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TSE  August 2001

TSE August 2001

Subject:

Re: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Modernists

From:

[log in to unmask][log in to unmask]

Date:

Fri, 10 Aug 2001 12:07:48 EDT

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In a message dated 8/10/01 8:11:37 AM EST, [log in to unmask] writes:

> Doesn't this imply that TSE would have thought that a society based on the
>  common mans' politics and ethics would have been a superior society.  I
>  don't think this was TSE's position.

   Perl doesn't address this exact point in the tapes, but let me give you my 
thoughts, for what it's worth.

   Before WW2, Eliot and Pound and their peers expressed the view that 
society was comprised of artists and non-artists, and that society would be 
better off being led by its artists (There's a quote from Pound somewhere 
where he talks about artists leading the "homo-cainus" (i.e., dog-men, i.e., 
the 'common man' obviously depicted in an extremely pejorative way. I can dig 
out the exact quote later today if you wish).  After WW2, I think Eliot was 
truly horrified at the devastation, perhaps especially the Holocaust and the 
implications that it carried for the pre-WW2 anti-Semitic views Eliot at 
least tolerated in Ezra Pound (if not partly shared with Pound). So I think 
that after WW2, Eliot was less willing to be so 'aristocratic'.  He was more 
sympathetic to, as you put it, "the  common mans' politics and ethics."  
However, his sympathies for "Western ethics" (democracy) did not change his 
view that art had its eternal standards. As Perl said so well, not all birds 
can sing like the nightingale; some of them are chickens. So Eliot was not 
willing to go so far as to say that those things that were not art were, in 
fact,  art. Instead he spoke of tradeoffs that may have to be made, in which 
a more 'democratic' society (which he welcomed) would produce a culture that 
was, to Eliot, a decline.

   As a thought experiment, I wonder how Eliot would view the curriculum 
today at his beloved Harvard. When Eliot went there, a Harvard education 
meant a firm grounding in the Classics, a study of authors in their original 
language (including ancient Greek), etc. Today, as my son looks through the 
Harvard course offerings to get a flavor of it (he's a high school senior), 
he sees courses on Multiculturalism, women's studies, and many topics that 
were not offered in 1914. At the same time, Harvard allows its undergraduates 
to essentially choose their own curriculum, so it's possible to graduate with 
a Harvard undergraduate literature degree without taking, for example, a 
Shakespeare course.  I have a strong suspicion that this is an example of 
what Eliot would call an improvement in ethics causing a cultural decline.

P.S. I am not giving you my views on what Steve Pollack regards as a cultural 
decline -- just what I think Eliot would regard as a cultural decline.

-- Steve --

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