The Waste Land 2.0


Friday, June 24, 2011

The iPad app for The Waste Land iPad places interactive notes alongside the text. The iPad app for The Waste Land places interactive notes alongside the text. (Faber and Faber Ltd/Touch Press)

April may be the cruelest month, but June has been good for T.S. Eliot’s landmark poem, The Waste Land. Eighty-nine years after it was published, the poem became a runaway hit in the form of a new iPad application that’s selling like gangbusters on the iTunes store. It even briefly bumped Marvel Comics from the top spot.

The Waste Land has a formidably intimidating reputation, dense with oblique allusions; English majors spend whole semesters poring over the slim volume. Can the app, with its videos, interactive notes, and celebrity readings, improve upon one of the most important books in modern literature?’s Laura Miller told Kurt Andersen, “This app doesn’t dumb down The Waste Land. It makes it feel more alive.”


Bonus Track: Laura Miller's Digital Wishlist
Not every book or poem would be improved as an iPad application, but Laura Miller has a few favorites she'd like to see receive the full digital treatment. Among her top picks: The Faerie Queene, The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, The Divine Comedy, and Ulysses.

Do you have a favorite literary work that would make a great tablet app?  Leave a comment and let us know.


Laura Miller

Produced by:

Derek John and Michele Siegel

Comments [3]

Tom Dale Keever from Manhattan

Thank you for pointing me to the new "Waste Land" app. Should I ever get a smartphone, or even a cell phone, I will check it out.

As so often happens when the new wireless digital world "invents" something, its acolytes know little or nothing about its roots in more traditional form that predate Claude Shannon. In fact most of them never even heard of Claude Shannon, so they don't have a clue where this world they celebrate comes from.

I was an undergraduate when the "Waste Land" manuscipt that is now available on an app was discovered. My Modern Poetry prof was pleased to have his suspicion confirmed, that it would be found among the papers of John Quinn, who had done legal work over the years for Eliot and other modernists. Its publication in 1971 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, under the supervison of Eliot's widow Valerie, was a major event in scholarship.

Fionna Shaw's performance of "The Waste Land," under the direction of her long-time collaborator Deborah Warner, amazed audiences all over the world, particularly in New York and in London. I saw both of those productions and each was staged in a decaying theater that had been unused for years. The one in New York was on the verge of being renovated and has since housed "The Lion King" and "Mary Poppins," but when Shaw performed Eliot's poem the plaster was crumbling from the walls and the producer, International Production Associates, for whom I worked, had to install port-o-sans for lack of useful plumbing. In London she performed in an old East End music hall that was almost equally derelict.

In both cases your new miracle "app" has repackaged cultural artifacts from pre-digital sources and your "news" ignores its roots in prior, traditional cultural forms.

I sometimes wonder if the digital universe's willful ignorance of history reflects its "American-ness." Eliot was only one of many Americans who despaired of his countrymen's incapacity to even acknowledge that the culture in which they were immersed had a past or that they had any need to know about it.

Your work is often at least a partial antidote to this plague of both American and digital journalism.

Keep up the good work.

Tom Dale Keever

Manhattan School of Music
Marymount Manhattan College

Jun. 26 2011 02:23 PM
Mike Leung from Jersey City

Inspired by the popularity of those RSA videos, of marker-board cartoons drawn to compliment lectures by experts, I adapted Swift's classic Modest Proposal for the kind of web interactivity that seems unexplored between video and conventional web documents. Please tell others if you like it:

Jun. 25 2011 05:52 PM

I'm glad Laura Miller mentioned the Divine Comedia as a potentially lucrative literary app. The Inferno aside, the Paradiso would be one of the more interesting books to see translated into a digital world. Dante modeled his version of heaven on the solar system, and I'd love to see Dante traveling through star constellations as he ascends through each level of Paradise.

Jun. 24 2011 10:44 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.