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TSE  August 2001

TSE August 2001

Subject:

Re: Definition of art

From:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 18 Aug 2001 22:00:09 EDT

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In a message dated 8/18/01 7:01:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
[log in to unmask] writes:


> Well, Eliot wrote a great deal about his commitment to "Classicism," so I 
> should think it would be his idea that is at issue, not Steve's.  "What is 
> a 
> Classic" is an extended definition of his notion of the "classical" and the 
> importance of it, ie., "maturity" as he understood that term.  Both there 
> and 
> elsewhere, for example, "Modern Education and the Classics," he identifies 
> it with the Greek and Latin texts and claims the only way to preserve a 
> Christian society is to teach those texts.  He is constant and pretty clear 
> in 
> who he means.  And he is very clear that it is not ok to treat just 
> anything 
> as equally valuable.  He has clear hierarchies.  So I don't know what the 
> question is here unless it is the particulars of his extensive discussions. 
>  In 
> "What is a Classic," for example, THE classic text of Western civilization 
> is Virgil.
> Nancy

My point is that he had a great many interests besides Greco-Roman writers, 
and this shows up in the broad range of both his poetry and his criticism. I 
believe what he said about Virgil is that he preferred Virgil to Homer. It 
was Dante he said had the greatest influence on his own work, and Dante is 
medieval, not Classical. On top of that, Dante has been a virtual fad with 
artists and writers from Boticelli to Henry Miller, so I think of him as a 
poet who lived in the medieval period but also influenced many artists whom 
we think of as modern. One can't necessarily, incidentally, skewer an artist 
by what he likes to read, as I thought Steve might have been setting himself 
up to do. Cezanne is rightly called the father of modern art, and is 
incredibly radical in his ideas about space in painting. Yet he apparently 
knew large sections of the Aeneid by heart, and would recite them to people 
who came to his studio.  

To me, what an artist uses for material is aesthetically irrelevant, and what 
we want to judge him on is what he does with whatever material he selects. 
Eliot might call Sweeney Agonistes fragments of an Aristophanic melodrama, 
and he's certainly drawn on the Oresteia. But what he's produced is a lot 
closer to the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than to Aeschylus, and to miss this I 
think is to miss the point. When people regard Eliot as an important  
modernist poet--you may not see him in this way--they mean he does something 
modern with the material he uses, and he isn't just a tired producer of  
pastiches of Aristophanes.

I wasn't sure whether Steve meant Classical literature or canonical 
literature, and now I guess I'll never know if his answer would have been 
your answer. But I think it's important to be aware that "tradition"is 
neither a dirty word in the arts nor a word that's unique to Eliot. Painters 
talked about tradition all the way down to Willem de Kooning. I don't 
personally care if a person uses the word "tradition" or not. It just seems 
to me that one can't make snap judgments based on buzz words--that a painter 
or poet uses words like tradition, Classical, or whatever. To a lot of people 
today, a "traditional" society means a society that's closer to nature, where 
money isn't the measure of everything and the food isn't full of pesticides 
and chemicals.

I don't recall "Modern Education and the Classics." But doesn't it strike you 
as odd that he would claim, in your words, that  "the only way to preserve a 
Christian society is to teach [Classical]  texts"?  How would it particularly 
foster a Christian society to have students read non-Christian authors? What 
explanation did he give? Or what's your explanation? Pending any 
clarification you can provide, maybe we should be asking what he means by a 
Christian society. It sure doesn't sound like what Saint Augustine might have 
meant by a Christian society. And of course "Christian" is another buzz word. 
Eliot, and also Graham Greene, got an unusual amount of flak for their 
religious conversions--this in a society that supposedly believes in 
religious tolerance. I personally think the religious sniping has been 
overdone. It seems to me that Eliot saw two extremes. Either what he called a 
Christian society or what he regarded as neo-paganism or a lapse into 
paganism. And this latter I think he associated with occultism, seances, 
Tarot cards, maybe at some point "recreational drugs," etc. 

