Dear Vishvesh: I have only just skimmed the article after printing it, and 
it looks wonderful! Thanks so much! Diana

m: Vishvesh Obla <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Eliot's creative process
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2006 07:36:26 -0800


   Perhaps this essay might clarify what I mean by it.

   I am also pasting it here.

           D. H. Lawrence and the Ethical Approach to Literary Criticism     
      F. R. LEAVIS, in his D. H. Lawrence: Novelist, calls Lawrence, ‘an 
incomparable literary critic’, (1) and this opinion seems to be gaining 
ground in the academic world, at least if we can judge by the number of 
American Literature courses on which Studies in Classic American Literature 
is standard critical reading. Certainly if we compare Lawrence’s work with 
that of most other critics, we cannot but agree with Leavis, for the simple 
reason that Lawrence is one of the few critics who have realised that a work 
of art is something of direct relevance to life, and not merely an 
interesting machine which can be taken to pieces for the purposes of study. 
As Lawrence himself says, ‘We judge a work of art by its effect on our 
sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical 
twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying 
and analysing of books in an
  imitation—botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon.’ 
(2) Lawrence, we must realise from the start, is in a class of his own above 
practically all academic criticism, and the last thing a critic of his 
criticism must do is to suggest that his whole contribution is null and 
void. Yet I must confess to finding Lawrence’s critical works 
unsatisfactory, and, moreover, unsatisfactory in a way which can tell us a 
great deal about not only Lawrence’s work as a whole, but also the problem 
of the relation of literary criticism to moral evaluation.
        In defining Lawrence’s critical virtues, Leavis points to the 
central issue in assessing Lawrence’s work: ‘he has an unfailingly sure 
sense of the difference between that which makes for life and that which 
makes against it; of the difference between health and that which tends away 
from health.’(3) Leavis is, of course, quite right. We need only turn to 
Lawrence’s comments on Mann’s Death in Venice for confirmation:
     It is absolutely, almost intentionally, unwholesome. The man is sick, 
body and soul. He portrays himself as he is, with wonderful skill and art, 
portrays his sickness. And since any genuine portrait is valuable, this book 
has its place. It portrays one man, one atmosphere, one sick vision. It 
claims to do no more. And we have to allow it. But we know it is unwholesome 
— it does not strike me as being morbid for all that, it is too well done — 
and we give it its place as such. (4)
   Nor is this an isolated example in Lawrence’s criticism; Dostoievsky 
(indeed the Russians as a whole), Poe, Melville, Blake, Goethe, Whitman — 
the list includes almost everyone Lawrence wrote about — all are either sick 
or obscene or in some way failures in living. For the moment, the justice of 
this criticism does not concern us, merely the attitude to literature which 
produces it. This attitude I propose to call the ethical approach to 
literature. Clearly, we cannot use the term ‘ethical’ in quite its normal 
sense, for Lawrence has very little time for moral systems instructing us in 
how to love our neighbours, and, indeed, in Morality and the Novel (5) 
produces a definition of morality which is far from what I mean by the 
ethical approach to literature. The sense in which I wish to use the term is 
that of ‘pertaining to the perfection (or fulfilment) of man’. The ethical 
approach to literature therefore assumes that it is the purpose of 
literature to lead man to
  perfection or fulfilment, to help man to be ‘alive, to be man alive, to be 
whole man alive’ (6) That Lawrence is an ethical critic in this sense is 
quite obvious, for his main concern is, as Leavis says, with discriminating 
between that literature which leads to health or perfection in life, and 
that which leads away from such perfection.
        The essay on Mann is a classic of ethical criticism. Mann’s skill 
and accuracy, his undoubted greatness as an artist must take second place to 
the fact that as a man he is imperfect. The book has a place, Lawrence 
grants — but it rapidly becomes obvious that its place is as a warning to 
its readers not to go the way of the author. At the end of the essay, we are 
told that Mann is old, but we are young, and it is quite clear that the 
young must follow a different path. It should already seem strange that one 
of the great works of this century can be so lightly dismissed by Lawrence, 
but there is something even stranger implied in the essay. It is not that 
Lawrence does not see the greatness of Death of Venice, but that that 
greatness is negated by the sickness of the author. Already there is 
evolving the doctrine which governs Lawrence’s analyses of the Americans: 
the greatness of a work of art is not dependent upon its author, but 
manifests itself despite the
  author’s sickness of soul. In Studies in Classic American Literature, this 
doctrine is formulated quite explicitly:
     The artist usually sets out — or used to — to point a moral and adorn a 
tale. The tale, however, points the other way, as a rule. Two blankly 
opposing morals, the artist’s and the tale’s. Never trust the artist. Trust 
