Dear John,

Here is a short excerpt from my article in my book with Cassandra Laity. It's in my discussion of "The Poetics of Dissociation," if you want the overall context:

Eliot's definition of "sensibility" in the Clark lectures begins with a reference to Sappho's "Second Ode": "You will see that Sappho's great ode for instance, is a real advance, a development, in human consciosness; it sets down, within its verse, the unity of an experience which had previously only existed unconsciously; in recording the physical concomitants of an emotion it modifies the emotion" . . . 

These ideas are worked out in great detail in the Clark lectures, and any summary necessarily simplifies. Yet if we examine Eliot's key terms, we find that his idea of "metaphysical" poetry, which in Laforgue, he claimed, made possible his own early poetic voice, is a unity of consciousness achieved by bringing what has been unconscious into consciousness.. Moreover, this involves not only emotion but sensation or the capacity to experience the senses, which become, through poetry, elevated to a level above flesh itself. He uses the word "beatitude" to describe this "intellectual completion."

[What I mean here is that for Eliot experience of emotion and sensation can exist unconsciously but be brought by the right kind of poetry to consciousness; thus it seems to mean that what is "immediate" can rise to a kind of transcendent level. One might think of that as "truth."]

>>> Nancy Gish 01/16/13 2:53 PM >>>
Dear John,

Let me get back on that. They are related, but I wrote on that in relation to Eliot's admiring comments on Sappho, and I had it much better in my mind then. But of course we all have immediate experience and interpret it differently. 

>>> John Angell Grant 01/16/13 2:31 PM >>>
What is the difference, Nancy, for Eliot, between truth and immediate experience...?

On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 11:22 AM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

To quote an equally brilliant poet, Wallace Stevens, "There are many truths, but they are not part of a Truth." The question I have tried to raise is who can really know TRUTH and be certain they have it. Even if Eliot is right about permanent truth, and one can take that as a worthy basis for the sake of argument, who is to say, and on what basis, that his version of it was or is the only right one. Tell it to any Muslim, Jew, Hindu, agnostic, or atheist. It is not the possibility of truth that is at issue for me but the intractable problem of establishing any one belief as, in fact, TRUTH. No one, so far as I know, has ever resolved that, including those, like Descartes, who thought he had an infallible formula. Eliot's method is reiterated assertion; it is not--since there is none--a proof.

>>> Ken Armstrong 01/16/13 12:26 PM >>> 

I had the pleasure of being sent off to the library recently to look up some references to Bonamy Dobree and thought it might be worth sharing part of a letter from TSE that Dobree quotes in his essay on Eliot in Allen Tate's T S Eliot: The Man and His Work:

"I think there is some misprision on your Part about my Truth. I would not wish to make truth a function of the will. On the contrary, I mean that if there is no fixed truth there is no fixed object for the will to tend to. If truth is always changing then there is nothing to do but to sit down and watch the pictures. Any distinctions one makes are more or less arbitrary. I should say that it was at any rate essential for Religion that we should have the conception of an immutable object or Reality the knowledge of which shall be the final object of that will; and there can be no permanent reality if there is no permanent truth. I am of course quite ready to admit that human apprehension of truth varies changes and perhaps develops, but that is a property of human imperfection rather than of truth." 

Can't help but think that "to sit down and watch the pictures" is a nice, if not allusion to, image of Plato's cave. At any rate it was probably pre-television. Eliot goes on to say:

"You cannot conceive of truth at all, the word has no meaning, except by conceiving of it as something permanent. And that is really assumed even by those who deny it. For you cannot even say it changes except in reference to something which does not change; the idea of change is impossible without the idea of permanence."

I think that for those given to this kind of understanding, the similarity in kind will be apparent to the relation of "absolute meaning" to meaning "not exhausted by any explanation." In truth, if one takes the time to work out the consequences, it is only an object of knowledge with absolute meaning that can have meaning not exhausted by any explanation. I realize that this could be taken by those who are not given to the kind of explanation of truth Eliot pronounces above as a sleight of hand. I'd only say that it's not, if taken on its own terms.

Ken A