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TSE  April 2006

TSE April 2006

Subject:

Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity

From:

Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 24 Apr 2006 00:48:24 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (301 lines)

Sounds like a rather puritanical assumption to me.
P.

Quoting mikemail <[log in to unmask]>:

> Interesting - so excess is necessary in all worthwhile endeavour?
> 
> mike
>   ----- Original Message ----- 
>   From: Peter Montgomery 
>   To: [log in to unmask] 
>   Sent: Sunday, April 23, 2006 10:36 AM
>   Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
> 
> 
>   Somewhere Eliot said something like:
>   "Except in directions in which one can go too far,
>   there are probably not directions worth going."
> 
>   Cheers,
>   Peter
>     ----- Original Message ----- 
>     From: mikemail 
>     To: [log in to unmask] 
>     Sent: Saturday, April 22, 2006 11:08 AM
>     Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
> 
> 
>     The gratitude is mine.  I do believe that serious alcoholism is indeed a
> spiritual search. I had some ideas about TSE and the same. I've heard drunks
> on park benches arguing about The Virgin Mary.
>     Mike
>       ----- Original Message ----- 
>       From: cr mittal 
>       To: [log in to unmask] 
>       Sent: Saturday, April 22, 2006 7:48 PM
>       Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
> 
> 
>       I must express my grateful thanks, Mike, for your kind appreciation. It
> reassures me about my conception of the central conflict in Eliot. As for
> "alcohol", I have something
>       tucked up my sleeves to share with the List vis-a-vis TSE. But I must
> space my mails lest they overwhelm and kill the appetite. ;-)
> 
>       Best regards.
> 
>       ~ CR
> 
>       mikemail <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>         Thank you CR for this.  Also for confirmation of what I have long
> felt about Eliot's poetry. 
>         It took me some time to realise the meaning of the sexuality /
> spirituality conflict - Eliot brought it into focus, especially in TWL.  I
> read it at about the right time, coming into some kind of light after two
> decades of alcohol and substance abuse.
>         Mike
> 
>         ----- Original Message ----- 
>           From: cr mittal 
>           To: [log in to unmask] 
>           Sent: Friday, April 21, 2006 7:54 PM
>           Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
> 
> 
>           mikemail <[log in to unmask]> wrote: 
>             Excellent - but I don't agree with Lewis about the chaos.
>             Mike
> 
>           Nor do I. 
> 
>           To me, Eliot's entire creative output (both poetry and plays)
> centers round the chaos engendered by the predominance of 'desire' (lust)
> over love. Like the Buddha, Eliot is overwhelmned by the enormity of the
> cosmic force of 'desire' against which a human being is ranged, helplessly,
> as a puny creature. All the same, Eliot's protagonists struggle, hopelessly
> in the early poetry, and with hope in the later poetry, against this
> adversary, howsoever formidable and all-pervasive it might be.
> 
>           In sum, it's a quest for order in the midst of chaos. It's the
> chaos he decries again and again, as in that intended epigraph for TWL: "the
> horror, the horror".
> 
>           In this context, it should be interesting to read the following
> book-review in The Atlantic Monthly of July 5th, 2005. Let me take the
> liberty, with due apologies, to reproduce it here.
> 
>           Regards.
> 
>           ~ CR
> 
>          
>
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 
>            
>           Tuesday, July 5th, 2005 
> 
>           The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose
>           by T S Eliot 
> 
>           A Breath of Dust 
>           A Review by Christopher Hitchens 
> 
>           Lawrence Rainey's introduction to this book opens with an anecdote
> about a starstruck and tongue-tied Donald Hall, the American poet (and, like
> Eliot, a former editor of the Harvard Advocate), who journeyed to meet his
> hero in London in 1951. Having babbled his way through the interview, Hall
> rose to take his leave. 
>             Then Eliot appeared to search for the right phrase with which to
> send me off. He looked me in the eyes, and set off into a slow, meandering
> sentence. "Let me see," said T. S. Eliot, "forty years ago I went from
> Harvard to Oxford. Now you are going from Harvard to Oxford. What advice can
> I give you?" He paused delicately, shrewdly, while I waited with greed for
> the words which I would repeat for the rest of my life, the advice from elder
> to younger, setting me off on the road of emulation. When he had ticked off
> the comedian's exact milliseconds of pause, he said, "Have you any long
> underwear?"
>           I sat for a second or two after reading that before I remembered
> its analogue, in a novel that had been published seven years prior to this
> encounter. In Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder's father gives him sage
> counsel about going to Oxford.
>             Do you know in the summer before I was going up, your cousin
> Alfred rode over to Boughton especially to give me a piece of advice? And do
