Sunday, February 8, 2009

The current/future state of things Eliot/Brunner

There is an uncanny similarity between TS Eliot's Wasteland and Brunner's Sheep Look Up.
To begin, both are complicated pieces centering on the state of a reality that is tied not to one character but several. In a strategic manner both Brunner and Eliot set up and execute social commentaries that reflect for the latter the current state of things and for the former the future state of things.

Both begin their works with the image of death, decay and dying. While Eliot upfront questions the fate of man, emphasizing the fragmented past and implying that such a past could only lead to a futile future, Brunner questions the current state of his characters of the future, while emphasizing his character's and reader's fragmented present. By beginning in such a way, they both establish and work toward developing a theme wholly involved with the bleak state/fate of man. It is this theme narrative that sets the stage for a discussion about the current/future environment.

The moves that are most compelling in each work coincide as well. Both Elliot and Brunner, in the beginning of and throughout their works attempt to “wake up” their audience. They do so through directly engaging the reader: Elliot through initially calling the reader out by name and Brunner by utilizing a filigree of ads, short excerpts, and poetry that explicitly expose the declined environment of his characters’ "now". In addition, and perhaps more importantly both works establish the notion of mankind as not made up of autonomous individuals but interconnected entities that thrive, die, and suffer individually yet collectively.

Another thread that is paralleled in these two works is the statement about the decay of society physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Both Brunner and Elliot use nature, myth, urban waste, and biblical reference to create this statement. They do so to create a statement that speaks to how society is now (the now being defined in relation to their characters) lifeless or actively becoming so because their spirits have departed or in the case of Brunner are being forced to depart. This departure, both writers attribute to political affairs.

Another similarity between the two is their use of images to display the unnatural state of man. While Elliot couples contradicting images to evoke the incongruence of them, Brunner juxtaposes messages from different media with the lives of characters such as Pete Goddard and Philip Mason (death of a salesman?) who exemplify the last strong hold of the traditional family.

Overall both writers appear to emphasize the idea that death – described both spiritually and physically is imminent and does not discriminate. They do so by displaying how industry, which seems to be one of both writers' biggest dislikes, is ultimately valueless in that it leads to death and cannot be spun for profit within the grips of it.

Finally, they also emphasize the importance of time by warning the reader of the mortality of men. They do so by placing man in a sterile environment (politically, religiously, and physically) that not only provides no opportunity for growth but also limits the life a person has while residing within it.

In the end, both Eliot and Brunner leave off their works in purposeful ambiguity: so as to beg the question: can society, a reason-centered entity, recover or will chaos undermine reason?

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