The other day I was reading an essay by Gregory S. Jay, Discovering the Corpus. It's an essay about T.S. Eliot's poem The Wasteland.
In The Wasteland, Eliot quotes the following lines from Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde.
Frisch weht der Wind // Der Heimat zu // Mein Irisch Kind // Wo weilest du?
The English translation of the stanza is:
Fresh blows the wind // For home // My Irish child // Where do you tarry?
In his essay, Jay wonders what it means when we say that Eliot wrote "Frisch weht der Wind // Der Heimat zu // Mein Irisch Kind // Wo weilest du?" Because, even though he wrote the words into his poem, he actually didn't create the words and their specific arrangement. Wagner wrote them.
Regarding Eliot taking the words of Wagner, Jay says, "These lines from Wagner were the German's property, but their properties are in Eliot's hands now."
Jay says that this idea, that Eliot is making his own poem out of references to and quotes from other people's poems is an example bricolage -- the idea that poetry is "the opportune arrangement of whatever happens to be at hand." In poetry, the idea of bricolage is the idea of intertexuality. The idea that one poem's meaning is shaped by the meaning of other poems. I can better understand Eliot's Wasteland by better understanding Wagner.
Bricolage and Intertextuality reminds me of a talk that Bruce R. McConkie gave in 1985, two weeks before he died from cancer.
In the talk, The Purifying Power of Gethsemane, Bruce says,
"In speaking of these wondrous things I shall use my own words, though you may think they are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and prophets.
True it is they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine, for the Holy Spirit of God has borne witness to me that they are true, and it is now as though the Lord had revealed them to me in the first instance. I have thereby heard his voice and know his word."
Elder Bruce McConkie seems to suggest that he is allowed to use bricolage in his speech because the Holy Spirit has made the truthfulness of those words known to him, so that they are now his.
These two texts -- The Wasteland and The Purifying Power of Gethsemane -- make me wonder about the necessity of coming up with whole new stories. Or whole new ideas. Or whole new themes. Aren't there enough things that have been written and studied and created that instead of coming up with new texts whole cloth we can simply reorganize the old ones?
That's one of the reasons I wanted to tell the story of The Death of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith in Season 1 of this podcast. The story is real. It has happened. And, It's been told numerous times, and in numerous ways, but not in the way I am going to tell it. Season 1 of the Strangers and Pilgrims podcast is a new story told in a new way from old history.