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TSE  October 2013

TSE October 2013

Subject:

Re: Fw: TS Eliot: the religious paradox

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Thu, 17 Oct 2013 13:43:26 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Actually, the "masses of evidence" to which Nancy refers include much much
more material than that of the last 50 years but go back some two and a half
millennia. Plato begins the "tradition" of western literary criticism in
recognizing that there is no real link between poetry and truth. The error
of the New Critics was their (not wholly conscious) assumption of Progress
in Literary Criticism. As a result they simply ignored two+ millennia of
literary opinion. I too as an undergraduate believed in the Myth of
Progress, and I remember back around 1948 seriously assuming that the
"discoveries" of Ransom, Brooks, etc made prior literary thought irrelevant.
Eliot too_ seems_  in his early work to assume that earlier literary thought
had become irrelevant. (I emphasize _seems_ because I suspect that in his
early criticism he was primarily interested (quite reasonably) in earning a
quick buck (or should I say quid), and laying down some random & high
sounding "new" principle is the easiest and quickest way to write a review.
(Hence, for example, "objective correlative).  By the time I was writing my
dissertation (on criticism of Pope, 1890-1950) I had repudiated that Myth of
Progress, and that created a problem for me: how to claim that earlier
dismissals of Pope had been in error but that now "we" knew better. I never
quite solved that problem.

Criticism that repudiates Plato's separation of Truth & Poetry tends to tie
itself in knots -- though it need not fall into the vulgarities of p, cr, &
Ken. See, for example, Robert Cantwell's 1953 Introduction to the Signet
edition of _Sartoris_. He wants to claim that Faulkner's total work revolves
around the contrast of Snopes vs Compson: i.e. he wants to use Faulkner to
defend the Lumpen Bourgeoisie  of Southern Slave-drivers pretending to be
"gentlemen." And this leads him to skip _Absalom, Absalom_ in his list of
Faulkner's key works. Similarly, cr et al on this list have to ignore
Eliot's own long wrestle with the intractable issue of Truth and Poetry, and
even to insult Eliot by in effect calling him a liar.

The usual way to respond to critics who turn poetry into a hobby-horse for
their own prejudices is simply to ignore them. Who breaks a butterfly upon a
wheel?

Carrol




-----Original Message-----
From: T. S. Eliot Discussion forum. [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
Of Nancy Gish
Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 10:32 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Fw: TS Eliot: the religious paradox

Well here is where we find real disagreement. There may not be "progress in
the arts" or in criticism, but in the latter there is certainly change and,
where new material appears, there is essential reconsideration. Eliot is
famous in part because he did take on new ways of reading, and did it
convincingly. He never let himself be limited by the bounds of critics or
poets fifty years before himself. It would be hard to find anyone less
framed by accepting conventional wisdom, so applying it to him seems a
genuine paradox. 
 
If you are not, in fact, aiming your critiques at me, I don't know why they
always turn up when I say anything, but whoever the "journalists" are, they
are not whom I read. So I don't get the point. And most of the material I
find so fascinatingly significant was not, as a matter of fact, available to
critics then. All one need do is review the early major books on Eliot, and
none of the recent material--the letters, IMH, The Varieties of Metaphysical
Poetry, major biographies, Eliot's experiences in Paris, his itinerary in
Italy, which Nancy Hargrove has found--it goes on and on--was accessible.
Critics like Brooks, Drew, Gardner, Kenner, Leavis, Matthiesen, Smith, et.
al., developed major insights we all build from, but they mainly took Eliot
at his own word and wrote from assumptions of, say the notes, before
Eliot--as an example--made that a real ambiguity. It is just not true that
whatever was said without these sources is no different from what has come
after, and it is hardly comparable to the kind of thinking Eliot himself
did.
 
