Wait - I'll just adjust my hat

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Peter Montgomery 
  To: [log in to unmask] 
  Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 10:48 AM
  Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity

  Sounds like a rather puritanical assumption to me.

  Quoting mikemail <[log in to unmask]>:

  > Interesting - so excess is necessary in all worthwhile endeavour?
  > mike
  >   ----- Original Message ----- 
  >   From: Peter Montgomery 
  >   To: [log in to unmask] 
  >   Sent: Sunday, April 23, 2006 10:36 AM
  >   Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
  >   Somewhere Eliot said something like:
  >   "Except in directions in which one can go too far,
  >   there are probably not directions worth going."
  >   Cheers,
  >   Peter
  >     ----- Original Message ----- 
  >     From: mikemail 
  >     To: [log in to unmask] 
  >     Sent: Saturday, April 22, 2006 11:08 AM
  >     Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
  >     The gratitude is mine.  I do believe that serious alcoholism is indeed a
  > spiritual search. I had some ideas about TSE and the same. I've heard drunks
  > on park benches arguing about The Virgin Mary.
  >     Mike
  >       ----- Original Message ----- 
  >       From: cr mittal 
  >       To: [log in to unmask] 
  >       Sent: Saturday, April 22, 2006 7:48 PM
  >       Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
  >       I must express my grateful thanks, Mike, for your kind appreciation. It
  > reassures me about my conception of the central conflict in Eliot. As for
  > "alcohol", I have something
  >       tucked up my sleeves to share with the List vis-a-vis TSE. But I must
  > space my mails lest they overwhelm and kill the appetite. ;-)
  >       Best regards.
  >       ~ CR
  >       mikemail <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
  >         Thank you CR for this.  Also for confirmation of what I have long
  > felt about Eliot's poetry. 
  >         It took me some time to realise the meaning of the sexuality /
  > spirituality conflict - Eliot brought it into focus, especially in TWL.  I
  > read it at about the right time, coming into some kind of light after two
  > decades of alcohol and substance abuse.
  >         Mike
  >         ----- Original Message ----- 
  >           From: cr mittal 
  >           To: [log in to unmask] 
  >           Sent: Friday, April 21, 2006 7:54 PM
  >           Subject: Re: TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity
  >           mikemail <[log in to unmask]> wrote: 
  >             Excellent - but I don't agree with Lewis about the chaos.
  >             Mike
  >           Nor do I. 
  >           To me, Eliot's entire creative output (both poetry and plays)
  > centers round the chaos engendered by the predominance of 'desire' (lust)
  > over love. Like the Buddha, Eliot is overwhelmned by the enormity of the
  > cosmic force of 'desire' against which a human being is ranged, helplessly,
  > as a puny creature. All the same, Eliot's protagonists struggle, hopelessly
  > in the early poetry, and with hope in the later poetry, against this
  > adversary, howsoever formidable and all-pervasive it might be.
  >           In sum, it's a quest for order in the midst of chaos. It's the
  > chaos he decries again and again, as in that intended epigraph for TWL: "the
  > horror, the horror".
  >           In this context, it should be interesting to read the following
  > book-review in The Atlantic Monthly of July 5th, 2005. Let me take the
  > liberty, with due apologies, to reproduce it here.
  >           Regards.
  >           ~ CR
  >           Tuesday, July 5th, 2005 
  >           The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose
  >           by T S Eliot 
  >           A Breath of Dust 
  >           A Review by Christopher Hitchens 
  >           Lawrence Rainey's introduction to this book opens with an anecdote
  > about a starstruck and tongue-tied Donald Hall, the American poet (and, like
  > Eliot, a former editor of the Harvard Advocate), who journeyed to meet his
  > hero in London in 1951. Having babbled his way through the interview, Hall
  > rose to take his leave. 
  >             Then Eliot appeared to search for the right phrase with which to
  > send me off. He looked me in the eyes, and set off into a slow, meandering
  > sentence. "Let me see," said T. S. Eliot, "forty years ago I went from
  > Harvard to Oxford. Now you are going from Harvard to Oxford. What advice can
  > I give you?" He paused delicately, shrewdly, while I waited with greed for
  > the words which I would repeat for the rest of my life, the advice from elder
  > to younger, setting me off on the road of emulation. When he had ticked off
  > the comedian's exact milliseconds of pause, he said, "Have you any long
  > underwear?"
  >           I sat for a second or two after reading that before I remembered
  > its analogue, in a novel that had been published seven years prior to this
  > encounter. In Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder's father gives him sage
  > counsel about going to Oxford.