the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the 
artist who created it. (7)
   This is the only logical conclusion to Lawrence’s ethical approach. Being 
a critic of great sensitivity, he cannot fail to notice that many of the 
works which show evidence of sickness are also great works of art, and in 
order to account for this, he must assume two sources for the work, the sick 
artist, who can be ignored, and the pure artistic impulse, which is what the 
critic must really deal with. Only the tale tells the truth; the artist is a 
‘liar’, and his part of the work a ‘subterfuge’ (8) attempting to conceal 
the truth which threatens to expose his sickness.
        In one sense, this idea is perfectly correct, and the criticism 
Lawrence writes is therefore an accurate picture of the works he gives his 
attention to. There is, after all, something rather ghastly in Poe, and 
something deathly in Mann. But we cannot help feeling that there is a 
difference between Poe’s and Mann’s sickness as expressed in their greatest 
works, and the mental sickness of the average psychiatrist’s case — and that 
this difference is ignored by Lawrence. We can perhaps understand why 
Lawrence fails to see the difference if we look again at the Mann essay. 
Notice, in particular, that Lawrence makes a direct transition from saying 
that the work of art is unwholesome to saying that the man who wrote it is 
also unwholesome. Notice also how the significance of the book is restricted 
by that same transition; because the book is unwholesome, the author is 
unwholesome, and because not all men are unwholesome, the book can only 
apply to the author, can only
  portray ‘one man, one atmosphere, one sick vision’. We are here dealing 
with very dangerous half-truths. We cannot deny that Mann’s book is a 
portrait of Mann himself, but does that mean that it is nothing more than a 
case-history of an illness. For Lawrence, the answer is clearly yes; Mann is 
a ‘scientist’ in the same way as Poe because he too is sick, and therefore 
can only portray the dissolution of his own soul. (9) Yet Lawrence also 
stumbles across the reason why the answer must be no, when he says that 
Death in Venice is ‘almost intentionally unwholesome’ (my italics). Mann’s 
work is not a case-history because the sickness which it undoubtedly 
contains has been understood by Mann, and turned into art. The sickness in 
the work is intentional, and is therefore completely different from the 
psychiatrically treatable sickness which takes control of the patient, and 
whose essence quite possibly is that the patient does not understand it.
        We have, in fact, come up against a central flaw in ethical 
criticism. It assumes that the purpose of art is the same as its own 
purpose, i.e. to lead the reader to some sort of fulfilment, yet there exist 
works of art which manifestly do not share this purpose, yet which strike us 
as being great works for all that. The ethical critic deals with this 
problem by simply saying that all art shares that purpose, but some artists 
do not, and must therefore be disregarded. That is all very well when the 
artists we are going to disregard are Benjamin Franklins or John 
Galsworthys, but we cannot simply read Mann and Dostoievsky and Melville in 
the same way. We must allow that the contribution of the artist to his own 
work might occasionally be of more value than that of the critic who has 
come to save him from his errors. Lawrence himself is a prime example. There 
can now be little doubt that he was a ‘sick’ artist, even if not clinically 
ill. His relationship with his
  mother was not ‘healthy’, and he never pretended that it was; his bouts of 
what seemed to his friends to be insanity are hardly evidence of perfection; 
and his relationship with Fried a seems to have been far from stable, and 
far from what he himself regarded as ideal. Moreover, in his finest works, 
there is a good deal that is not ‘life and health’, and that which does fit 
into the ethical framework seems more often than not to be the work of the 
teller, not the tale. One thinks in particular of Birkin’s problems in Women 
in Love, and his attraction to the obviously ailing Gerald. Is the sickness, 
whether ultimately overcome or not, merely a warning, and if so, why spend 
so long describing it? Are we, in other words, being led along the paths of 
fulfilment by Birkin’s example, or are we witnessing a tragedy in which 
Birkin’s ‘success’ is a relatively minor element, making the pain of 
sickness only slightly more bearable? Certainly, Lawrence’s essays, where we 
have only
  the teller, are far ‘healthier’ than his fiction, where the tale is often 
almost demonic. F. R. Leavis, who follows Lawrence’s ethical approach, in 
its basics at any rate, has seen this problem, but neatly avoids it. ‘There 
is,’ he says, ‘no profound emotional disorder in Lawrence, no obdurate major 
disharmony’.’(10) He realises full well that Lawrence’s works can hardly be 
held up as moral exemplars if Lawrence himself was sick, and therefore he 
simply asserts that Lawrence was not sick — his evidence, we suspect, being 
not biographical, but literary, i.e. the repeated proclamations of health 
and life in Lawrence’s work. We cannot help comparing Lawrence’s attitude to 
moral and mental health with that of Walt Whitman, whom he so much admired. 
Whitman, proclaiming himself ‘thirtyseven years old in perfect health’, (11) 
setting himself up as the perfect American of the future, was, as we know, a 
