From: Ken Armstrong
I like that one. Do you think TSE's famous remark in the preface to
_Nightwood_ trumps it? (It's famous, but I'm not recalling the word for
word; something like those who stand on individualism and those who
privilege the group "are eaten by the same worm."
Well, Eliot's is much less aphoristic, and in fact the whole subject is
much more complicated than the simple qiotes would imply. If you were to
read Hesse's IF THE WAR GOES ON... you would get a whole mindful of focus
on the individual. The quote for which we have been looking, seems like
it should have been in that book. Hesse has gone on about the individual
like that in other places too. But then he has held forth very
romantically about the perfection of Switzerland and how it is the
greatest democracy, &c. &c. In fact he tends to make US patriotism look
tepid. So I think he had more balance in his view than the simple quote
would reveal. All his focus on the individual has to be seen in the
context of what he experienced in Germany from 1900 to 1945. It wasn't
nice, and there was no room for the individual, either in law or in
the ethos of the time. The Kaiser and Hitler couldn't have built what
they did, otherwise. So Hesse saw himself with the God-given mission
to help young adults avoid that tribal surge by promoting individualism.
I could believe if he had spent some of that time in the U.S. he would
have been much more focussed on balance.
Whereas Hesse's focus was political, Eliot's was spiritual
(that dreaded dimension that never gets discussed on this list --
how gauche of me even to mention it). "Attachment to self, or to
things...." &c. gets in the way of attachment to God. Pure and simple.
But I suspect Eliot would agree that attachment to self as a path to
maturity is the preferrable path to selflessness. Achieving
selflessness through the herd means one has no self to offer,
no detachment for the sake of love can be made, no awful moment
of a daring surrender. But the way of self is more dangerous
Sartre in HUIS CLOS said "Hell is other people." Eliot deliberately
countered that in THE COCKTAIL PARTY by having a character (Celia
I think?) say, "Hell is one's self".
Bottom line: in the context in which we are all worm-meat,
I think Eliot's does trump Hesse's, but only in that context.
(Did yuo know that one of those so-called worms is otherwise
named a cheese-skipper because of the way it dances over the
Perhaps my mentionng of the spiritual dimension might embolden
a lurker or two to get involved. I hope so. I mean, one really
shouldn't avoid the fact that Eliot did, consciously and
deliberately, move beyond the waste land.
Here is Eliot's passage:
The miseries that people suffer through their
particular abnornmalities & temperament are
visible on the surfaces; the deeper design is
that of the human misery and bondage which is
universal. In normal lives this misery is mostly
concealed; often, what is most wretched of all,
concealed from the sufferer more effectively than
from the observer. The sick man does not know what
is wrong with him; he partly wants to know, and
mostly wants to conceal the knowledge from himself.
In the Puritan morality that I remember, it was
tacitly assumed that if one was thrifty, enterprising,
intelligent, practical and prudent in not violating
social conventions, one ought to have a happy and
'successful' life. Failure was due to some weakness
or perversity peculiar to the individual; but the
decent man need no nightmares. It is now rather more
common to assume that all individual misery is the
fault of 'society', and is remediable by allterations
from without. Fundamentallv, the two philosophies,
however different they may appear in operation,
are the same. It seems to me that all of us, so far
as we attach ourselves to created objects and
surrender our wills to temporal ends, are eaten
by the same worm.
Eliot, T.S. "Introduction." NIGHTWOOD by Djuna Barnes.
London: Faber, 1936: 5-6.