  >             Do you know in the summer before I was going up, your cousin
  > Alfred rode over to Boughton especially to give me a piece of advice? And do
  > you know what that advice was? "Ned," he said, "there's one thing I must beg
  > of you. Always wear a tall hat on Sundays during term."
  >           A few pages later on Charles meets Anthony Blanche at a lunchtime
  > feast in Oxford, after which the louche, stammering, epicene figure "stood on
  > the balcony with a megaphone which had appeared surprisingly among the
  > bric-a-brac of Sebastian's room, and in languishing, sobbing tones recited
  > passages from The Waste Land to the sweatered and muffled throng that was on
  > its way to the river."
  >             "'I, Tiresias have foresuffered
  >             all,'" he sobbed to them 
  >             from the Venetian arches -- 
  >             "Enacted on this same d-divan 
  >             or b-bed,
  >             I who have sat by Thebes 
  >             below the wall
  >             And walked among the l-l-
  >             lowest of the dead ..."
  >           Like many of the post-Great War generation, Waugh had taken The
  > Waste Land as the specially resonant poem of an epoch, and indeed paid it a
  > further compliment by alluding to one of its more famous lines ("I will show
  > you fear in a handful of dust") in the title of one of his late novels, A
  > Handful of Dust.
  >           George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four, which was published just
  > before Hall met Eliot at the London offices of Faber and Faber, has the
  > glacial O'Brien tell Winston Smith, "There is no possibility that any
  > perceptible change will happen within our own lifetime. We are the dead. Our
  > only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust
  > and splinters of bone." When O'Brien springs the trap on Smith and leads him
  > to Room 101, it might be said that "we are in rats' alley / Where the dead
  > men lost their bones." (My student Michael Weiss, who pointed this out to me,
  > speculates that it might be a partial or subliminal revenge on Orwell's part
  > for Eliot's refusal to let Faber and Faber publish Animal Farm.)
  >           But these are among, and only among, the influences of The Waste
  > Land. What of the influences upon it? Several of them are fairly easy to
  > determine: Geoffrey Chaucer, Andrew Marvell, Charles Baudelaire, the Bhagavad
  > Gita, Ulysses, and James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night." They are
  > easy to determine partly because they are obvious; partly because Eliot did
  > not attempt to disguise the provenance of his poem, or at least not
  > ostensibly; and partly because he proudly accompanied the final book with a
  > convenient set of references and an acknowledgment of debts. This tactic,
  > which Peter Ackroyd in his biography says was adopted "in order to avoid the
  > charges of plagiarism which had been leveled at his earlier poetry," shows
  > Eliot to have been, like Bellow's Augie March, a "Columbus of the
  > near-at-hand." A hasty visit to Margate is pressed into service as readily as
  > a recent text from James Joyce, or a class on the Buddha that the poet had
  > attended not long before, and few of the London landmarks are very far from
  > the bank in "The City" at which Eliot toiled from nine to five.
  >           Rainey's edition is best read in conjunction with Valerie Eliot's
  > 1971 facsimile of the successive drafts of the poem. Here we can see, as they
  > occurred, the alterations wrought by the editorial hand of Ezra Pound. As
  > dedicatee of The Waste Land, Pound is usually credited with trimming and
  > improving the text, and certainly deserves recognition for promoting and
  > marketing it. Most of the changes, however, turn out to have been for the
  > worse. (In any case, as a reader of the Cantos will readily see, if Pound was
  > truly any good at pruning and refining, he must have been literature's most
  > salient example of the physician who could not heal himself.) It might now
  > seem a bit stale for Eliot to have put the last words of Kurtz on his
  > epigraph page, because to us "the horror, the horror" has become a cliché. It
  > wasn't so in 1922, and the death wish of the Cumaean Sybil, substituted by
  > Pound, rather robs the poem of its main retrospective claim, which is to
  > modernity. A spirited opening stave, very much in debt to Joyce and depicting
  > a night of pointless debauchery, was cast aside. Worst of all, Pound shielded
  > readers from Eliot's lengthy and intense prologue to the moment "When lovely
  > woman stoops to folly," in Part III of "The Fire Sermon." I would have wanted
  > to keep the Popean parody:
  >             This ended, to the steaming bath
  >             she moves,
  >             Her tresses fanned by little flutt'ring
  >             Loves:
  >             Odours, confected by the cunning 
  >             French,
  >             Disguise the good old hearty female 
  >             stench.
  >           The reek of disgust there -- which is horridly protracted over
  > several more excised lines -- is essential to an understanding of Eliot, and
  > has a very direct connection to the distraught marital relations that, among
  > many other pressures, kept his nerves on a knife edge while he was composing
  > the poem.