sad and lonely homosexual, unrecognised by the literary world, and 
  disappointed in his love-affairs.
        In fact, Lawrence stands condemned out of his own mouth. In response 
to psychological analyses of Sons and Lovers he wrote:
     You know I think these ‘complexes’ are vicious half-statements of the 
Freudians: sort of can’t see wood for trees. When you’ve said 
Mutter-complex, you’ve said nothing — no more than if you called hysteria a 
nervous disease. Hysteria isn’t nerves, a complex is not simply a sex — 
relation: far from it. — My poor book: it was, as art, a fairly complete 
truth: so they carve a half lie out of it, and say ‘Voilà’. Swine! (12)
   I hardly think that what Lawrence is objecting to here is the 
specifically Freudian interpretation, but rather the failure to preserve the 
distinction between psychology and art. The psychologist, he says, reduces 
the work of art to something less than itself. Lawrence does not deny that 
he suffered from a ‘mother-complex’, but asserts that the truth about that 
complex could only be told in a work of art; the complex is not simply a 
scientifically observable phenomenon, but is an experience; the sex-relation 
becomes far more than that because it is experienced by a spiritually aware 
person. Its significance is neither more nor less than that of Sons and 
Lovers, in which Lawrence has come to terms with it and expressed it as art. 
We can imagine Thomas Mann making exactly the same point in reply to 
Lawrence’s comments on his work. Lawrence’s psychology is not Freudian, but 
its methods are the same, and Mann would be bound to object that to call 
Death in Venice a sick book
  is simply to say nothing, to reduce the work of art to the level of the 
raw materials from which it started. Lawrence, unfortunately, has one law 
for himself, and another law for other writers.
        Clearly, in order to go beyond Lawrence, it is necessary to discover 
the nature of the relationship between art and the imperfect human condition 
from which it arises. As good a starting point as any is Lawrence’s 
definition of the artist: ‘an artist is never, in being an artist, an 
idealist. The artist lives and sees and knows direct from the life-mystery 
itself. He sees the creative uncompassable mystery in all its nakedness of 
impulse and gesture.’ (13) The life-mystery is the absolute which art seeks 
to embody, and seeks to put the reader in contact with; the idealist is one 
who has no contact with the life-mystery, but rather thinks only in ideas, 
which are merely his own creations; ideas are relative, while the 
life-mystery is absolute. This antithesis is familiar from the whole body of 
Lawrence’s work, and, if we wanted examples, we could say that Cipriano, in 
The Plumed Serpent, is a man in contact with the life-mystery, while Gerald, 
in Women in Love, is an
  idealist. However, the antithesis is actually made too absolute by 
Lawrence, for the idealist and artist are not two opposites, but only 
different forms of the same phenomenon. If we accepted Lawrence’s 
antithesis, we should eventually be led to say, as Lawrence himself does, 
that animals are more closely in touch with the life-mystery than men are. 
We should, of course, be right; no animal ever distorted that mystery with 
its ideas. A bird, we could say, is actually a part of the life-mystery, a 
direct emanation from it, and its song is an outpouring of that mystery. But 
— and it is an important but — the bird could never see or know the 
life-mystery, no matter how much it lived in it, and the bird’s song would 
not be art, no matter whence it emanated. In order to see and know the 
mystery, it is essential to be separated from it to some degree, just as one 
must be separate from an object in order to see it. There is only perception 
and knowledge where there is
  consciousness, and there is only consciousness where there are ideas. 
Granted, these ideas may not be what we ordinarily regard as concepts; 
granted they may be a form of blood-consciousness, as Lawrence would call 
it; nonetheless, they are ideas, and are quite distinct from that which they 
are ideas of.
        This sounds, I admit, very much like playing with words, but it 
actually has very serious consequences. If separation is necessary for 
perception, it follows that even Lawrence’s archetypal artist must be 
separate from the life-mystery, and that his separation and that of the 
idealist differ only in degree. The work of art is, after all, one form of 
the idea, albeit a relatively non-conceptual form. But if this is so, it 
means that every artist is, to some extent, as sick as Mann or Poe, that 
every artist, in order to know what ‘makes for life and health’ must first 
of all become separate from life and health. In fact, this is the theme of 
Mann and Poe: they make this necessary sickness their subject — so it is 
little wonder that Lawrence could not understand them.
        Is it, then, we must ask ourselves, possible to separate that part 
of a work which is the product of the writer’s necessary sickness from that 
part which is the direct perception of the absolute? The answer is no, for 
the absolute can be seen only from the position of relativity established by 
the sickness, just as we must view an object partially because we must be 
separate from it. To take Lawrence himself as an example: he wishes, let us 
say, to show the life-mystery at work in the male-female relationship. If he 
