of Eliot's dialectics : some more light

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

-- Little Gidding



Mastery and Escape: T.S. Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism
By Jewel Spears Brooker
Published by Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1996.
Most modernists seemed obsessed with the idea that the retrieval of antiquity begun at the dawn of the modern era needs to be resumed and completed. Most insisted that going forward involves going back, that securing the future means redeeming the past. A parallel impulse is a process that Eliot, in his essay on Henry James, calls "mastery and escape." It is described in several of Eliot's literary essays and illustrated in his poetry. The genius of Henry James, according to Eliot, lies in "his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas." In another passage, in regard to the criticism of Samuel Johnson, Eliot remarked that it is only possible to escape Johnson after one has "mastered" him (SP, 67). In regard to Ezra Pound's vers libre, Eliot claims that Pound's escape from rigid forms had been made possible by his tireless mastery of them (SP, 150). Another version of the mastery and escape motif can be seen in "Tradition and the Individual Talent." "Escape from personality," Eliot claims, is possible only for the few who have personality; similarly, "escape from emotion" is possible only for the few who have strong emotions. In all of these instances, mastery involves both knowledge of and control over. In this dialectic, as in much nineteenth-century dialectic, there is a dynamic interplay of conflicts. Escape, however, does not involve linear movement to an opposite or to synthesis. It is not escape from one's most recent position, but escape to a broader perspective; it is a transcendence (via a return) in which, as Eliot says of tradition, nothing is lost en route. As the concept culminates in Four Quartets, escape is a liberation effected by a return, after knowledge, to the place from which one started. In Eliot's case, the use of the "mastery and escape" motif is deliberate and informed by serious studies in philosophy, studies that profoundly shaped not only his developing critical mind, but his poetry.
Eliot's intellectual comprehensiveness -- specifically, his rejection of synthesis and his insistence on "both / and" logic of complementarity -- illustrates a foundational pattern in modernist thinking. Finally, the movement of his mind -- involving first surrender, then mastery, and finally transcendence -- characterizes the mental dialectic of many of his brightest contemporaries. This pattern, a metamorphosis of Hegelian and Marxist dialectic, involves a play between opposites that moves forward by spiraling back (a return) and up (a transcendence). It goes beyond Hegel, however, in resisting linearity, eschewing mentalism, and evading synthesis. This dialectic, pervasive in most modernist work, appears with special clarity in Eliot, philosophically the best informed of the modernists.

--- On Sat, 1/31/09, Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
From: Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: The Dry Salvages - what's in a name?
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Saturday, January 31, 2009, 2:15 PM

of Eliot's dialectics
In 'Writing the self: dialectic and impersonality in T.S. Eliot',
Jewel Spears Brooker observes: 
  In conclusion: the dialectical pattern underlying Eliot's notion of impersonality
  owes much to philosophical idealism, but it is actually much older. In using
  terms such as self 'annihilation', 'surrender' and 'sacrifice', terms carrying
  overtones of religion and violence,Eliot is associating his process not only
  with post-Hegelian dialectic, but also with the most ancient commonplaces
  regarding the connection between life and death in nature, myth and religion.
  This pattern is evident in Christ's words in the Gospel According to John
  (12:24): 'Verily, I say unto you, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground
  and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."'
And in her Notes at p.56 (# 11), she remarks:
  I have examined this aspect of Eliot's dialectical imagination in relation to
  Harriet Davidson's T.S. Eliot and Hermeneutics...and Shira Wolosky's
  Language Mysticism...in an earlier version of this chapter, 'Dialectic and
  Impersonality in T.S. Eliot'..."
Culled from:
T.S. Eliot and the Concept of Tradition
By Giovanni Cianci, Jason Harding
Contributor Giovanni Cianci, Jason Harding
Edition: illustrated
Published by Cambridge University Press, 2007
ISBN 0521880025, 9780521880022
229 pages

--- On Sat, 1/31/09, Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
From: Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: The Dry Salvages - what's in a name?
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Saturday, January 31, 2009, 12:21 PM

of Eliot's dialectics
Dear Carrol,
I use "dialectics" here in the sense of "the juxtaposition or interaction
of conflicting ideas, forces, etc."
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
            -- Little Gidding
In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
                   -- East Coker

--- On Sat, 1/31/09, Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
From: Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: The Dry Salvages - what's in a name?
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Saturday, January 31, 2009, 11:21 AM

Chokh Raj wrote:
>                  the dialectics of Eliot's poetry

Just what do you mean by dialectics. From what follows you use the word
as a fancy synonym for many-voiced, which really has not much to do with
dialectics. Dialectics (whether Platonic, Cartesian, Hegelian, Marxian,
or Whiteheadian) involves some special sort of totality. A poem, in fact
any text, builds by synthesis rather than unfolding dialectic.


>                  where echoes move back and forth
>                      and echo to echo resounds
>                     the story of Eliot's poetry
>                  at heart, the story of Mr Norton
>                           (meet Mr Eliot)
>              aspiring for a lifetime's burning in love
>                      and getting instead burnt
>                        in the fires of lust.
>                   Burning burning burning burning
>                     O Lord Thou pluckest me out
>                        O Lord Thou pluckest
>                               burning
>                    You're getting it right, Tom
>                    the blue chart up your sleeve
>                      standing at the threshold
>                    the door is right before you
>                         you've got the key
>               open it for all of us to walk through
>               a revelation both simple and profound.
>                                Best,
>                                 CR
> --- On Fri, 1/30/09, Gunnar Jauch <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>      From: Gunnar Jauch <[log in to unmask]>
>      Subject: Re: The Dry Salvages - what's in a name?
>      To: [log in to unmask]
>      Date: Friday, January 30, 2009, 9:32 AM
>      Am 30.01.2009 um 13:51 schrieb Tom Colket:
>     >  I've been away for a few weeks, so I hope it's not too
>     >  late to answer this.
>     >
>     >  My main comment is that the all four of the quartets have
>     >  odd titles if one chooses to look at it that way, not just
>     >  "The Dry Salvages":
>     >
>     >  a) "Burnt Norton" - A poem about a beautiful garden
>     >  with the word "burnt".
>     >
>     >  b) "East Coker" - The Modernists glorified the Western
>     >  canon, and this poem begins with the word "East".
>     >
>     >  c) "The Dry Salvages" - As you say, "focuses so
>     >  eloquently, beautifully and subtly on water, has a title
>     >  that begins with the word DRY".
>     >
>     >  d) "Little Gidding" - A poem that directs out
attention to
>     >  God and God's ultimate _big_ plans for the universe
>     >  shall be well . . .") has a title that begins with the
>     >  word "little".
>     >
>     >  Was Eliot doing some kind of deliberate word-play with the
>     >  titles? Were the titles just names of significant places
>     >  that happened to be two-word names in which the first word
>     >  inverts the expected meaning of the following poem?
>     >
>     >  Maybe.
>     >
>     >  -- Tom --
>      What an excellent observation, dear Tom!
>      In spite of my ongoing effort to memorize 4Q I have never
>      noticed the inherent dichotomy between the titles and the
>      content.
>      Cheers,
>      Gunnar