  >           Rainey writes that The Waste Land is "preceded by its reputation,"
  > which is hardly worth saying, since that is what "reputation" means. He adds
  > that it is "endowed with authority so monumental that a reader is tempted to
  > overlook the poem itself." Perhaps. But since we must indeed look back at the
  > work through the refraction of what we already "know" about Eliot, it might
  > be worth asking why such a pious Christian felt so impelled to exhaust
  > himself in the invocation of darkness and despair. Eliot had not quite become
  > a committed Anglo-Catholic in 1922, but he had formed an attachment to the
  > royalist, Catholic, traditionalist ideas of Charles Maurras and his Action
  > Française, which later mutated (as did Eliot) toward fascism. Most of Eliot's
  > later work is much more "contained," as it were, and less "wild" (a term
  > frequently used by reviewers of The Waste Land). He himself became more
  > formal, more Anglicized, more calm and devotional. Yet there was plainly a
  > death wish at work, and none of the subsequent attachments to order and to
  > the organic society could quite conceal it.
  >           Exegesis can go only so far. It is extremely useful to know that
  > while Eliot was trying to make up his mind about the twentieth century, he
  > depended so much on Bertrand Russell for friendship and material help. We
  > know that he had studied Eastern religion, but might it not have been from
  > the famously agnostic Russell that he drew encouragement to cite those
  > "faiths" that preceded monotheism? No answer in these pages. It was for me,
  > however, astonishingly interesting to discover that there was actually a
  > popular song, written for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1912, called "That
  > Shakespearian Rag." Its authors, Gene Buck and Herman Ruby, cannot have
  > imagined the moan of immortalization that Eliot was to give their ephemeral
  > ditty. (Not content with annexing and slightly mangling Buck and Ruby's
  > title, Eliot even inverted their comment "Most in-tel-li-gent, ve-ry
  > el-e-gant" and could be accused of echoing their view that "that old
  > clas-si-cal drag / Has the proper stuff.")
  >           The allegation of plagiarism is often tiresome, since it is very
  > difficult to establish originality or authenticity, and since poetry almost
  > invariably involves synthesis (which Ackroyd rightly describes as Eliot's
  > particular gift). Still, it is surprising to find no mention at all, in this
  > extensively sourced volume, of Madison Cawein's poem Waste Land. Cawein was
  > as distant from Eliot, in poetic terms, as it was possible to be. He was a
  > Kentucky blues man and a barroom versifier. However, like Eliot, he was
  > fascinated by the Celtic twilight and the search for the Grail. And his
  > verses, with their haunting title, did appear in the January 1913 edition of
  > Poetry magazine. Since that very issue also contained an essay by Ezra Pound
  > on the new poets writing in London, it seems more rather than less likely
  > that Eliot would have read it.
  >             I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
  >             Like a dead weed, grey and wan,
  >             Or a breath of dust. I looked again --
  >             And man and dog were gone,
  >             Like wisps of the graying dawn.
  >           After fanatically going to buy some long underwear immediately
  > after his meeting with Eliot, Donald Hall shook himself, as all servile
  > acolytes eventually must, and decided that the great man must have been
  > joking. But how certain can we be that Hall was correct in this assumption?
  > Several of Eliot's English friends caught him overdoing things: wearing a
  > bowler hat at odd moments, and saluting uniformed guardsmen in the street --
  > trying too hard, in other words. (Auden did a much better job of becoming an
  > American, or at least a New Yorker, than Tom from St. Louis did of becoming a
  > stage Englishman.) At other times Eliot was apparently far too dismissive and
  > laconic. 
  >             Various critics have done me the honor to interpret the poem in
  > terms of criticism of the contemporary world, have considered it, indeed, as
  > an important bit of social criticism. To me it was only the relief of a
  > personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; it is just a piece of
  > rhythmical grumbling.
  >           He was to tell the Paris Review that in the composition of the
  > closing sections "I wasn't even bothering whether I understood what I was
  > saying." There seems no reason at all why we should not take him at his word.
  > Defensive modesty of this variety can often be worth noting; what critic has
  > ever succeeded in getting any sense or any beauty out of the final pages? And
  > in what conceivable universe -- even the batty, sinister one of Ezra Pound,
  > who insisted that the poem open in that manner -- is April the cruelest
  > month?
  >           It is not disputable that by publishing The Waste Land when he did,
  > Eliot caught something of the zeitgeist and enthralled those who needed
  > borrowed words and concepts to capture or re-express the desolation of Europe
  > after 1918. But this latest attempt at context and explication has the
  > effect, prefigured in earlier scrutinies, of helping to further demystify
  > what is certainly the most overrated poem in the Anglo-American canon. 
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