had been a perfectly healthy Italian peasant-boy, he would have lived from 
that mystery and loved a woman in that mystery, but never written books 
about it. As it is, only because he has experienced great suffering in his 
early sexual relations, and has thereby been made conscious of those 
relations can he write about the life-mystery as it manifests itself between 
man and woman. And everything he writes will be from the standpoint of a man 
who has
  suffered from a possessive mother and over-spiritual first-love. Right to 
the end of his life, he will insist on the aspects of love which 
counter-balance his early suffering, i.e. on physicality and freedom. The 
true picture of the artist, in other words, is not Lawrence’s one of the 
perfectly fulfilled man, but rather Yeats’ of the artist as a man pursuing 
an ideal which is the opposite of his true state, and which he is able to 
perceive only because it is not his true state.
        If this is the case, then the ethical approach to literature begins 
to seem totally inadequate. How can literature be an attempt to lead man to 
fulfilment when its very existence is based upon unfulfilment? How can the 
critic presume to rescue the tale from the teller, the absolute truth of the 
life-mystery from the relativity of the sick artist, when the absolute can 
only be approached through such relativity? Indeed, how can the critic say 
that the artist should be concerned with pursuing any absolute life-mystery 
when that mystery is always necessarily relative to the artist? Lawrence, it 
may be, found his means of _expression in the pursuit of an absolute state 
which would solve all his problems; that, as Yeats would say, was his mask, 
just as Wordsworth’s mask was that of the simple shepherd in the Lakes, or 
Yeats’ own mask was that of the perfect courtier inter alia. Yet there are 
other artists, equally great, who have found their means of _expression in 
  tragic acceptance of their sickness. They are simply two sides of the same 
coin: the one seeks an absolute, the other accepts the relative, but both 
are expressing their lives in a condition of relativity and partiality. 
Lawrence’s lack of interest in tragedy is not accidental; it is the 
inevitable consequence of his refusal to accept anything less than the 
absolute fulfilment. Yet, paradoxically, his own best work is most nearly 
tragic, while his worst is filled with exhortations to seek the absolute.
        However, Lawrence’s criticism has a far greater significance for us 
than we have so far made clear, for it is, it seems to me, the product of 
certain changes in the intellectual climate which took place at the end of 
the last century. Looking back, we can fairly safely say that the dominant 
figures in European thought in that period were Darwin, Marx and Freud, and 
it is significant that the work of each exemplifies the same basic tendency 
— a tendency we can call ‘relativisation’. Although it is a vast 
over-simplification, there is nonetheless some truth in the statement that 
prior to these three the intellect was conceived of as an independent organ 
able to perceive an absolute reality called Truth. Its perception might be 
more or less clear, more or less profound, but at least there existed 
something to be perceived. What Darwin, Marx, and Freud did, to put it 
simply, was to remove that absolute reality by destroying the idea of an 
independent intellect. They made
  it quite apparent that the intellect was dependent on the activities of 
the unconscious mind, on its position in history and society, on various 
animal instincts and drives, and so on. For the first time, it became 
possible — almost obligatory — to see Shakespeare not as the divinely — 
inspired bard, but as an Elizabethan bourgeois with an Oedipus complex and 
an instinct for self-preservation. The absolute of truth began to seem 
meaningless, and was replaced by absolutes derived from the governing parts 
of man’s nature, by the absolute of psychic health or of social harmony. 
What is significant for us in this is that an intellectual and aesthetic 
absolute was replaced by non-intellectual absolutes, and, inevitably, these 
absolutes did not apply to works of art, which are, after all, intellectual 
works. Of course, it is equally true that some versions of the absolute of 
truth do not apply to art, but at least art is concerned with truth in some 
form, while health and social
  harmony are nothing to do with it.
        It is interesting to note this changing of absolutes taking place in 
the work of Nietzsche, and it is doubly significant for us, since Lawrence 
was deeply influenced by him, and, I suspect, learned a good deal of his 
critical method from him. Look, for instance, at this passage from Beyond 
Good and Evil:
     Just as the act of being born plays no part in the procedure and 
progress of heredity, so ‘being conscious is in no decisive sense the 
opposite of the instinctive — most of a philosopher’s conscious thinking is 
secretly directed and compelled into definite channels by his instincts. . . 
. The falseness of a judgement is to us not necessarily an objection to a 
judgement: it is here that our new language perhaps sounds strangest. The 
question is to what extent it is life-advancing, life-preserving, 
species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding; . . . (14)
   That passage makes clear the assumptions that are unspoken in Lawrence’s 
criticism. What a philosopher (we can easily substitute ‘artist’) puts 
