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Nancy, I sometimes think that myths are so often cited in poetry because they order the unconscious into patterns that are less threatening to the ego's sense of self than the "polymorphous perverse tendencies" that Freud imputed to the unconscious. The Surrealists' automatic writing on the other hand are more "leaping" in the sense Robert Bly means because they allow raw, uncomposed associations to stand. (It sounds easy, but anyone who has tried to silence the inner censor knows it is extremely difficult to do.) However, Surrealist poetry is so unpatterned that it generally fails as art. An easy give-and-take between free association and composition would seem to be the ideal artistic method.

I found the article recently recommended on the list, "'Glowed into words': Vivien Eliot, Philomela, and the Poet's Tortured Corpse" by Shannon McRae, which otherwise makes many dubious assertions, to be interesting in its foregrounding of Eliot's narrators' masculinity or lack thereof. References to the Fisher King, the Grail quest and other myths weave into a fabric along with typical Freudian images of the failure of personal potency. McCrae suggests that the drought at the beginning of TWL is an image of the narrator's impotence. There is only dryness, red rocks, falling towers in unreal cities. The eventual success of the Knight with his spear is dubious. The narrator, who is so afraid of sex that he phantasizes about being a hermaphrodite, is continually interrupted by women, who generally chatter without delivering meaning, and who smell bad. She notes that the "Fresca" section that Pound excised is a mean-spirited depiction of a woman whose intelligence is negligible and who is ridiculed for going to the bathroom!

The difficulties of Eliot's narrators with hetero- and homo-sexuality are well documented; this is nothing new. What did strike me was McCrae's observation that the theme of impotence finds its resolution when a cock stands on the rooftree and the rains come, along with the voice of thunder which restores the patriarchal order. The commands in Sanskrit to "give, sympathize, control..." are handed down by male authority. Literary tradition would have meant male authority also at that pre-feminist point.

McRae writes: "The most famous of Eliot's critical statements have also been the most famously criticized. Tradition, Terry Eagleton argues, represents nothing more than an 'arbitrary construct' that is 'paradoxically imbued with absolute authority' which Eagleton finds dangerously similar to fascism. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar argue that it reconstitutes the "patriarchal hierarchies' upon which Western culture has ordered itself."

Eagleton's remark, and those of Gilbert and Gubar, together with Christopher Hitchens' recent characterization of Eliot and Waugh, comprise a powerful attack on Eliot's subtextual politics as fascistic.

Trying to develop one-to-one correspondences of Eliot's poetry with any myth or group of myths is reductive, and interpreting his writing as a way of psychoanalyzing the poet doesn't accomplish much. But seeing in it the recommendation that powerful male authority (What The Thunder Said) is the best means of ordering society seems justified, and impresses me as more of a devastating criticism of his oeuvre than any nitpicking about his anti-semitism. Diana


From:  Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:  "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To:  [log in to unmask]
Subject:  Re: The Stetson Passage in TWL
Date:  Sat, 9 Jun 2007 10:54:47 -0400
Dear Diana,

I know.  I noted that Cleanth Brooks said it in 1939.  The question is
whether the poem does, in fact, work on a "scaffolding" as he says and
whether one can, therefore, identify it as a subtext in any consistent
way.  The Chapel Perilous is clearly from the myth, as is the Fisher
King.  Not everyone has agreed that the notes and the myth really matter
at all.  Pound, for example said, in 1924, "For the rest, I saw the poem
in typescript, and I did not see the notes till 6 or 8 months afterward;
and they have not increased my enjoyment of the poem one atom. . . .  I
have not read Miss Weston's Ritual to Romance, and I do not at present
intend to.  As to the citations, I do not think it matters a damn which
is from Day, which from Milton, Middleton, Webster, or Augustine."  He
goes on further, and Hugh Kenner also rejected the notes as important in
reading, citing both Pound and F. R. Leavis as others who shared his
view--and also T. S. Eliot who called his own notes "bogus scholarship"
and regretted sending "so many enquirers off on a wild goose chase after
Tarot cards and the Holy Grail."  Kenner calls that "license . . . to
ignore them."

Clearly a few images do come from that myth, but that every line or
phrase or image fits into a pattern of that as a subtext is a particular
way of reading that Brooks made most fully and was followed by many but
is not the only way to read the poem or even to assume it is apt.
Eliot's review of Joyce as using a "mythic method" was applied to Eliot
himself, but he later said it was just "a piece of rhythmical
grumbling."  So as a "subtext," I think, it cannot be a given.  There
are many references to The Tempest, but it does not define the structure
of the poem--at least I don't think so.

I am not saying one cannot read it as mythic; I am only saying that is
not essential and there are many other ways to see it.

In any case, I don't understand your point about the semen because the
Fisher King is not one of the dead and reborn gods; he is ill or wounded
and must be restored by the Grail knight.  How does that get to semen as
a corpse even if it is his wound is sexual?
Cheers,
Nancy

Nancy, the whole notion of the Fisher King is based on the
vegetative/fertility myth, and it's a commonplace that this comprises at
least one subtext of the poem. It's the Fisher King, though, not the
Fisher Queen, so it's a guy thing - i.e., semen. The potency of the King
determines the land's fertility, i.e. good crops, successful planting.
It's a one-to-one correspondence in the myth. Diana





>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 06/09/07 9:58 AM >>>


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