I don't totally agree with him about, say, Gurdjieff. But Eliot isn't  nearly 
as exclusionary as people make him sound, and as ideal societies go, his is 
not bad. As you say yourself, he finds it a must that students read 
non-Christian (Classical) authors. I also find him pretty sensitive to the 
Jewish foundations of Christianity, which to me is a plus.  After Strange 
Gods is a kind of polemic against neopaganism, and indeed not among his 
better works, at least as far as the literary criticism goes. But he includes 
 some really good remarks about environmentalism, and I could usually agree 
with his conclusions even though his way of thinking things out wasn't mine. 
If I were asked, for example, why I object to industrial pollution or 
genetically altered foods, I might frame my answer in terms of public health 
issues. If he were to frame an answer in religious terms, that doesn't 
especially bother me, even though I don't share his religiosity.  And to tell 
you the truth, he might be right. Once in a while, I actually do find myself 
thinking that if there's a God, he'll punish us for the mess we've made of 
the earth and for our incredible cruelty to one another. I don't think we can 
blame the problems just on "industry," and I'm afraid that we're all 
complicit.

pat

--part1_9.1a2312a3.28b077a9_boundary
Content-Type: text/html; charset="US-ASCII"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

<HTML><FONT FACE=arial,helvetica><FONT  SIZE=3 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial Narrow" LANG="0"><B>In a message dated 8/18/01 7:01:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
<BR>[log in to unmask] writes:
<BR>
<BR></FONT><FONT  COLOR="#000000" SIZE=2 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0"></B>
<BR><BLOCKQUOTE TYPE=CITE style="BORDER-LEFT: #0000ff 2px solid; MARGIN-LEFT: 5px; MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px; PADDING-LEFT: 5px">Well, Eliot wrote a great deal about his commitment to "Classicism," so I 
<BR>should think it would be his idea that is at issue, not Steve's. &nbsp;"What is 
<BR>a 
<BR>Classic" is an extended definition of his notion of the "classical" and the 
<BR>importance of it, ie., "maturity" as he understood that term. &nbsp;Both there 
<BR>and 
<BR>elsewhere, for example, "Modern Education and the Classics," he identifies 
<BR>it with the Greek and Latin texts and claims the only way to preserve a 
<BR>Christian society is to teach those texts. &nbsp;He is constant and pretty clear 
<BR>in 
<BR>who he means. &nbsp;And he is very clear that it is not ok to treat just 
<BR>anything 
<BR>as equally valuable. &nbsp;He has clear hierarchies. &nbsp;So I don't know what the 
<BR>question is here unless it is the particulars of his extensive discussions. 
<BR>&nbsp;In 
<BR>"What is a Classic," for example, THE classic text of Western civilization 
<BR>is Virgil.
<BR>Nancy</FONT><FONT  COLOR="#000000" SIZE=3 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0"></BLOCKQUOTE>
<BR>
<BR>My point is that he had a great many interests besides Greco-Roman writers, 
<BR>and this shows up in the broad range of both his poetry and his criticism. I 
<BR>believe what he said about Virgil is that he preferred Virgil to Homer. It 
<BR>was Dante he said had the greatest influence on his own work, and Dante is 
<BR>medieval, not Classical. On top of that, Dante has been a virtual fad with 
<BR>artists and writers from Boticelli to Henry Miller, so I think of him as a 
<BR>poet who lived in the medieval period but also influenced many artists whom 
<BR>we think of as modern. One can't necessarily, incidentally, skewer an artist 
<BR>by what he likes to read, as I thought Steve might have been setting himself 
<BR>up to do. Cezanne is rightly called the father of modern art, and is 
<BR>incredibly radical in his ideas about space in painting. Yet he apparently 
<BR>knew large sections of the Aeneid by heart, and would recite them to people 
<BR>who came to his studio. &nbsp;
<BR>
<BR>To me, what an artist uses for material is aesthetically irrelevant, and what 
<BR>we want to judge him on is what he does with whatever material he selects. 