> you know what that advice was? "Ned," he said, "there's one thing I must beg
> of you. Always wear a tall hat on Sundays during term."
>           A few pages later on Charles meets Anthony Blanche at a lunchtime
> feast in Oxford, after which the louche, stammering, epicene figure "stood on
> the balcony with a megaphone which had appeared surprisingly among the
> bric-a-brac of Sebastian's room, and in languishing, sobbing tones recited
> passages from The Waste Land to the sweatered and muffled throng that was on
> its way to the river."
>             "'I, Tiresias have foresuffered
>             all,'" he sobbed to them 
>             from the Venetian arches -- 
>             "Enacted on this same d-divan 
>             or b-bed,
>             I who have sat by Thebes 
>             below the wall
>             And walked among the l-l-
>             lowest of the dead ..."
>           Like many of the post-Great War generation, Waugh had taken The
> Waste Land as the specially resonant poem of an epoch, and indeed paid it a
> further compliment by alluding to one of its more famous lines ("I will show
> you fear in a handful of dust") in the title of one of his late novels, A
> Handful of Dust.
>           George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four, which was published just
> before Hall met Eliot at the London offices of Faber and Faber, has the
> glacial O'Brien tell Winston Smith, "There is no possibility that any
> perceptible change will happen within our own lifetime. We are the dead. Our
> only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust
> and splinters of bone." When O'Brien springs the trap on Smith and leads him
> to Room 101, it might be said that "we are in rats' alley / Where the dead
> men lost their bones." (My student Michael Weiss, who pointed this out to me,
> speculates that it might be a partial or subliminal revenge on Orwell's part
> for Eliot's refusal to let Faber and Faber publish Animal Farm.)
>           But these are among, and only among, the influences of The Waste
> Land. What of the influences upon it? Several of them are fairly easy to
> determine: Geoffrey Chaucer, Andrew Marvell, Charles Baudelaire, the Bhagavad
> Gita, Ulysses, and James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night." They are
> easy to determine partly because they are obvious; partly because Eliot did
> not attempt to disguise the provenance of his poem, or at least not
> ostensibly; and partly because he proudly accompanied the final book with a
> convenient set of references and an acknowledgment of debts. This tactic,
> which Peter Ackroyd in his biography says was adopted "in order to avoid the
> charges of plagiarism which had been leveled at his earlier poetry," shows
> Eliot to have been, like Bellow's Augie March, a "Columbus of the
> near-at-hand." A hasty visit to Margate is pressed into service as readily as
> a recent text from James Joyce, or a class on the Buddha that the poet had
> attended not long before, and few of the London landmarks are very far from
> the bank in "The City" at which Eliot toiled from nine to five.
>           Rainey's edition is best read in conjunction with Valerie Eliot's
> 1971 facsimile of the successive drafts of the poem. Here we can see, as they
> occurred, the alterations wrought by the editorial hand of Ezra Pound. As
> dedicatee of The Waste Land, Pound is usually credited with trimming and
> improving the text, and certainly deserves recognition for promoting and
> marketing it. Most of the changes, however, turn out to have been for the
> worse. (In any case, as a reader of the Cantos will readily see, if Pound was
> truly any good at pruning and refining, he must have been literature's most
> salient example of the physician who could not heal himself.) It might now
> seem a bit stale for Eliot to have put the last words of Kurtz on his
> epigraph page, because to us "the horror, the horror" has become a cliché. It
> wasn't so in 1922, and the death wish of the Cumaean Sybil, substituted by
> Pound, rather robs the poem of its main retrospective claim, which is to
> modernity. A spirited opening stave, very much in debt to Joyce and depicting
> a night of pointless debauchery, was cast aside. Worst of all, Pound shielded
> readers from Eliot's lengthy and intense prologue to the moment "When lovely
> woman stoops to folly," in Part III of "The Fire Sermon." I would have wanted
> to keep the Popean parody:
>             This ended, to the steaming bath
>             she moves,
>             Her tresses fanned by little flutt'ring
>             Loves:
>             Odours, confected by the cunning 
>             French,
>             Disguise the good old hearty female 
>             stench.
>           The reek of disgust there -- which is horridly protracted over
> several more excised lines -- is essential to an understanding of Eliot, and
> has a very direct connection to the distraught marital relations that, among
> many other pressures, kept his nerves on a knife edge while he was composing
> the poem.
>           Rainey writes that The Waste Land is "preceded by its reputation,"
> which is hardly worth saying, since that is what "reputation" means. He adds
> that it is "endowed with authority so monumental that a reader is tempted to
