Discarnate Desire: T. S. Eliot’s Poetics of Dissociation

Discarnate Desire: T. S. Eliot’s Poetics of Dissociation


Document Type

Book Chapter


Chapter in Gender, Desire, and Sexuality in T. S. Eliot.

A blind, dirty, senile old man haunts the margins of Eliot's 1910 poem “First Debate between the Body and Soul.” Along with a cast of characters in Inventions of the March Hare – clowns, actors, marionettes – he inserts himself in the consciousness of Eliot's narrators as both self and other, a voice at once within and without the “I” who ostensibly speaks. Unlike Eliot's theatrical personae, this often vile, chattering, drunken, or mad old man carries with him a horror of self-representation little mediated by a stage setting or controlled script. Similar figures appear in other poems, notably “Dans le Restaurant” and “Hysteria.” Yet he plays one role among many; in other forms, alien and intimate figures serve, in Eliot's work, both to claim and to disavow desire. For example, the marionettes – “my marionettes” – of “Convictions (Curtain Raiser)” are filled with naive and exaggerated desires carefully detached from the narrator who also claims them: they “Await an audience open-mouthed / At climax and suspense” and have “keen moments every day.” The narrator of “The Little Passion from ‘An Agony in the Garret’” observes himself walking and notes, sardonically, his own “withered face” as if in a mirror behind a bar: speaker and other are strangely indistinguishable.



Publication Date



Cambridge University Press




English Language and Literature

Discarnate Desire: T. S. Eliot’s Poetics of Dissociation