The Waste Land on iPad

In an earlier post on acquiring an iPad, I said it was “halfway between a clever toy and a useful tool.” That was when I didn’t know what it was for. I know what it’s for now—it’s for reading The Waste Land.

Wow. Basically, you get the complete text of the poem, presented cleanly with a minimum of fuss, but:

—if you turn the iPad sideways, a series of annotations appears on the left side of the screen. If you want to see an annotation for a given line of text, then, holy crap, you just point right at the text. That’s nuts!

—swipe your finger and you can switch back and forth between the final text and Eliot’s typescript, marked up by Ezra Pound.

—tap the screen in a couple of places and you can hear one of several different audio versions: T. S. Eliot (two different recordings); Alec Guinness; Fiona Shaw; Viggo Mortensen; and Ted Hughes. And tapping on a particular line snaps you immediately to that part in the recording. It’s a great way to hear how much a reader can bring to his or her own interpretation of a text. Listen to the way the different performers read line 60 (which is, in its entirety, “Unreal City”): Eliot declaims it; Shaw sort of blurts it; Mortensen flatly states it; Guinness purrs it.

—oh, and there’s a video recording of Shaw reciting the complete poem, too.

—oh, yeah, and there are also a series of video recordings of talks on The Waste Land by various scholars, editors, and authors.

You could argue that it’s the unique nature of The Waste Land that lends itself to this kind of presentation—with the density of its allusions, it is a sort of proto-hypertext, and so if any text is ripe for electronic conversion, it’s this one. But there are other, equally allusive modernist works I’d like to see get the same treatment. I’d pay significantly more than the $14 I spent on The Waste Land for a similarly tricked-out edition of any of the books I studied in grad school that required me to have a separately bound set of annotations beside me while reading, especially (and this isn’t out of the range of imagination) Ulysses. An iPad edition of Ulysses with this level of quality would be a dream come true.

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