory to the production of some ideal or proper staging of the text. My point is not to rescue `Marina' from the importunity of criticism. Such a gesture would come back to the same, flourishing just one more recognition scene. Inveighing against other readings as misappropriations, it would raise the question of its own, necessary, appropriation of the text. I need, nevertheless, to say something about the stageability of a text. The purpose of looking at other readings is to see what elements they propose as significant, how they stitch them together, and what is at stake in a particular appropriation. For the text, any text, lives only by appropriation. What would it mean, then, to say the text has a life of its own, or that it maintains some identity as it is passed from hand to hand? This life or identity, if it transcends any given reading, simply cannot be something I can show you.

Having said that, it makes no more sense to say a text keeps its self somewhere else. What, then, is it that a text `lends' when it `lends itself'? As soon as I claim to deal with this text rather than another, I make a formal appeal to an idea of identity. But how can this idea be thought? Once I have outlined the structure of critical narrative, I want to look further into the facilities and problems that `Marina' might be said to pose for any criticism, my own included. One may find in `Marina' a variety of themes: but does this mean the text has `lent' them? …

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