forward as true is actually the product of his instincts; therefore it is 
not meaningful to call it true or otherwise; therefore we must replace the 
test of truth by that of its usefulness to life. This is, in fact, a piece 
of biological thinking applied to philosophy; the passage is full of the 
language of biology, and it is quite obvious that ideas are being equated 
with chance variations within a species, and are being seen as weapons in 
the fight for the survival of the fittest. Perhaps the tone is too 
biological for it to be an _expression of Lawrence’s attitude, but the 
similarity to Lawrence becomes obvious if we replace the test of the 
preservation of the species by that of the psychic health of the individual. 
The point is that Nietzsche and Lawrence after him replace the absolute of 
art by other absolutes which have
  nothing to do with art, and then proceed to condemn art for not conforming 
to their absolutes.
        A curious feature of all criticism based on these ideas is that it 
pays little or no attention to the works of art it is studying. If the work 
of art is the _expression of something absolute, then it is vitally 
important; but if it is at best merely an aid to health or the preservation 
of the species, and at worst something entirely irrelevant to the true 
absolutes, then it is of much less importance. Whereas once the work of art 
was truth, it now becomes merely an example, a product of something else. 
This is certainly how Lawrence treats the works he studies. Whitman, 
Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne, for instance, are not seen as individuals 
trying to find and express the truth of their existence, but are examples of 
the disintegration of the white soul in America. Mann is an example of the 
senility of Germany. What the writers actually have to say is of practically 
no importance — it is all lies anyway! The same is true of psychological 
criticism: what a writer says
  is not the truth, but is the product of something which does not recognise 
the test of truth, of a complex or a neurosis; a work of art is full not of 
symbols and characters, but of mother-figures, phallic symbols, dream-images 
and the like. And, of course, exactly the same is true of marxist criticism, 
where once again the work becomes an example of something — this time of the 
structure of society. Because the absolute has been made something beyond 
those absolutes recognised by art, art necessarily becomes entirely 
relative. Indeed, there does exist a book written quite seriously by an 
American shortstory writer strongly influenced by Darwinism and its 
intellectual offshoots which says that Shakespeare and Aeschylus have 
nothing to say to us beyond a few touches of local colour, because their 
time and place are so remote from ours that their art also must be 
impossibly remote. (15) The conclusion seems absurd, but it is the 
inevitable and logical consequence of robbing
  art of its own absolute.
        However, for all the absurdities that Darwinism, Freudianism, and 
Marxism have led to in literary criticism, we cannot simply ignore them and 
hope they will go away. We cannot now regard the intellect as a totally 
independent perceiver of the truth, yet we must restore to art its own 
absolute. In order to do this, we must return to the point Lawrence himself 
makes apropos of Sons and Lovers, which is that the work of art is in some 
way fuller and truer than the conditions which determine its production. 
Something, in other words, happens in the creation of a work of art which 
allows it to rise above the neurosis or social situation which is a dominant 
factor in the life of the artist. That something is quite simply that the 
conditions of its production are expressed, and are thereby made the objects 
of a special kind of knowledge. From that point on, we are moving in the 
realm of truth rather than of health or social harmony or whatever, and 
therefore the work of art
  must obey quite different laws and pass quite other tests than those which 
apply to the life from which it has sprung. We ask of the work of art only 
that it illuminate us as to the nature of being a living person, and not 
that it be an example of perfect psychic well-being. But at the same time, 
we do not simply return to pre-Darwinian days and assert that the work of 
art will be a reflection of an absolute truth. It will inevitably be the 
_expression of a truth relative to the conditions of its production, but 
those conditions are themselves manifestations of the conditions under which 
men must live at all times, and are therefore a form of being-human. There 
can never be an absolute truth of human experience because, by definition, 
each man must experience his own life uniquely. The absolute must, as it 
were, accept the fact that it can only manifest itself through the relative; 
the absolute truth about human existence is always relative.
        It is this paradox which allowed critics such as Lawrence to 
separate the relative from the absolute, dismiss the latter, and set up 
absolutes for the former. In Lawrence, there is, in fact, a disastrous 
confusion between ‘perfection of the life’ and ‘perfection of the work’; 
they are made to conform to the same absolute. The result is criticism which 
does more than probably anyone else’s to prepare us to see the manifestation 
of the absolute in the relative, but which is all too often incapable of 
taking that final step for us.


