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TSE  September 2006

TSE September 2006

Subject:

Re: Identity of the speaker in 'Preludes'

From:

Dunja Seselja <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Tue, 5 Sep 2006 07:44:00 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (349 lines)

Dear Marcin,

Thank you for the reply! 
I see the question of what is prior - passivity or the
mundane routine - in the following way. Both states
can be rooted in the existential position the subject
finds him/herself. Now, before I continue, I'd like to
propose an idea I've come up, after reading Peter's
remark about Portrait of a Lady. 
It seems to me that the first three poems from
“Prufrock and Other Observations” (so, The Love Song, 
Portrait of a Lady and Preludes) might be seen in the
light of one bigger composition, consisting of these
three poems. This has to do with a specific reading of
all three poems, of course (well, isn't a reading
always specific anyway?)
First of all, The Love Song is (in this reading) a
poem about what you (after Tillch) call "ontological
shock". It speaks of love under the overwhelming
burden of time; of sense of love under the aspect of
finiteness of our existence. There was a discussion
about Prufrock few months ago at this list and some of
my points I collected in my blog:
www.dunja.edublogs.org , so in case this what I've
just said isn't clear enough, more developed thoughts
can be found in the blog (in case you look at it, read
it up-side-down - remarks about Prufrock are at the
bottom of the page).
I think the very same Prufrock can be seem to appear
in Portrait of a Lady. Or let me put it this way: 
Portrait of a Lady is again a poem about the
finiteness of our existence, in which this question is
set in a more concrete surrounding. The Subject is now
explicitly exposed to the world, and to the Other. 
Finally, Preludes close the circle. They go back to
the subject alone and his(her?) solitude. He is still
confronted with the world, but now passively. They are
therefore preludes to what has happened before, or to
what can be read again in the light of them. 
I don't know if this structure makes any sense, but it
seems to me that there are so many cross-references
between these three poems, that such an analysis would
be not only possible, but also very interesting. Let's
leave it then for now, and if you (or anyone else
here) would like to discuss it further, I'd be more
than glad.
Now, from this perspective I wouldn't say routine is
the source of the passivity in Preludes, nor the other
way around. The finiteness of human being is what
seems to be, from my point o view, the main idea, of
which both routine and passivity are derivations. In
Preludes we have the Subject thrown-in-the-world and
then thrown-back-to-him(her?)self. I think that
Heideggerian figure of “loosing the ground” and coming
back to oneself fits very well the Prelude III. In
Prufrock, and then, even more explicitly, in Portrait
of a Lady  we can see the Subject's “being-to-death”
and indecisiveness caused by that. The same
indecisiveness comes back in Preludes, this time in
the form of passivity, caused both by
being-in-the-world and being-in-time. Thus, the
meaninglessness you mention seems to be, in this
reading, a consequence of these “existentials”, just
like the meaninglessness present in The Love Song.
You said: “I am not quite sure whether the speaker in
part I is "set against the world". I think that it is
difficult to apply the traditional epistemological
categories to the situation in Preludes...” 
I agree with you, and I wasn't clear enough when I
said that. What I meant with the subject “being set
against the world” is his/her throwness-in-the-world
(so, not the traditional epistemological opposition
but the one deriving from this particular existential
status). In all three poems we have the subject who is
at the same time in the world and outside of it; to
whom something is happening and whose action is
reduced (or brought up) to thinking of not acting.
Now, the anti-Cartesian epistemological position,
which you mention, sounds very interesting. I am not
so sure though about the lack of the clear cut between
I and non-I. On the one hand, I agree that the world
is mixed with the speaker's consciousness, so it's
hard to divide the two; on the other hand, in the
Prelude III the distinction between the two is very
clear. So maybe we have a dialectical turn here, where
the subject is both the one and not the one with the
world. A similar figure can be found in Prufrock:
Prufrock knows the world (“I have known them all
already...”), and he knows that he is in the hands of
time; but still he stands in the opposition to them,
not by striking against them, but by realizing the
inescapable burden of them. In other words, it is the
mind that sets the difference between the world and
the mind, by getting aware of the connection of the
two.
(At this point it would be interesting to consider
different forms of realism and compare them with the
one present in Eliot's poetry. I've just had a thought
of Hilary Putnam's idea that “mind and the world
jointly make up the mind and the world”...)
As for the English translation of “eigentlish”, I
think “authentic” is the most common one, so you are
right in using it. 
I agree that the idea of time and its specific status
is present not only in the part II – it's just that it
is explicitly mentioned there. But again, the
experience of time, I'd say, comes in this as well as
in the other two poems (especially in Prufrock) as the
experience of existential finiteness. And that is also
where something like “faith” can be considered:
time=faith as something, to which our existence is
subordinated. (That is, by the way, what I had in mind
when I mentioned “destiny”. The final verse of
Preludes, in my opinion, places the faith together
with chance – something so inescapable, and so
uncontrollable, that one can only laugh (maybe in
irony) about it).
As for the last Prelude, the passivity of the speaker,
which I mentioned, again stands in a dialectical
relation towards the world: the speaker is moved
*only* by the world, and *because of* the world. His
(her) activity comes as a result of his(her)
passivity.
 
What do you think about this “infinitely gentle,
infinitely suffering thing”? What could it refer to?
Could we maybe relate it to the speaker of Portrait of
a Lady?? Or maybe to the universal subject of the
Preludes, which also represents Prufrock and the man
from the Portrait of a Lady?

Best regards!

