I have to take direct issue with this. Two points. First. You write:
it matters first because it is a directly biographical line that he put in
> the poem despite his claim that poetry was not about the person.
Whether or not this is a 'directly biographical line' (which, since it
doesn't mention TSE's particular circumstances it does not seem to me to be,
and were one to take it as such than each and every name of a place to which
TSE or anyone who knew him had visited/lived/ate lunch/used the loo/flossed
teeth in must be taken as an example of same), it does not therefore justify
the notion that the poetry is 'about the person'. It may indeed be, as I
think TWL is, about the world about the person. If you see my point.
Second. Your comment: "I do not think it accidental that so
> many poems include hysteria, not least "Hysteria." But epilepsy was
> classed as hysteria in psychology at the time, so in "Sweeney Erect" the
> worry about hysteria in the house is a literal comment on the epileptic on
> the bed."
This is not solid reasoning; it is assumptive. First of all, no poem can of
course include the medical definition of 'hysteria' unless it describe that
condition, which *none* of TSE's poems do. The hysteria in 'Hysteria' is of
course not the *medical* condition, but rather a secondary meaning, of
'intense laughter or sadness' (quite a lot of which goes in Byron's Don
Juan). Secondly, you write "epilepsy was
> classed as hysteria in psychology at the time", which is simply not
true.Freud is I assume one of the major writers and thinkers on 'hysteria'
(though certainly not its inventor, as the OED, and in fact King Lear bear
out), and he does not conflate the condition with epilepsy. Nor does
Dostoevsky (who, incidentally, also informs us in his novels that it was
well known at the time that smoking resulted in illness, regardless of what
tobacco companies say). Nor does Eliot, in speaking of Dostoevsky in 1923,
where he distinguishes the conditions (as does Shakespeare, when he writes
of the 'falling sickness' which afflicts Caesar and Othello, and whose
medical history predates hysteria, I believe).
They are particularly and purposefully not quite connected in 'Sweeney
Erect' either. Far from, as you write, "a literal comment on the epileptic
> the bed.", we have no evidence whatever to prove that 'the epileptic' is
hysterical. The poem says 'Curves backward, clutching at her sides'. And the
fears about it are a play on what one's predictable responses might be to a
situation ever so slightly shadowy, and suspected by those suspect. But,
since Eliot's poetry is a poetry of responses about responses, we had better
Given Freud's horrific behaviour in relation to Dora, I shudder to think
what 'an aesthetics of hysteria' might be.