(1) F. R. Leavis, D. H. Lawrence: Novelist (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, in 
association with Chatto and Windus, 1964), p. 325.

(2) D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix, ed. Edward D. McDonald (London, Heinemann,
1936), p. 539.

(3) Leavis, loc. cit.

(4) Phoenix, p. 312.

(5) ibid., pp. 527-32.

(6) Why the Novel Matters, in Phoenix, p. 587.

(7) D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (London, Mercury 
Books, 1965), p. 2.

(8) Lawrence, loc. cit.

(9) ‘Poe is rather a scientist than an artist. He is reducing his own self 
as a scientist reduces a salt in a crucible. It is an almost chemical 
analysis of the soul and consciousness. Whereas in true art there is always 
the double rhythm of creating and destroying.’ Studies in Classic American 
Literature, p. 61. As a distinction between the scientist who analyses 
objective fact and the artist who creates a form for an inner state, 
Lawrence’s theory is probably correct. But he fails to see how the 
analytical method can itself be art, because he will not allow it any value 
at all. It must, for him, be sickness and nothing else.

(10) Leavis, p. 27.

(11) Song of Myself, section I.

(12) Letter to Barbara Low, 16 Sept. 1916. The Collected Letters of D. H. 
Lawrence, ed. Harry T. Moore, 2 vols. (London, Heinemann, 1962), p. 475.

(13) The Symbolic Meaning: The Uncollected Versions of Studies in Classic 
American Literature, ed. Armin Arnold (Arundel, Centaur Press Ltd., 1962), 
p. 69.

(14) Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of 
the Future, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1973), 
p. 17.

