Friday, June 17, 2011

Eliot on. . . the iPad?

Mini-Review of "The Waste Land" App for iPad

Title Page (click to enlarge)
No, not quite, but a new iPad app is dedicated wholly to T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land has arrived. Unlike simple digital versions like .txt files, more elaborately formatted .pdfs, and even indexed and hyper-linked eBooks this app achieves more than providing a digitized version of the text. Yes, you can perform all of the convenient zooming and searching you can on an eBook, but the Waste land app pulls together a variety of resources and bundles them into a polished unified interface through which to study and experience Eliot's masterpiece.

With one touch or swipe you can bring up notes on the text, switch to a look at the original manuscript, or even listen to a reading, including recitations from Eliot himself, Alec Guinness, Viggo Mortensen, and Fiona Shaw.

The ability to tap a line to highlight it blue is a surprisingly useful touch: sometimes it is helpful and simply pleasant to bring out one line and reflect on it. While there are many notes and other resources to bring up as you read, unfortunately there is no built in dictionary and you cannot add your own notes, though you can copy text from the poem. There are also previous few text-rendering options, in fact you can only change the size. As an e-reader it is far short of the wonderful Stanza, Stanza with its bookmarks, annotation, dictionary, and adjustable backgrounds, font style, font size, text color, themes, and night-mode. Too it lacks in-depth scholarship on the work and a bibliography pointing toward any. Lastly, like any convenient companion it risks becoming a crutch, without which one cannot read the text. As it may become a reflex to look up words, refer to notes, or refer to footnotes without first thinking about the text, the convenience here merely intensifies the temptation.

Original Manuscript
These are all relatively minor quibbles about a nonetheless polished app which brings many valuable resources together around this landmark poem. For such I do not consider the $13.99 at all unreasonable. One could easily spend much time and more money trying to pull all of this together. Too, there is no reason the authors of this app cannot update it. As it is, though, it makes a fine addition to one's Eliot library both for the notes and performances and for the convenience of having it available on the go (and in better formatting than a simple text file.) It also makes a respectable introduction to the poem and I certainly hope its attention in the iTunes store brings it to the attention of a more technologically-centered generation who might not be willing to pick up an un-annotated, non-zooming, static, silent, dead tree version.  Hopefully its success will help bring about more, and more variety, of this new type of dedicated application. I certainly hope it does not usher in a spate of "consolidated study" versions with synopses and multiple choice questions geared toward helping students pass tests on the poem rather than understand and enjoy it.

On a personal note, how refreshing to see Eliot in the iTunes store. What a treat to see something rarified amongst clutter, something that instead of pandering to the fickle, and frivolous instinct that craves plants vs. zombies, challenges you. Something that engages rather than pacifies, that rewards with ideas instead of points, and that you can revisit forever, not just use for the next five minutes waiting for your flight. It's a taste of the timeless in the perhaps the most dynamic of spaces.

A few images:
(click to enlarge
Copious notes; less-than-attractive rendering of the Greek.


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