It was not in the dark ages at all. French psychologists had for the last
century studied what they called "hysteria." Eliot knew a great deal of the
literature. He went to Vittoz because of the way Vittoz did psychiatry, and
his symptoms would have been called "neurasthenia." But even then it
was the view that it was very difficult to distinguish neurasthenia and
hysteria. It had been a major discussion at the time in medical journals
because of WWI. "Shell Shock" is what they called hysteria and we
would probably call post-traumatic stress disorder. In any case, there was
a very extensive literature on it that actually goes back a couple of
thousand years to ancient Egypt. Vittoz specifically wrote on
Date sent: Sat, 28 Sep 2002 11:28:11 -0500
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From: Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Some Queries, was Re: Deluge...
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Nancy Gish wrote:
> So I am more concerned to resist hagiography than
> to make any judgment. One may be interested in the sources of poems
> without taking moral stands on the poet either way. But it does matter,
> for example, that "on Margate sands/ I can connect nothing with nothing"
> was written when he had just been to Margate and was having a breakdown.
Psychiatry (still pretty primitive today) was still in the dark ages in
1920 -- what is known about Eliot's "breakdown"? Was it clinical
Pound almost certainly suffered from depression (and perhaps from
bipolar). One of the earliest lines in the _Cantos_ to catch my
attention was one which (in different ways before and after I was
diagnosed with depression) seemed to me to sum up my life pretty
(and the mortal fatigue of action postponed)
And from Canto LXXIV:
dry friable earth going from dust to more dust
grass worn from its root-hold
is it blacker? was it blacker? [Nux] animae?
is there a blacker or was it merely San Juan with a belly
writing ad posteros
in short shall we look for a deeper or is this the bottom?
And in the last years of his life (I forget the source for this) a
visitor reports him saying, "I did not choose silence. Silence chose
me." I know _exactly_ what he talking about, having been there and
recovered several times. One does not have these feelings "merely" from
conditions around one or from other external sources, or even "merely"
from "psychological" causes. (Both sources may be and probably are
operative of course, but they are not sufficient causes.)
I can conceive of someone writing "I can connect nothing with nothing"
from his/her observation of others, though it is perhaps doubtful. And an
interesting point. As with Pound's line on fatigue, I can provide personal
content for this line, but I doubt very much I would ever have come up
with either phrasing, as "simple" as Eliot's line may appear. This is
relevant both to Peter's queries about Shakespeare and to my recent posts
on the nature of writing skill. "Profound understanding" of this or that
feature of human life may be rather more common than we think: what isn't
so common (to take a traditional classroom example) is to find how
powerful in a given instance is a contrast between monosyllabic and
polysyllabic expression: "Rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine,
making the green one red." And who writing in English other than
Shakespeare and Pound can over thousands and thousands of lines repeatedly
generate such metrical perfection as "making the green one red"? That
comes neither from experience nor learning (however important both
experience and learning may be to create the context for such triumphs).