I don't think it is an issue of disadvantage (is the "you," this time, me?);
it is an issue of changing knowledge. But of course I have also read
them--and recently reread them to write the section on the reception of
Eliot to 1965. It is not a matter of my "seeming to think" anything. Or as
someone very famous once said, "We know so much more than the past, and they
are what we know." (from memory) The same person who said the present
changes the past as much as the past changes the present.
Nancy

    Yes, well, again there is no progress in the arts and none, I'd suggest,
in criticism either; and no one has said that his life is not linked to his
art. What I've said is that seeing that link may well be helpful, but is not
tantamount to seeing what the life of the poem is. Once you have a life
event critical to the poem, you still need to discover what the poem does
with that event. And a sensitive reader could in most cases, I think,
surmise from the poem the character of the event without having to have the
journalist's version of it. In addition, most of these life facts were
available fifty and many more years ago, and the people who read and studied
Eliot then were not at nearly the disadvantage you seem to think they were,
if at any at all. After all, they had the advantage of not being distracted
from the poetry by the minutiae of the life.

>>> Ken Armstrong 10/16/13 10:36 PM >>>


On 10/16/2013 1:05 PM, Nancy Gish wrote:


	Dear Ken,
	 
	First, please do not begin with the idea that I find thinking
wearisome or that I cannot distinguish between the poems and the life or
that any view I have of Eliot is limited and restricted while yours is full
and rich.
	 
	Once that set of premises is set out, there is no possible
discussion except an arid "did not," "did too," or a retreat to repetition.


     My premise is certainly not that my view of E is full and rich, far
from it. Nor was I addressing you specifically, so please don't take it that
way. What I said about the absolute, as an example of how we talk past each
other ("we" in general, not [just] you and me), you do not address. Am I off
base there?


	 
	I do not need to defend my life of reading and thinking, and I do
not have to accept your account of my intellectual, spiritual, and
theoretical limits.


   Again, wasn't about you as an individual but about two orientations that
do not seem to me to find common, defined and mutually understood as such,
ground. Therefore they talk past each other, as it seems to me this exchange
demonstrates. That, and my belief that to understand Eliot's work, critical
and poetical, one does need to have an understanding -- a feel for -- his
intellectual orientation. Calling this New Critical (a term than never
crosses my mind until you bring it up) misses the point. 


	 
	So: your New Critical basis in the commentary below is a valid but
also limited way to approach poetry. When Virginia Woolf described Eliot's
first reading of TWL as "chanting it" and "singing it," I presume it was not
because she was ignorant of Eliot or of poetry, and when his close friend
Mary Hutchinson described it as "Tom's autobiography, a melancholy one," I
presume she had at least some direct familiarity with both. 
	 
	Second, I do not, in fact, even write biography; oddly, most of my
work is based in philosophy of time, mysticism, early 20th Century
psychiatry, and WWI--and the poetry. I was trained by New Critics so I do
see your presumptions.
	 
	So, again, as long as this is based in your need to dismiss all but
a single and very limited and no longer exclusive set of assumptions, there
is not much to discuss. 


    No needs here. Rather an assertion that you have not acknowledged,
positively or negatively.


	 
	As for my comment, "read," I mean it literally. 


     It would be nice if you would see that your assumption here is in one
important sense no different than what you characterize mine to be. You
believe you know something -- do something --  that I or CR do not
understand or do or acknowledge. Should I say to you then, " So, again, as
long as this is based in your need to dismiss any but the very limited  set
of assumptions to which you subscribe, there is not much to discuss." As in
fact that is what I think you, specifically, do. 



	There is a great mass of Eliot criticism, and it has changed
considerably since the early methods. As I have been reading it all my life,
I do recognize these changes. And if I spend time on this list on his life,
it is because he is the one who wrote it, not some abstraction, and his
poems are, in fact, deeply linked to his life and to his conversion.


    Yes, well, again there is no progress in the arts and none, I'd suggest,
in criticism either; and no one has said that his life is not linked to his
art. What I've said is that seeing that link may well be helpful, but is not
tantamount to seeing what the life of the poem is. Once you have a life
event critical to the poem, you still need to discover what the poem does
with that event. And a sensitive reader could in most cases, I think,
surmise from the poem the character of the event without having to have the
journalist's version of it. In addition, most of these life facts were
available fifty and many more years ago, and the people who read and studied
Eliot then were not at nearly the disadvantage you seem to think they were,
if at any at all. After all, they had the advantage of not being distracted
from the poetry by the minutiae of the life.

  Ken A

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