N> It would be hard to imagine a more unjust world than
N> the one Eliot idealizes in After Strange Gods,
N> in the name of tradition.
The List had a long discussion in 2009 on ASG, particularly on this passage:
"You are hardly likely to develop tradition except where the bulk of the population is relatively so well off where it is that it has no incentive or pressure to move about. The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable." (1934)
I was recently reading Eliot's "Notes on the Definition of Culture" (1948). In the Preface to the paperback edition in 1962, he wrote:
"These 'Notes' began to take shape towards the end of the Second World War. When it was suggested that they should be reprinted in 'paperback' form, I re-read them for the first time for some years, expecting that I should have to qualify some of the opinions expressed herein. I found to my surprise that I had nothing to retract, and nothing upon which I was disposed to enlarge. One footnote, on p. 70, I have re-written: it may still be that I have tried to say too much too briefly, and that the notion needs further elaboration."
And what is that footnote on page 70, the one thing TSE decided needed further re-writing/clarification for the 1962 edition? It is this:
Footnote on page 70:
"It seems to me highly desirable that there should be close culture-contact between devout and practising Christians and devout and practising Jews. Much culture-contact in the past has been within those neutral zones of culture in which religion can he ignored, and between Jews and Gentiles both more or less emancipated from their religious traditions. The effect may have been to strengthen the illusion that there can be culture without religion. In this context I recommend to my readers two books by Professor Will Herberg published in New York: 'Judaism and Modern Man' (Farrar, Straus and Cudahy) and 'Protestant-Catholic-Jew' (Doubleday). "
-- Tom --
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 2010 16:37:59 -0500
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Eliot's poetry: the medium & the message
To: [log in to unmask]
I've read all this history, and I share your horror and despair at much of our own participation in world destruction and misery. But it is not a simple matter of making choices between good or evil, and in the present cases of global warming and health care, we cannot lump all together and just denounce our somehow-collective evil.
For example, Afghanistan: on the one hand I have deplored almost every war and our constant interference in other people's business to the extent of slaughtering them. On the other, what happened and is happening to women under Taliban rule is so horrific that it cannot be ignored. When South Africa lived under Apartheid, we had sanctions and knew how to define it. The enslavement of women under the claim of custom and religion--to the point that they cannot go out of the house without permission, cannot go to school, cannot get health care, and too many "can'ts" to mention, means that we ignore human rights or trample on them in other ways. And Al Quada does wish to kill us; at least they say so. But I love Jane Eyre's response to her little friend Helen's invocation of the line from Jesus to turn the other cheek (Helen dies because she is mistreated and has no health care and won't try to respond): Jane says she doesn't believe that because it just means that the bad people have it all their own way. So do we owe it to the Taliban and Al Quada to leave them alone because it genuinely does force us into confronting in ways that will cause suffering?
We do bad things, but that does not mean others do not or that we have no right ever to address the human rights of whole segments of a society because it is a separate "nation." Hell is hell, and women under the Taliban live in Hell--or die, hence the frequent suicides. What to do?
I would say the same about WWI. I have read about it for years now, and the suffering was beyond even imagination let alone description. I could not even walk through the installation in the Imperial War Museum in London of a trench, without constantly crying, and I knew the flashes in the distance and the guns were not real, and there was no freezing water up to my knees and I did not have trenchfoot and there were no corpses or rats. But I had to leave because I could not lose the image of it as real. In at least some readings--and I find them convincing because of the millions already dead and the collapse of any strategy (if one could call "over the top" endlessly repeated in the face of total failure and millions dead) the entry of fresh, well-fed, energetic Americans did change the dynamic at the end. At least many there thought so at the time.
Who can say which is more wrong? We are rarely given right or wrong, just wrong or more wrong. Who can just pronounce that one choice was evil?, as if the other would not have been? Was it wrong to intervene in WWII? Would we have been saintly to leave the concentration camps in safe, genocidal operation?
It's not just the matter of the fact--which I acknowledge--that we have done terrible things. It is how to choose between wrong and more wrong and who does the choosing. I would far rather have it be Obama than Bush, but that does not mean he is omniscient or incapable of the more mistaken choice. It is more or less, not just wrong.
