Just finished Michael North's Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (OUP, 1999). Not bad at all; does a fine if uninspiring job of putting the grand warhorses of 1922 (Ulysses, The Waste Land, etc.) back into their contemporary context, pulls some interesting threads together. Provocative rebuttals of Huyssen's high culture/low culture "great divide" & Jameson's modernism/postmodernism schematizations. But doesn't have the same satisfyingly chewy theoretical density of Marc Manganaro's Culture, 1922: The Emergence of a Concept (Princeton UP, 2002), which is one of those critical books that enables you (as somebody at Cornell, acc. to the dire David Lehmann, said of de Man's "Rhetoric of Temporality") to save yr dope money for a week.
But the book immediately at hand is North's Norton Critical Edition of The Waste Land (2001), which I keep assigning to classes largely for its critical essays (& of course to support independent publishing). Problem with these Critical Editions – & here I include every Norton CE I've ever used – is that you can't really trust the explanatory notes. Not TS Eliot's notes – everybody knows they're whacked – but North's notes: you know, the ones at the foot of the page, the ones most students take as gospel truth. (After all, they were written by this UCLA professor, he knows so much more than I do...)
I can't claim to have checked every note, but here's a few flyspecks in the notes to the poem itself:
•In a note to the Petronius epigraph ("NAM Sibyllam quiden Cumis" etc.), we're told that the quotation is "(Greek)." Well, 5 words of it are; but obviously the rest is in Latin.
•The battle of Mylae (1st Punic War) took place in 260BCE, not "206" as the note has it. (Okay, that's a typo – but who's reading proof here?)
•Headnote to "A Game of Chess": "Eliot takes the title of this section from a satirical play of the same name by Thomas Middleton (1570?-1627). First produced in 1625, A Game of Chess was suppressed because of the way in which it allegorized English conflict with Spain as a chess match." How many howlers can North fit into one note? Middleton was born in 1580, not "1570?"; the title of his play is A Game at Chess, not A Game of Chess; and the play was first produced in 1624, not 1625. These are well-documented matters.
•Headnote to "What the Thunder Said": "Eliot's headnote to this section helps us to see these lines as a description of the betrayal, arrest, interrogation, and crucifixion of Christ..." Eliot's headnote – "In the first part of Part V three themes are employed: the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous (see Miss Weston's book) and the present decay of eastern Europe" – does nothing of the sort.
Everybody thinks they're an editor, I guess; but who's editing the editors?