It is not just a matter of syntax at all. One of the most difficult and
troubling things about Eliot's criticism is his assumption of a
universal voice, a kind of royal we. He does it consistently, not just
here. I wrote about it in my essay on Eliot and MacDiarmid, "MacDiarmid
Reading The Waste Land: The Politics of Quotation," in Hugh MacDiarmid:
Man and Poet. The defining paragraph is as follows:
Reviewing Smith's book in the Athenaeum, Eliot begins: "We suppose
that there is an English literature, and Professor Gregory Smith
supposes that there is a Scottish literature," The confidence of
Eliot's undefined "we" establishes his stance at the outset. And yet
its very lack of definition establishes his peculiar and suppressed
politics. Are "we" the English, of whom Eliot is not one? The
educated, of whom G. Gregory Smith is presumably a member? The Arnoldian
arbiters of taste and seriousness? The royal "we"? Who is infallibly
able to recognize a "literature"? Eliot, undaunted, draws the line:
"When we assume that a literature exists we assume a geat deal," he
continues, and a Scottish literature, he concludes, does not exist.
Eliot's unquestioned place at the center could hardly be more aptly
framed than by the broad acceptance of that "we." MacDiarmid, included
neither in the "we" who make such determinations not in the "we" who
assume their simple validity, both shared and affirmed Smith's claim for
a distinctly Scottish literary tradition; more important, he found in
Smith's concept of the "Caledonian antizygy" the justification of his
own call for a Scottish literary renaissance.
Your question is immensely refreshing. I referred to the "broad
acceptance" of the "we" because it was simply not asked for about eight
or nine decades. But it is fundamental: as you make clear, there is no
referent and no way to establish one.
>>> [log in to unmask] 02/15/04 6:22 AM >>>
I have some problems with Eliot's syntactic constructions in his Hamlet
"Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is
interpret; we can only criticize it according to standards, in
other works of art; and for 'interpretation' the chief task is the
presentation of relevant historical facts which the reader is not
Now then -- I have understood the theorical meaning altogether. But who
that WE who can only criticize? Is it Eliot or the critics in general?
that reader, who is he supposed to represent? The average reader who can
only criticise and not interpret? So, who is to interpret literary works
only such critics as Mr Robertson? Yet, weren't critics supposed to
'criticise' a work of art?
It's just a matter of syntax which I cannot solve. Can anyone help?
Thanks so much.