Terry and Nancy,
I see Eliot as a closet irrationalist, who is buttoned-down and
conservative, but in agreement with Shakespeare's line that "there are
more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamed of in your
philosophy." A sure way to misunderstand him is to judge him by his
"cover." The key to Eliot for me was reading his description of how
emotion is best expressed in poetry as a "pressure" from under the
lines, and never explicitly. This accords with John Cooper's claim
that powerful unarticulated affects inform TWL to the extent that gaps
and disjuncts skew and fragment it's form.
Erudite and brilliant as he was, Eliot had a healthy appreciation for
If he did commune with spirits, though, my guess is that he would
never have admitted it; that wasn't his style.
Sent from my iPod
On Mar 13, 2010, at 1:18 PM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Dante is already in the realm of the dead--the only one who will go
> through their world and return. His allusion to that love is not, I
> think, in any way parallel to humans in this world making "contact"
> with spirits. The dedication is to one who died at the Dardanelles--
> a death by water, though it was not a drowning. Elegiac dedications
> are not unusual nor are they indications of contact. They are
> remembrances or affirmations.
> I think Eliot's comments about such spiritualism were always
> negative; at least all I have read. And he was, when he converted--
> though that was later, extremely focused on orthodoxy. But he seems
> always to have approached such topics from an intellectual and
> "orthodox" kind of perspective. I don't think he ever took any such
> attempts as other than charlatanry. It is true Madam Sosotris does
> predict some events, but her lines are very general and explainable
> by the conditions at the time. She is using Tarot cards (not exact
> ones) and connecting them with real events or situations. There is
> a similar use in Sweeney Agonistes when Doris and Dusty cut the
> cards. That is, some of Eliot's characters engage in the popular
> But I see no evidence for or reason to think Eliot ever took any
> spiritualism of that kind seriously. If you have any text that
> does, I would like to see.
> >>> Terry Traynor 03/13/10 1:03 PM >>>
> Jerry -- thanks.
> Diana --
> >he was always asked for miracle stories, which he said were a sign
> >along the non-rational path that could prevent enlightenment if the
> >disciple got attached to them.
> >I see a connection here to Eliot's distinction between signs and
> As I understand it, Buddhism says that _any_thing that a disciple
> gets attached to could prevent enlightenment. If so, wouldn't
> distinguishing between one object of attachment (sign) and another
> (wonder) be irrelevant?
> Nancy --
> >During and after WWI there was a massive interest in spiritualism,
> >seances, and possible "signs" that would allow grieving people to
> >contact with their dead sons and husbands and lovers and brothers.
> As you say, Eliot disapproved of the charlatans who took advantage
> of the situation, but do you think he believed that communicating
> with the dead was nonetheless possible? I ask because I'm wondering
> what might be in the mind of a poet (and this pertains not only to
> Eliot) who addresses a real, not fictive, dead person. Is it just a
> literary convention? Eliot seems to be trying to communicate with
> the dead when he doesn't just dedicate his Prufrock book to Jean
> Verdenal, but follows the dedication with the passage from Dante
> that says: "Now can you understand the quantity of love that warms
> me toward you, so that I forget our vanity, and treat the shadows
> like the solid thing."