Dunja




--- marcin ostrouch <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> 
> Dear Dunja, thank you for inviting me to this list,
> and for your 
> response to my questions. I also thank Peter
> Montgomery for drawing our 
> attention to /Portrait of the Lady, /I shall see to
> it very soon.
> 
> As for the points you mention...
> 
> I do agree that the speaker's passivity is
> conspicuous. However, I would 
> venture to interpret passivity (and nota bene -
> Prufrockian indecision), 
> per se, rather as epiphenomenal to the overwhelming
> sense of 
> dislocation, if not of meaninglessness.
> 
> Take the notion of mundane routine, oppressive
> automatism of the 
> everyday, hinted at in the first four lines of part
> I, and throughout 
> parts II, and III. Were the speaker engrossed in the
> quotidian, there 
> would be no sense of passivity, but a sense of
> action (however illusory).
> 
> I am not quite sure whether the speaker in part I is
> "set against the 
> world". I think that it is difficult to apply the
> traditional 
> epistemological categories to the situation in
> /Preludes/. For the 
> reason that the speaker, however indeterminate,
> seems to be at the same 
> time the subject and object  of his/her perception.
> Yes, all these 
> images "constitute his/her soul". His/her feet are
> being wrapt with 
> auguries of non-being, pointlessness etc.. He/she
> implicitly is the 
> reality he/she experiences, or if you like, his/her
> experience is 
> constituted by the world, or as heideggerian
> nomenclature has it - the 
> speaker's being is Being-in-the-world. [so, yes - as
> you write, it has 
> to do with "being thrown into the world"]
> 
> [["Anti-Cartesian" epistemic model I infer, hopefuly
> not too hastily, 
> from the very fact of there being a speaker of so
> diffused identity, and 
> that the world as presented in the poem does not
> seem to be objective 
> reality, but rather content of the speaker's
> consciousness - coloured 
> with his/her mood and understanding. In other words,
> there does not seem 
> to be the clear-cut   "I vs  not-I" opposition.
> Would you agree?]]
> 
> NB would you agree on "authentic" for "eigentlich"?
> 
> 
> I do not see why should the speaker  be
> "condendemned" to time only in 
> part II. Mind you, the notion of time appears in
> /Prelude I/ as well, 
> giving the backdrop of smelly routine dominating the
> lives of the 
> implicitly present (explicitly absent) inhabitants
> of the passageways. 
> In /Prelude II /the notion of daily grind seems to
> be carried on with, 
> developed. Time, as experienced by the speaker,
> "resumes" universal 
> superficiality of existence ("masquerades")
> ---------------------------------------------------
> Perhaps, we could discuss the way the speaker
> experiences time in all 
> the stanzas? (after all some say that "being is
> time")
> 
> --By the way, you mention this issue in your email
> of August 31.
> I haven't done very much research on TSE-Heidegger
> notion of time, yet.
> But, for all I know, Heidegger discribes time
> (experienced 
> authentically) as a spiral unifying Dasein's past,
> present and future. 
> Accordingly, there seems to be a striking similarity
> in TSE's and 
> Heidegger apporach to tradition (Heideggerian 
> hermeneutic approach and 
> TSE's insistence on ever-present, re-interpreted
> past).
> ----------------------------------------------------
> 
> The passivity of the speaker in the 4th Prelude ("I
> am moved..."), 
> appears to me at least disputable. For "being moved"
> implies some deep 
> e-motional state, which even if per se "passive"
> (involuntary) seems to 
> move towards an active response. Well, to me
> "clinging" is an action, 
> participation par excellence.
> 
> Could you possibly elaborate on the question of
> "destiny" which you 
> mention. Perhaps due to my bias with Heidegger I
> tend to shun any 
> notions of ground which "destiny" inevitably
> implies...
> 
> As for "ontological shock" - yes. I mean by it
> realisation of ONE'S OWN 
> finitude (as a response to encountering the threat
> of non-being, to 
> experiencing disappearance of structure and meaning
> of reality); and in 
> result - challenging "certain certainties" of ONE'S
> OWN world perhaps 
> somewhat hastily "assumed".
> 
> Looking forward to your reply,
> Marcin
> 
>  
> 
> 
> 
> Dunja Seselja wrote:
> 
> >The subject appearing in Eliot's Preludes seems to
> be
> >undetermined, and in so far, I guess it could be
> even
> >see as the generic one. In any case, the main
> >characteristic of the subject (when I say the
> subject,
> >I don't mean the subject of the speaker, but the
> >subject the poem speaks of, but in how far they
> should
> >be distinguished at all, I'll say something a bit
> >later) is his/her passivity. 
> >
> 
> >While in the part I the
> >subject is set against the world (being subjected
> to
> >its course), in the part II (s)he is set against
> the
> >time (being "condemned" to it) . (I think the
> second
> >verse of the part II shares some of the ideas
> >appearing in Prufrock, and I'd be glad to discuss
> that
> >issue as well). 
> >  
> >
> >In the part III, we finally see the subject *doing*
> >something, but even that ("you tossed a blanket")
> is
> >the action of removing = replying to what has
> already
> >been there. But what this part seems to bring is
> the
> >(only?) action left to the subject - to have a
> vision
> >(in solitude). 
> >
> >Now, in the part IV, the subject of the
> >speaker finally appears, but almost equivalent to
> the
> >subject (s)he is  talking about - it is again a
> >passive subject (i am moved... I cling...). 
> >
> >The final
> >verse reveals a sort of "catharsic" discovery of
> the
> >subject (both the speaker and the one (s)he is
> >speaking of), similar to the relation of the
> ancient
> >Greeks towards the destiny: as the destiny is
> >uncontrollable even by gods themselves, why making
> so
> >much fuss about it? 
> >  
> >
> >It seems to me that the status of the subject in
> the
> >poem could be compared with Heidegger's notion of
> >"being thrown into the world" (excuse my
> formulation,
> >I'm not sure how this expression is to be
> translated
> >in English), as well as with the "eigentlich" and
> >"uneigentlich" modes of "Dasein".
> 
=== message truncated ===


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