I really should have added the next paragraph of Longenbach's essay
to the excerpt I sent in. Below I'm combining the previous clip
with the paragraph that followed.
The Waste Land: Beyond the Frontier
T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land
... To investigate the whole truth of The Waste Land we must turn to the
concerns Eliot held during the actual gestation period of the poem. A
fair place to begin, once again, is with Bradley.
While Eliot’s shorter poems are spoken by personae who cannot develop
their perceptions of the world into a "system," The Waste Land is an
attempt to present an interpretation of historical knowledge from a
"systematic" point of view. Although he does not capitalize upon Eliot’s
use of the "systematic" nature of truth in his discussion of The Waste
Land, Michael Levenson has shown how Eliot’s emphasis upon the
importance of transcending individual points of view for a vision of
wholeness became one of the structural principles of the poem. In his
dissertation, Eliot’s discussion of transcendence emphasizes the
irrationality and painfulness of the process:
for the life of a soul does not consist in the contemplation of one
consistent world but in the painful task of unifying (to a greater or
less extent) jarring and incompatible ones, and passing, when possible,
from two or more discordant viewpoints to a higher which shall somehow
include and transmute them. (KE,147–148)
This passage is central to Eliot’s critique of Bradley’s concept of the
Absolute(the ultimate synthesis of all diversity, difference, and
contradiction). In "Leibniz’ Monads and Bradley’s Finite Centres,"
published in the Monist in 1916, Eliot points out that Bradley’s
Absolute "responds only to an imaginary demand of thought, and satisfies
only an imaginary demand of feeling. Pretending to be something which
makes finite centres cohere, it turns out to be merely the assertion
that they do" (KE, 202). Instead of Bradley’s Absolute, Eliot proposes
his own theory of the unification of points of view: "if one recognizes
two points of view which are quite irreconcilable and yet melt into each
other, this theory [of the Absolute] is quite superfluous." In his
dissertation Eliot was thinking along the same lines when he wrote that
"the pre-established harmony [of the Absolute] is unnecessary if we
recognize that the monads [of individual experience] are not wholly
distinct" (KE, 206, 147). Because individual points of view are not
completely distinct, the painful task of unification becomes possible
without relying on the easy consolations of the Absolute.
As Levenson points out, Eliot’s note about Tiresias’s function in The
Waste Land echoes these passages from his philosophical writing about
the possibility of transcending and combining individual points of view.
Since all the personages of The Waste Land are "not wholly distinct"
from each other, they "melt into" each other and converge in the
presiding consciousness of Tiresias:
Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a "character," is yet
the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as
the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician
Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand of Naples,
so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias.
(CPP, 52; my emphasis)
Eliot employs the same phrase ("melts into") once again when he
describes the unification of the two lovers in Romeo and Juliet:
Shakespeare "shows his lovers melting into incoherent unconsciousness of
their isolated selves, shows the human soul in the process of forgetting
itself"(SW, 83). This "painful task of unifying" builds bridges between
individual consciousnesses as one mind "melts into" the other, overcoming
the solipsistic condition of the finite center.
On 9/22/2011 4:52 PM, Rickard A. Parker wrote:
> Okay, I'm absolutely at a loss with the Absolute in poetry or philosophy
> and I haven't made any attempt to use the posts with these threads
> to learn any more about it. However, in other recent reading, I've
> come across something that may be pertinent and I'm supplying a good
> clip of it here for whatever use it may be to anyone else.
> Rick Parker