Peter Montgomery wrote:
> You might be interested in Wyndham Lewis' THE LION AND THE FOX.
> Much as the Enlightenment folk liked to think that
> various political configurations were incarnated from the
> abstract and just got plunked into place, in fact they
> tended, in Europe to evolve out of tribal configurations
> in which what little political structure existed was quite
> organic in nature. Chief or chieftain means Headman.
It's been a long time since I read any of Lewis. (1958 I think.) And
there are important overlaps between "organic" and "dialectical"
conceptions of society; central, of course, is seeing "the individual"
as simply not existing prior to the social relations in which one always
already finds oneself implicated. Goethe gives Faust a line that catches
this pretty well: "Im Anfang war die That": In the beginning was the
deed/act. That is a good way of looking at those "tribal
configurations": humans are always already acting, and thinking is to a
great (not total) extent a process of trying to make sense of, raise to
the level of theory, that action in which we find ourselves.
Of course to the slave master (particularly if slaves are used primarily
as servants, as would have been the case in Plato's Athens), it seems
that pure thought moves matter, that thought exists independently of and
prior to action: Let there be a breeze, he thinks, and a slave waves a
fan. Let there be bread, and bread appears.
> As Lewis makes eminently clear, the King is the head of the
> body (politic). There is an organic unity. Cf. Shakespeare
> in whose plays the King doesn't enter, England enters.
This organic conception was relatively innocent in 16th century England
-- though if one emphasizes the Tudor propaganda in the History Plays,
there is already then a somewhat forced air to it. (I wonder how many
Londoners in 1590 knew just how good a king on the whole Richard III had
been, and how lying were the Tudor accounts, as repeated by
Shakespeare.) But when you translate this into the 20th century, you are
moving towards the perspective which Lewis, Pound, Yeats (and perhaps
very nearly, Eliot) adopted, the corporate state of Mussolini or Hitler.
I think there is a difference between seeing society as _organic_ on the
one hand, and seeing the individual as not existing independently of
his/her social relations on the other. If you hand offend you, cut it
off. There is the same difficulty in an aesthetic view of human
relations. It's been nearly 50 years since I read _Portrait of a Lady_,
but there is that wonderful minor character, whose whole life is in his
collection of bibelots, and who sells them all in hopes of marrying
someone -- Isabel herself? Osmond turns Isabel into a bibelot.
[Whats-his-name] sacrifices his bibelots for Isabel. (There's a late
story by James, though, I think in _The Finer Grain_, where a woman who
wants to be an artist herself is told that she should merely be a muse.
It's not that crude of course, but I can't remember it clearly right
Is Eliot leaning towards an organic view in _Four Quartets_,
particularly _East Coker_ and _Little Gidding_?
> Dr. Peter C. Montgomery
> Dept. of English
> Camosun College
> 3100 Foul Bay Rd.
> Victoria, BC CANADA V8P 5J2
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