If there is a disagreement, it has nothing to do with your sense of the world vs. mine: it is about what Eliot said in both the poems and his critical work. It is much too long to repeat here, but Eliot was very familiar with the then-accepted notions of dissociation/hysteria/neurasthenia, and he used the terminology frequently in prose. Whether any of those conditions is "madness" is questionable, but they were seen that way. Eliot himself was diagnosed with neurasthenia by Vittoz, and he described himself as having "aboulia"--a form of dissociation in the terms of Janet, whom Eliot had read. It's a long discussion, but it is not at all an issue of where you or I stand but an issue of the texts. If you want to see how frequent his terminology was, it's all in my article as evidence. Eliot's own sense of it and his use of images that are practically textbook clinical descriptions is what matters in reading it. For example, in the line about "what a flash of madness would reveal," the narrator ends by saying, "My brain is twisted in a tangled skein/ There will be a blinding light and a little laughter/ And the sinking blackness of ether/ I do not know what, after, and I do not care either." This follows an imagined scene of himself as a corpse being autopsied and the dread of a flash of madness. This has nothing to do with a view of the world's madness from some transcendent position "against the backdrop of eternity." It is about internal terror and anguish.
It seems what is really at stake is the notion of a poem as a text or as a touchstone for one's own feelings and ideas. I think the text is what Eliot made and what we study--in many contexts.
>>> Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> 03/18/08 1:12 AM >>>
Nancy, you wrote:
But the madness is explicit. I wrote about it in T. S. ELIOT AND DESIRE, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY. The poems there are not about playfulness, and they include image after image of what would have been seen as madness--depersonalization, derealization, doubling--many forms of dissociation. Consider Prufrock looking out the window "to hear my Madness singing, sitting on the kerbstone. . . / I have heard my Madness chatter before day." Or the voice of "Do I know how I feel? Do I know what I think," who hears a servant speak of "what a flash of madness might reveal." Or the speaker of "The Love Song of St. Sebastion"--one hopes this sadist has madness as at least explanation.
Yes, indeed, looked from a certain point of view these instances -- and one might confront one at every step of the way -- do appear to be what one might consider instances of outright madness, nothing less.
But, if one attempts to analyse the true nature of what appears to be explicit madness,
one will find that this madness is a form of nausea generated by a constant sense of absurdity, meaninglessness and futility of our earthly engagements -- it's a madness that belongs to a philosopher who views the world against the backdrop of eternity, the Absolute.
For example, in his 1910-poem 'Silence', the poet views "silence" in its awful aspect of the peace of eternity against which 'the garrulous waves of life' merely 'Shrink and divide'. The poet would no doubt have liked to direct against this pitiful world Laforgue's bitter invective : 'And thou, Silence, pardon the Earth; the little madcap hardly knows what she is doing.'
"[W]hat a flash of madness might reveal" -- yes, this poetic/philosophic madness is "revealing" of the true nature of things -- true from the poet's point of view.
I find that the two points of view are contrary in their basic perception of reality,
they happen to repudiate each other -- one would denounce the Buddhistic
Fire Sermon or the Upanishadic notion of Control as plain absurd, just as
the Absolutist philosopher would do so with regard to material reality.
I find the two approaches irreconciliable -- and hence the argument.
All the same, personally, if I do not find any madness in the sort of madness
that is so explicit to you. It's because I happen to stand on the other side of the
hedge. Things look differently from here.
Be a better friend, newshound, and know-it-all with Yahoo! Mobile. Try it now.