Reminds me of the time when Eliot and Stravinsky in the early 60s were driving by the United Nations and Eliot observed that there was an anti-European plot going on in that building. Cheers Peter ----- Original Message ----- From: "Carrol Cox" <[log in to unmask]> To: <[log in to unmask]> Sent: Sunday, November 14, 2004 10:23 AM Subject: Tradition and the Individual Talent was Re: (OT) Roots.... Nancy Gish wrote: > > > Why cannot we discuss Eliot on this since "Tradition and the Individual > Talent" is a key text in this notion of a European "mind" This seems an excellent suggestion. I have copied below the paragraphs that I think particularly relevant to our current [OT] topic. The sentence I should be interested in departing from is "He must be aware that the mind of Europe - the mind of his own country - a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind - is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen." The "Magdalenian draughtsmen" seems out of place in a context focusing on "the mind of Europe." After all, most (all?) of the writers Eliot probably included in his tradition would not have known the existence of those drawings -- and a writer usually claimed for that "mind of Europe" (Dante) not only knew not of those drawings but knew of Homer only through the filter of Vergil. (Incidentally, I don't believe there was a verse translation of Homer between Pope and Lattimore. Kenner usefully speaks of the Victorian prose translators as taking Homer like wine in one hand, biblical prose like a bottle in the other hand, and then bottle away. And already when Eliot wrote Greek was rapidly disappearing, or had already disappeared, from the education of all but classical scholars.) I'm ignorant of some important chronology here. When did Eliot see Pound's Canto I in anything like its present form? When did he draft this essay. How do the drafting of Gerontion and the opening lines of TWL fit into that chronology? Canto I is (among many other things) a tissue of beginnings: the 'first' poet telling us of the 'first' European' (Odysseus) read through a 'Renaissance' Latin translation, translated into modern english in a metric used for a modern translation of the 'first' English poem, The Seafarer. Has any scholar explored how all these things intertwined in the development of poetry in English from (say) 1910 to 1925? The first words of the Canto, "And then," could perhaps be seen as pointing back not only to the earlier parts of the Odyssey but to "beyond" Homer -- back, perhaps, to Eliot's Magdalenian draughtsman? Carrol From "Tradition and the Individual Talent": Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity. No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of ćsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities. In a peculiar sense he will be aware also that he must inevitably be judged by the standards of the past. I say judged, not amputated, by them; not judged to be as good as, or worse or better than, the dead; and certainly not judged by the canons of dead critics. It is a judgment, a comparison, in which two things are measured by each other. To conform merely would be for the new work not really to conform at all; it would not be new, and would therefore not be a work of art. And we do not quite say that the new is more valuable because it fits in; but its fitting in is a test of its value-a test, it is true, which can only be slowly and cautiously applied, for we are none of us infallible judges of conformity. We say: it appears to conform, and is perhaps individual, or it appears individual, and may conform; but we are hardly likely to find that it is one and not the other. To proceed to a more intelligible exposition of the relation of the poet to the past: he can neither take the past as a lump, an indiscriminate bolus, nor can he form himself wholly on one or two private admirations, nor can he form himself wholly upon one preferred period. The first course is inadmissible, the second is an important experience of youth, and the third is a pleasant and highly desirable supplement. The poet must be very conscious of the main current, which does not at all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations. He must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. He must be aware that the mind of Europe-the mind of his own country-a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind-is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen. That this development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement. Perhaps not even an improvement from the point of view of the psychologist or not to the extent which we imagine; perhaps only in the end based upon a complication in economics and machinery. But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past's awareness of itself cannot show. Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we know. I am alive to a usual objection to what is clearly part of my programme for the métier of poetry. The objection is that the doctrine requires a ridiculous amount of erudition (pedantry), a claim which can be rejected by appeal to the lives of poets in any pantheon. It will even be affirmed that much learning deadens or perverts poetic sensibility. While, however, we persist in believing that a poet ought to know as much as will not encroach upon his necessary receptivity and necessary laziness, it is not desirable to confine knowledge to whatever can be put into a useful shape for examinations, drawing-rooms, or the still more pretentious modes of publicity. Some can absorb knowledge, the more tardy must sweat for it. Shakespeare acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum. What is to be insisted upon is that the poet must develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career.