As for progress, yes, we did terrible things in the name of progress. We do equally or more terrible things in the name of tradition. I'm prone to think the latter more likely to produce the more wrong. It would be hard to imagine a more unjust world than the one Eliot idealizes in After Strange Gods, in the name of tradition.
>>> Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]
> 01/16/10 3:58 PM >>>
I probably did not make it clear enough that the Idea of Progress I was
critiquing was the assumption that Progress was built into history. In
Structure of Evolutionary Theory Gould goes into some detail on how
Darwin's theory did _not_ link his conception of evolution to ideas of
inevitable improvement, but that, being a Victorian, he often let in
language with that implication. No one, so far as I know, denies the
existence of changes which improve human life (though most of such
changes are in technology: immunization and anti-biotics for example),
but what is in question is whether a "ratchet" effect operates in either
biological evoluton or human history.
The word Progressive enters U.S. history at an interesting time. Around
1904 a Republican Senator (I forget his name just now) got up on the
Senate floor and issued a long and bitter denunciation of TR's
Philippine policy, the policy from which the Japanese learned their
"Kill all, burn all, loot all" policy in China. But the same war evoked
Kipling's "White Man's Burden," a poem which presupposes a Progressive
conception of history as moving ever forward. A century later missiles
are raining down on Pakistan villages. (The V2 rockets caused more PTSD
in London than the bombing of 1940 had. There is something terribly
demoralizing in sudden and unexpected death from the sky: No decent
nation would use such a weapon.) And of course to balance Kipling we
have Twain's twin essays, "The United States of Lyncherdom" and "To the
Person Sitting in Darkness." And in the 1930s and 194-s the history
books I read presented the outrage of the European/US intervention in
China at the time of the Boxer rebellion as in the service of
Civilzation and Progress. In the 1920s there was a Men's Club in
Shanghai with a sign on the door: Dogs and Chinamen Keep Out. The rather
mysterious disappearance of Bronze Age civilizations at the end of the
second millenium can stand as a historical image to match the asteroid
that destroyed the dinosaurs as an evolutionary image: the role of
contingency in history and evolution.
Rosa Luxeemburg's Second Junious pamphlet theorizes that role, and that
was the grounds for her "socialism or barbarism," by which she meant
that either was equally likely. Marx, like Darwin a Victorian, let
"progressive" language seep into his writing, but the sentence I quoted
from 18th-Brumaire almost certainly has the same implicit point as
Luxemburg's aphorism. And at a time when humanity should be preparing
itself to endure global warming, politicians and pundits are still
spinning pipedreams that "little steps" forward will pregent it and we
can get "sustainable development." Abaout 60 years ago the U.S.
overthrew the only democratically elected president in the history of
Iran. A decade later LBJ sent the Marines to the Domincan Republic to
abort the election of the only demoratically elected president in _that_
nation's history. Roughly a decade later Carter encouraged the massacres
in East Timor, and a year or two later put his Imprimatur on the murder
of Archbishop Romero in El Slavador. And prclasimed to the American
people that the world was unfair (and therefore they sholdn't complain).
Turkish workers in Germany, a major part of the work force theeir for
decades, may not become citizens and are denied the social benefits
citizens are entitled to. (And those benefits are being whittled away).
A woman in Bulgaria who during the U.S. assault on Siberia posted on an
e-list I was on, had been a dissident under the Communist Regime and had
suffered for it; now she was a dissident under the current regime, and
warned Serbians how much they would suffer under a USA imposed
democracy. And so they are.
And if they haven't arrived yet, soon there will be Marines in Haiti to
"help" -- that is to shoot looters and maintain order. Meanwhile the
U.S. is planning sanctions especially designed to encourage civil war in
And the implicit doctrine of the inevitability of Progress is the banner
under which all this takes place.
We have had one really honorable Secretary of State. William Jennings
Bryan resigned in 1916 in protest at Wilson's obvious plans to lead the
U.S. into the massacre proceeding in Europe. He should be remembered for
that, not for his buffoonery in the Scopes trial.
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