(15) Hamlin Garland makes these assertions in his Crumbling Idols (Chicago, 
Stone and Kimball, 1894). Garland is, admittedly, a minor figure, but he is 
by no means inconsiderable, and merely takes to extremes ideas which were 
quite common at that time.

cr mittal <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
     Dear Vishvesh,

   Could you please elaborate how you relate
   my quotes to the notion of "ethical criticism"?


   ~ CR

Vishvesh Obla <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

   Thank You very much for those quotes.  It gives a perspective when one 
looks at what one called 'ethical criticism'.

cr mittal <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
     Two passages from Peter Ackroyd's 'T.S. Eliot: A Life' :

   The only advantage of illness, as far as Eliot was concerned, was that
   it released him from the general round of works and days -- it was, he
   used to say, his body's way of telling him to stop -- and during periods
   of ill health such as this one he seemed better able to write. The
   relationship between illness and creativity interested him, and he often
   emphasized it in his prose writings. In the conclusion to The Use of
   Poetry and the Use of Criticism, he had suggested that some forms of
   'debility', ill health and anaemia may produce an efflux of poetry', and
   referred to the same phenomenon in his introduction to Pascal's
   PENSÉES, in which he declared that certain kinds of ill health may
   favour not only 'religious illumination' but also 'artistic and literary
   composition'. This was part of his belief that poetic composition was
   not an activity that could be consciously controlled, that it had its
   roots far down in the unconscious. The metaphors which he employs
   to describe this process are curiously disagreeable, however. He talks
   of the 'dark embryo' which gradually takes on the form of a poem, of
   'dark psychic material' with which the poet struggles; it is a 'burden'
   to be relieved or a 'demon' to be exorcised. This suggestion of a
   compulsive activity with which he wants as little to do as possible is
   confirmed by his description of poetry as a 'secretion' (he quotes
   Houseman favourably on this), an 'evacuation' and even a 'defecation'.
   The impression given is of some sticky, viscous, unpleasant material
   which has to do with the satisfaction of obscure and uncontrollable
   personal needs. Perhaps Eliot's attitude is an aspect of his puritanism:
   the pleasure involved in the 'sudden relief' of producing the poem is
   itself considered by him to be suspect. Disgust with the body may be
   formulated as a disgust with the sheer materiality of words
   (the 'secretion'): hence the need to economize with them, to formalize
   them, to cut them down.


   But it was not until August 1942, after a year's delay, that he set
   to work on the poem ('Little Gidding') again. It was by far the most
   laboriously produced of the sequence: there are some five drafts,
   and thirteen separate typescripts, extant. Some of it had come
   quickly; Eliot knew the verse was right, and left it alone. But the rest
   needed more attention. He composed a short preliminary scheme for
   the entire poem, as well as prose drafts for certain difficult passages.
   (For 'The Dry Salvages' he had even written out lists of rhyming words
   to assist him.) Like his pleasure in reading dictionaries or solving
   crosswords, this seemed to be the kind of soothing conscious activity
   which allowed the unconscious faculties an easier passage forward.
   Having constructed a working model, as it were, he left his conscious
   mind to one side and relied upon his ear -- what he described as the
   interdependence of rhythm and diction, or the recognition of meaning
   when it is embodied in cadence. In fact what he called the 'auditory
   imagination' was always his most powerful faculty, the most subtle
   and complex instrument at his disposal which he deserted at his peril.
   When in Four Quartets he was concerned to state or develop a theme,
   he frequently relapsed into flatness or banality. But in almost all
   instances he recovered himself in the process of revision, took out
   the passages which were rhythmically inert or altered words and
   images which did not sustain the underlying cadence and structure.


   Hi Listers,

   This was material just randomly come by. But it suggests how one
   could go along and study Eliot's creative process as a complex mix of
   the operations of the conscious and the unconscious faculties.

   What intrigued me, however, was how poetry came to Eliot --
   sometimes as a collocation of images, as in The Waste Land,
   which connected in terms of their symbolic/metaphoric meanings --
   at other times as biblical invocations as in Ash-Wednesday --
   and much later, as in the Quartets, as direct philosophic utterances.

   Of course, I'm only touching the tip of the poetic iceberg :)

   Well, I must hasten to acquaint myself with what Donoghue has to
   say on this.


   ~ CR

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