Knowing that Eliot was constrained by strong parental pressure informs a reader's understanding of his texts. Prufrock for example second-guesses his impulses, so he fails to act on them; i.e.,"Do I dare to eat a peach?"

He continues to feel observed and judged even when his parents are absent, an indication that he has introjected their watchfulness and now polices himself to a crippling degree.

This understanding mitigates an exclusively spiritual focus on his plays and poems, privileging ordinary human conflict as a theme.


Sent from my iPod

On Apr 9, 2010, at 5:41 AM, Terry Traynor <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Ken Armstrong wrote:

>It's worth asking, perhaps, if two renderings of a masterpiece,

>one the original and one a "copy" are indistinguishable, can the

>copy really be said to be only a copy and the person who painted

>it only an imitator? Isn't this an exercise of artists in training, as it

>were? In effect, doesn't it take a creator to recreate an artifice?

Yes, it is an exercise of artists in training, but it's only an exercise. Recreating something exactly requires technical skill, but it doesn't require creative vision.

Also, you ask what makes use of biography legitimate. That's hard to answer, but in general I'd say that if some aspect of the work can't be understood on its own and biographical information would clarify matters, then resorting to biography is legitimate. Often, however, biographical information is brought in even though it is superfluous to understanding the work. For example, it's not necessary to know that Keats was tubercular in order to make sense of "When I have fears that I may cease to be." It's not necessary to know that the Pope commissioned Michelangelo in order to recognize the power of the artist's images.  

You also ask if a legitimate use of biography can "create a faux response." I'm not sure what "faux response" means, but there's a vast number of ways that people might respond to anything.

Marcia Karp wrote:

>Isn't thought, imagination, working out of solutions to the endless

>problems of creation worth something? Manner and matter.  Content

>and form.  Truth and beauty.

I may be making distinctions you didn't intend, but it seems to me that the first group of items you mention - thought, imagination, and working out of solutions to creative problems - pertains to the behind-the-scenes process by which an author brings a work into being, and the second group - manner and matter, content and form, truth and beauty - pertains to the product that results from the process; the second group are relationships that are or aren't manifest in the text itself. If a text's relation between content and form is indifferent, I'm not particularly interested in the process of creation it went through or whose process it was. If a text's relation between content and form is arresting, it is so whether or not I know about the process and whose it was. 

>   Even contests based on blind judging throw out any plagiarisms or

>forgeries if discovered.  It is not only the name that matters, it is who

>has done the actual creation:

Yes, plagiarists are thrown out because they put their name to someone else's work, and forgers are thrown out for the opposite reason: they sign someone else's name to their own work. Neither type of fraud should be excused or rewarded, but if the work itself, aside from ethical or financial considerations, is of high enough quality to fool or almost fool the experts, why should knowing the truth behind the fraud affect our assessment of that quality? But you're right, it does. This may be a bad analogy, but if I taste a piece of cake and think it delicious, and am then told it was made by a rapist to lure a child as victim, I'm likely to spit it out in disgust - even though the physical properties of the cake are unchanged from when I thought it was delicious. Conversely, if someone I loves bakes me a cake, I'm likely to find it delicious, even though nobody else would. In both cases, it seems to me I should be able to separate the cake's merits as cake from the prejudicial knowledge about who made it.  

>a painting isn't just paint-strokes, not matter how brilliant; a poem just

>words, ditto.  There are, for instance, many wonderful translators

>whose own writing is just not very good.

I guess I wasn't clear - I mentioned a painting's brushstrokes and a poem's words only as examples, just examples, of the work's components. I certainly didn't mean to reduce the work to those components. As to translators, I'm not seeing what they're an example of. 

>   I agree with you if you are saying that top-rate work by those who

>haven't "gotten into the game" is often neglected or not given fair

>witness in its own time, and so, sans great luck, is doomed not to

>survive beyond it.

Yes, I'm saying this, and I'm saying that this neglect can be traced back to the phenomenon of people thinking that who made a thing is a guide to its worth.

Peter Montgomery wrote:

>So to what degree is pursuing Eliot's childhood biography of interest 

>in looking at his career? For instance does his early published work 

>have a Unitarian underlay to it, which even Eliot might no have realised?

Pursuing Eliot's childhood biography is no doubt of interest if one wants to look at his career. Some do; I don't. It's his poems that interest me, not his career. When I look at his early published work, I'm not interested in their biographical origins, but in what they say. Such are my limitations as a reader of poetry.