<BR>Eliot might call Sweeney Agonistes fragments of an Aristophanic melodrama, 
<BR>and he's certainly drawn on the Oresteia. But what he's produced is a lot 
<BR>closer to the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than to Aeschylus, and to miss this I 
<BR>think is to miss the point. When people regard Eliot as an important &nbsp;
<BR>modernist poet--you may not see him in this way--they mean he does something 
<BR>modern with the material he uses, and he isn't just a tired producer of &nbsp;
<BR>pastiches of Aristophanes.
<BR>
<BR>I wasn't sure whether Steve meant Classical literature or canonical 
<BR>literature, and now I guess I'll never know if his answer would have been 
<BR>your answer. But I think it's important to be aware that "tradition"is 
<BR>neither a dirty word in the arts nor a word that's unique to Eliot. Painters 
<BR>talked about tradition all the way down to Willem de Kooning. I don't 
<BR>personally care if a person uses the word "tradition" or not. It just seems 
<BR>to me that one can't make snap judgments based on buzz words--that a painter 
<BR>or poet uses words like tradition, Classical, or whatever. To a lot of people 
<BR>today, a "traditional" society means a society that's closer to nature, where 
<BR>money isn't the measure of everything and the food isn't full of pesticides 
<BR>and chemicals.
<BR>
<BR>I don't recall "Modern Education and the Classics." But doesn't it strike you 
<BR>as odd that he would claim, in your words, that &nbsp;"</FONT><FONT  COLOR="#000000" SIZE=2 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0">the only way to preserve a 
<BR>Christian society is to teach [Classical] &nbsp;texts"? &nbsp;How would it particularly 
<BR>foster a Christian society to have students read non-Christian authors? What 
<BR>explanation did he give? Or what's your explanation? Pending any 
<BR>clarification you can provide, maybe we should be asking what he means by a 
<BR>Christian society. It sure doesn't sound like what Saint Augustine might have 
<BR>meant by a Christian society. And of course "Christian" is another buzz word. 
<BR>Eliot, and also Graham Greene, got an unusual amount of flak for their 
<BR>religious conversions--this in a society that supposedly believes in 
<BR>religious tolerance. I personally think the religious sniping has been 
<BR>overdone. It seems to me that Eliot saw two extremes. Either what he called a 
<BR>Christian society or what he regarded as neo-paganism or a lapse into 
<BR>paganism. And this latter I think he associated with occultism, seances, 
<BR>Tarot cards, maybe at some point "recreational drugs," etc. 
<BR>
<BR>I don't totally agree with him about, say, Gurdjieff. But Eliot isn't &nbsp;nearly 
<BR>as exclusionary as people make him sound, and as ideal societies go, his is 
<BR>not bad. As you say yourself, he finds it a must that students read 
<BR>non-Christian (Classical) authors. I also find him pretty sensitive to the 
<BR>Jewish foundations of Christianity, which to me is a plus. &nbsp;After Strange 
<BR>Gods is a kind of polemic against neopaganism, and indeed not among his 
<BR>better works, at least as far as the literary criticism goes. But he includes 
<BR>&nbsp;some really good remarks about environmentalism, and I could usually agree 
<BR>with his conclusions even though his way of thinking things out wasn't mine. 
<BR>If I were asked, for example, why I object to industrial pollution or 
<BR>genetically altered foods, I might frame my answer in terms of public health 
<BR>issues. If he were to frame an answer in religious terms, that doesn't 
<BR>especially bother me, even though I don't share his religiosity. &nbsp;And to tell 
<BR>you the truth, he might be right. Once in a while, I actually do find myself 
<BR>thinking that if there's a God, he'll punish us for the mess we've made of 
<BR>the earth and for our incredible cruelty to one another. I don't think we can 
<BR>blame the problems just on "industry," and I'm afraid that we're all 
<BR>complicit.
<BR>
<BR>pat</FONT></HTML>

--part1_9.1a2312a3.28b077a9_boundary--

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