> overlook the poem itself." Perhaps. But since we must indeed look back at the
> work through the refraction of what we already "know" about Eliot, it might
> be worth asking why such a pious Christian felt so impelled to exhaust
> himself in the invocation of darkness and despair. Eliot had not quite become
> a committed Anglo-Catholic in 1922, but he had formed an attachment to the
> royalist, Catholic, traditionalist ideas of Charles Maurras and his Action
> Française, which later mutated (as did Eliot) toward fascism. Most of Eliot's
> later work is much more "contained," as it were, and less "wild" (a term
> frequently used by reviewers of The Waste Land). He himself became more
> formal, more Anglicized, more calm and devotional. Yet there was plainly a
> death wish at work, and none of the subsequent attachments to order and to
> the organic society could quite conceal it.
>           Exegesis can go only so far. It is extremely useful to know that
> while Eliot was trying to make up his mind about the twentieth century, he
> depended so much on Bertrand Russell for friendship and material help. We
> know that he had studied Eastern religion, but might it not have been from
> the famously agnostic Russell that he drew encouragement to cite those
> "faiths" that preceded monotheism? No answer in these pages. It was for me,
> however, astonishingly interesting to discover that there was actually a
> popular song, written for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1912, called "That
> Shakespearian Rag." Its authors, Gene Buck and Herman Ruby, cannot have
> imagined the moan of immortalization that Eliot was to give their ephemeral
> ditty. (Not content with annexing and slightly mangling Buck and Ruby's
> title, Eliot even inverted their comment "Most in-tel-li-gent, ve-ry
> el-e-gant" and could be accused of echoing their view that "that old
> clas-si-cal drag / Has the proper stuff.")
>           The allegation of plagiarism is often tiresome, since it is very
> difficult to establish originality or authenticity, and since poetry almost
> invariably involves synthesis (which Ackroyd rightly describes as Eliot's
> particular gift). Still, it is surprising to find no mention at all, in this
> extensively sourced volume, of Madison Cawein's poem Waste Land. Cawein was
> as distant from Eliot, in poetic terms, as it was possible to be. He was a
> Kentucky blues man and a barroom versifier. However, like Eliot, he was
> fascinated by the Celtic twilight and the search for the Grail. And his
> verses, with their haunting title, did appear in the January 1913 edition of
> Poetry magazine. Since that very issue also contained an essay by Ezra Pound
> on the new poets writing in London, it seems more rather than less likely
> that Eliot would have read it.
>             I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
>             Like a dead weed, grey and wan,
>             Or a breath of dust. I looked again --
>             And man and dog were gone,
>             Like wisps of the graying dawn.
>           After fanatically going to buy some long underwear immediately
> after his meeting with Eliot, Donald Hall shook himself, as all servile
> acolytes eventually must, and decided that the great man must have been
> joking. But how certain can we be that Hall was correct in this assumption?
> Several of Eliot's English friends caught him overdoing things: wearing a
> bowler hat at odd moments, and saluting uniformed guardsmen in the street --
> trying too hard, in other words. (Auden did a much better job of becoming an
> American, or at least a New Yorker, than Tom from St. Louis did of becoming a
> stage Englishman.) At other times Eliot was apparently far too dismissive and
> laconic. 
>             Various critics have done me the honor to interpret the poem in
> terms of criticism of the contemporary world, have considered it, indeed, as
> an important bit of social criticism. To me it was only the relief of a
> personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; it is just a piece of
> rhythmical grumbling.
>           He was to tell the Paris Review that in the composition of the
> closing sections "I wasn't even bothering whether I understood what I was
> saying." There seems no reason at all why we should not take him at his word.
> Defensive modesty of this variety can often be worth noting; what critic has
> ever succeeded in getting any sense or any beauty out of the final pages? And
> in what conceivable universe -- even the batty, sinister one of Ezra Pound,
> who insisted that the poem open in that manner -- is April the cruelest
> month?
>           It is not disputable that by publishing The Waste Land when he did,
> Eliot caught something of the zeitgeist and enthralled those who needed
> borrowed words and concepts to capture or re-express the desolation of Europe
> after 1918. But this latest attempt at context and explication has the
> effect, prefigured in earlier scrutinies, of helping to further demystify
> what is certainly the most overrated poem in the Anglo-American canon. 
>          
>
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 
> 
> 
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>     No virus found in this incoming message.
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> 

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