Dissociation of Sensibility -- as applied to poetry
A term used by T.S. Eliot to describe the disjunction of thought and feeling that
he perceives in English literature from the seventeenth century onward. For writers
such as John Donne, Eliot argues, a thought was an experience; it was integrated
with emotional and bodily response. Since the time of John Milton, however, thought
has been divorced from feeling, and as the former became more refined and subtle,
the latter became cruder. According to Eliot, the dissociation of sensibility is a
linguistic and cultural malaise from which English literature and society have never
Certainly among the most celebrated of Eliot's critical statements are his terms
"objective correlative" and "dissociation of sensibility." The former, [Mario] Praz
explains, is Eliot's term for "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which
shall be the formula of that particular emotion," which is to be expressed "in the
form of art." The latter term, writes Pritchard, was used by Eliot "to indicate [an]
inability to 'devour any kind of experience.'" Frank Kermode defines Eliot's
"dissociation of sensibility" as "an historical theory to explain the dearth of
objective correlatives in a time when the artist, alienated from his environment ...
is working at the beginning of a dark age 'under conditions that seem unpropitious,'
in an everworsening climate of imagination.
From: Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Saturday, October 22, 2011 8:17 PM
Subject: Re: The Jew in Eliot's Poetry

And this is certainly NOT the case of dissociation of sensibility.

From: Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Saturday, October 22, 2011 8:14 PM
Subject: Re: The Jew in Eliot's Poetry

"I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
     Both one and many; in the brown baked features
     The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
     So I assumed a double part, and cried
     And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'
Although we were not. I was still the same,
     Knowing myself yet being someone other—
     And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded."
From: Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Saturday, October 22, 2011 7:36 PM
Subject: Re: The Jew in Eliot's Poetry

It doesn't denigrate psychology to point out that it is misapplied to Eliot's poetry. Long explanations aren't necessary; I'm aware of those facts. If you want to understand Eliot's poetry as poetry, you will not be applying "psychological technical" terms to it, casually or otherwise. They do not, in effect, get you into the poetry.

Ken A

On 10/22/2011 4:13 PM, Nancy Gish wrote:
The psychological term is one Eliot himself studied, knew, and frequently used in the term "dissociation." Moreover, in the 1910s and 1920s it was a topic of widespread interest, especially because of the War, and Eliot himself went to a psychologist (Vittoz) who wrote that there were two separate brains--it's too long to explain but you can find it in my article.  That's where he was when he was composing TWL.  Denigrating psychologists is, in this case, not simply a bias, it is historically inaccurate about what was being discussed and made a personal choice by Eliot. I see a great deal wrong with using it casually, so we will have to agree to disagree.

>>> Ken Armstrong 10/22/11 3:56 PM >>>
Actually, CR did define his use of the term: "Maybe his
characters are "doubles" in the sense that he can identify himself with them, at least
imaginatively. So Eliot's mode, I should say, is not one of satire but one of empathy."

"Imaginatively" at least gets us off on the right foot, where psychologisms seem more likely to deter and detour understanding, not to say to delete it altogether. Whether or not I agree with CR on where he takes this usage, I see nothing wrong with it applied to Eliot's poetry and am inclined to think it more apropos than the psychologically technical term which exists, after all, for a different purpose. As Guy Brown pointed out in his reading of Burbank:Bleistein, that poem is a poem of masks in the city of masks at carnival time:

"The poem is set in or initiated by a 'mask'--'Tra-la-la-la...' and
(especially) Marsten’s mask (epigraph) -- in the city of masks, at carnival,
in the city of carnival (latter day Rio & New Orleans quasi-octoberfests not
withstanding). *It* is a mask."

Whether or not you agree with that rendering, this is not a mask for a psychological assessment. Or at any rate, a psychological assessment will not get you into the poetic purpose of either the poem as a mask or its masks of Bleistein, Burbank, Klein, Volupine, et al; they are of a different order.  When Eliot early on said that poems should be read as poetry and not psychology, sociology, etc., he was not trying to hide but to be helpful, or at any rate accurate.

Ken A

On 10/22/2011 12:37 PM, Nancy Gish wrote:
Doubles do not imply empathy.  I have studied the phenomenon for years and written about it several times.  Often the double is the "other" within for whom one feels revulsion. "Think Jekyll and Hyde or--more academically--The Dissociation of a Personality, or William James, whose work on this Eliot read, or the doubling common to "hysterical" WWI soldiers.  I only use quotation marks because it got renamed "shell shock," but they were initially diagonosed as hysterics.
Or read the introduction to Peter Nicholls'sModernism. Or--if you want to be open to anything I say, read my article in Gender, Desire, and Sexuality on dissociation.
If you are going to use technical, psychological terms, they need to be based on the history and meaning of the word and not simply popular and undefined notions.