Is Poetry Digital? The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Even though I’m reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in print, I think this poem can be constructed as digital. In Peters’ work, “Digital,” he breaks down digital media into three parts: digits that count the symbolic, digits that index the real, and (combined and coordinated) digits that manipulate the social. Peters goes on to say “But digits do much else too: they also point, index, and reference objects at a distance.” Because of this definition, I think T.S. Eliot’s poem is digital.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock points, indexes, and references objects at a distance, which is why I think it is digital. The first thing Eliot points, indexes, and references to is the epigraph from Dante’s Inferno. Eliot points to this in Italian so that the people that don’t understand it see that this type of poem isn’t for them. Eliot wants his poem to be elite, and he doesn’t want anything to get lost in translation. Throughout the poem Eliot points, indexes, and references to other places (a city, inside a women’s home, etc) and to other famous poets’ works (Shakespeare, Chaucer, etc). Since Eliot’s work is within Peters’ definition of “digital” from pointing, indexing, and referencing objects at a distance, I believe that the printed form of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock can be considered digital.

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2 thoughts on “Is Poetry Digital? The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

  1. I think that while Eliot “points, indexes, and references to objects at a distance” in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, this doesn’t necessarily make his piece “digital”. This poem alludes to abstract concepts of something less than reality, such as a shadow cast on a wall or print left in sand, where we see a form of an object that is not the object itself. I am not entirely sure if you are trying to say the poem itself is a “digital” work or if it is something analog that points to digital-like ideas. The way that Eliot references or “points” to these distant objects such as his epigraph or historic figures are done in an analog fashion, however I can see where the argument may be made that he is drawing from and index of complied information much like a computer draws from its source.

  2. I think you both have some truly good insight. As I was reading this poem I was constantly asking myself “Why are we reading this in a digital humanities class?” and you both have brought up some good points. I like the idea that Kate presented, saying that it could perhaps be considered “digital” under the standards of Professor Peters. Even though it’s not what we may consider as digital by the modern standards, I absolutely agree that it is digital in that it indexs to other things. Although this may become a bit farfetched it we look throughout the whole poem, as you mentioned above. I think it’s crucial to think about it in both ways and consider the reason to why Professor Drouin is having us read this in a Digital Humanities class. Some truly good thoughts, though, from both of you, I think!

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