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TSE  December 2014

TSE December 2014

Subject:

Re: Eliot's Note on Rymer & Othello

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 1 Dec 2014 19:01:51 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (142 lines)

A couple years ago I queried a young(er) poet in the ISU English Dept.,
Gabriel Gudding, if there were _any_ early 20th-c (i.e., "modernist") poets
he liked. The (very short) list he gave did not include Frost, Eliot, Pound,
Stevens, Yeats, Moore, Crane, or Williams. Nor Hardy. Nor Kipling. "Taste"
or "literary judgment" are historical relations, not positivist sciences or
divine revelation. Eliot's essay on Pound  ("Ezra Pound: His Metric and
Poetry") which I also read today, is quite fine, despite a tendency to
metaphysics. He and Pound were both "deaf" to Wordsworth (as Gudding is deaf
to them). My objection to Eliot on Rymer is to the concealed (and
unsupportable) premise that criticism is or could be a logically coherent
discipline, made up of propositions which could be "cogently" refuted or
confirmed. Perhaps such a premise had its polemical uses at one time, but it
did lead to absurdities.

And consider the opening pages of the Introduction to The Sacred Wood:

***** TO anyone who is at all capable of experiencing the pleasures of
justice, it is gratifying to be able to make amends to a writer whom one has
vaguely depreciated for some years. The faults and foibles of Matthew Arnold
are no less evident to me now than twelve years ago, after my first
admiration for him; but I hope that now, on re-reading some of his prose
with more care, I can better appreciate his position. And what makes Arnold
seem all the more remarkable is, that if he were our exact contemporary, he
would find all his labour to perform again. A moderate number of persons
have engaged in what is called "critical" writing, but no conclusion is any
more solidly established than it was in 1865. In the first essay in the
first Essays in Criticism we read that

    it has long seemed to me that the burst of creative activity in our
literature, through the first quarter of this century, had about it in fact
something premature; and that from this cause its productions are doomed,
most of them, in spite of the sanguine hopes which accompanied and do still
accompany them, to prove hardly more lasting than the productions of far
less splendid epochs. And this prematureness comes from its having proceeded
without having its proper data, without sufficient material to work with. In
other words, the English poetry of the first quarter of this century, with
plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, did not know enough. This makes
Byron so empty of matter, Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth even, profound
as he is, yet so wanting in completeness and variety.

This judgment of the Romantic Generation has not, so far as I know, ever
been successfully controverted; and it has not, so far as I know, ever made
very much impression on popular opinion. Once a poet is accepted, his
reputation is seldom disturbed, for better or worse. So little impression
has Arnold's opinion made, that his statement will probably be as true of
the first quarter of the twentieth century as it was of the nineteenth. A
few sentences later, Arnold articulates the nature of the malady:

      In the Greece of Pindar and Sophocles, in the England of Shakespeare,
the poet lived in a current of ideas in the highest degree animating and
nourishing to the creative power; society was, in the fullest measure,
permeated by fresh thought, intelligent and alive; and this state of things
is the true basis for the creative power's exercise, in this it finds its
data, its materials, truly ready for its hand; all the books and reading in
the world are only valuable as they are helps to this. *****

Now, I have a good deal of respect for Arnold (and also many sharp quarrels
with his influence on the history of "English Lit" as an academic
discipline) -- but he is really being pretty absurd here (as is Eliot in
echoing him). 

(Aside: Byron knew a good deal more history, and Shelley was a better
classical scholar, than either Arnold or Eliot.)

Just what "data" Arnold had in mind is something of a mystery.

Carrol

-----Original Message-----
From: T. S. Eliot Discussion forum. [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
Of Nancy Gish
Sent: Monday, December 01, 2014 4:26 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Eliot's Note on Rymer & Othello

This is one of the most egregious and insulting ad hominem attacks ever on
this list, as I really think "Gadarene swine" is over the top. Please do not
speak for "us" in such a way: it is clearly you, I hope alone.
Nancy

>>> Ken Armstrong  12/01/14 4:55 PM >>>
  That's a line of argument, though it could be seriously asked whether it
isn't voiced out of that very (theoretical) abyss formerly proprietary only
to " so many Gadarene swine." Self-reflection, at any rate, would seem to
require of us that the question at least be asked. Authentically. Apart from
that,  there are so many loose ends here I'm tempted to say the ends not so
much justify as stand squrely on the mean.

Ken A


On December 1, 2014 3:37:03 PM EST, Carrol Cox  wrote:
>"I have never, by the way, seen a cogent refutation of Thomas Rymer's 
>objections to Othello." (Footnote to " Hamlet and His Problems")
>
>I don't remember what these objections were, but Eliot's proposition is 
>unacceptable on theoretical grounds: Evaluative propositions on 
>literary works are not subject to "refutation" (or, for that matter, 
>confirmation).
>And this is a theoretical and historical error that disfigures quite a 
>few of Eliot's critical essays. For example the following from his 
>remarks on
>Arnold:
>
>***Unless something is done to stem this flood of poetastry the art of 
>verse will become not merely superfluous, but ridiculous. Poetry is not 
>a formula which a thousand flappers and hobbledehoys ought to be able 
>to master in a week without any training, and the mere fact that it 
>seems to be now practised with such universal ease is enough to prove 
>that something has gone amiss with our standards.... This is all wrong, 
>and will lead us down into the abyss like so many Gadarene swine unless 
>we resist it.***
>
>Pope turned this (false) fear of bad poetry into great art (Dunciad, 
>Epistle to Arbuthnot). But there is no evidence (historical or 
>theoretical) of any need to "resist" bad poetry.
>
>The theoretical error is the same in both the note on Othello and the 
>fret over poetasters: In each instance, the "problem" is simply 
>non-existent. No one has refuted Rymer because no one is  particularly 
>interested in his remarks. Here is a sample:
>
>"The Character of that State is to employ strangers in their Wars; But 
>shall a Poet thence fancy that they will set a Negro to be their 
>General; or trust a Moor to defend them against the Turk? With us a 
>Black-amoor might rise to be a Trumpeter; but Shakespear would not have 
>him less than a Lieutenant-General. With us a Moor might marry some 
>little drab, or Small-coal Wench: Shake-spear, would provide him the 
>Daughter and Heir of some great Lord, or Privy- Councellor:And all the 
>Town should reckon it a very suitable match:
>Yet the English are not bred up with that hatred and aversion to the 
>Moors, as are the Venetians, who suffer by a perpetual Hostility from 
>them. . . ."
>
>And we need not "resist" the poetasters of the 1920s because it would 
>be too much bother to look up their texts! Who breaks a butterfly upon 
>a wheel.
>
>Carrol

--
Sent Androidally by K-9 Mail. Please excuse my brevity.

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