First, please do not begin with the idea that I find thinking wearisome or that I cannot distinguish between the poems and the life or that any view I have of Eliot is limited and restricted while yours is full and rich.
Once that set of premises is set out, there is no possible discussion except an arid "did not," "did too," or a retreat to repetition.
I do not need to defend my life of reading and thinking, and I do not have to accept your account of my intellectual, spiritual, and theoretical limits.
So: your New Critical basis in the commentary below is a valid but also limited way to approach poetry. When Virginia Woolf described Eliot's first reading of TWL as "chanting it" and "singing it," I presume it was not because she was ignorant of Eliot or of poetry, and when his close friend Mary Hutchinson described it as "Tom's autobiography, a melancholy one," I presume she had at least some direct familiarity with both.
Second, I do not, in fact, even write biography; oddly, most of my work is based in philosophy of time, mysticism, early 20th Century psychiatry, and WWI--and the poetry. I was trained by New Critics so I do see your presumptions.
So, again, as long as this is based in your need to dismiss all but a single and very limited and no longer exclusive set of assumptions, there is not much to discuss.
As for my comment, "read," I mean it literally. There is a great mass of Eliot criticism, and it has changed considerably since the early methods. As I have been reading it all my life, I do recognize these changes. And if I spend time on this list on his life, it is because he is the one who wrote it, not some abstraction, and his poems are, in fact, deeply linked to his life and to his conversion. The young Eliot who wrote to his cousin such funny and irreverent letters with comic drawings and to Conrad Aiken about his need for sex, and who felt some very deep and profound emotional link with Verdenal is very different from the one who came out of the war of his marriage and the War of the Home Front deprivations (I think these were inseparable) wrote different poetry. I do not think this coincidence. And the more material that comes out, the more the connections become vivid.
Nancy >>> Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>10/16/13 12:03 PM >>>
On 10/16/2013 10:28 AM, Chokh Raj wrote:
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I'm still waiting to see how the "great mass of evidence" alters the basic outlines of Eliot's poetry.
Me, too. Masses of evidence of what? That a man named T S Eliot lived from such-and-such a date to such-and-such a date and in that time things happened? That some of the things that happened can be correlated to things that appear in his creative and critical works? Incontestable, no doubt, and however much evidence has been amassed to date, masses more await discovery, one can be fairly sure. But the question is, ultimately, when all of the evidence has been amassed, what will we have? If the poetry does not have a life of its own, if the critical work can be in theory reduced to justification of the poetry or just one expression of many relating to the poetry, and the poetry primarily a code or puzzle, what then do we have? I'd be inclined to say that then we have the true corpus of T S Eliot; the phenomenon of T S Eliot awaits. And that the phenomenon of T S Eliot has always been much more available for discovery than those whose greatest focus it is to amass prefer to think.
I think that much, if not all, of the disagreement between those who find their satisfaction in source and life hunting and those who want to assert that the poetry has (to the degree it is successful as poetry) a life of its own, an inner coherence, is a failure to define terms and foci or focuses. Most of the time, with however much rancor or surface agreement, we are just talking past each other. So that, for example, the dispute over "absolute meaning" is more of a difference in understanding of the term "absolute" than an informed disagreement over the meaning of a poem or part of a poem. To some "absolute" seems to mean fixed and unchanging as in "set in concrete" or "written in stone"; to others it means not only that a poem gets its force and meaning in the context of the absolute, but in the case of Eliot the poems (all of them) are created in that knowledge or even to that end. I know that I forget, am surprised, when someone objects to the absolute conceived of as purely in concrete, finite terms, when to me it implies a meaning not circumscribed by this world, i.e. existence (in the sense that to say that God exists is an atheistic statement, as God would then merely be part of existence, not the creator of existence).
If it gives you a headache to think about this, no problem; it's difficult and can be wearisome, I get it. But if you want to lay claim to an understanding of Eliot that is anything beyond preliminary or strictly limited, it's not optional, and going down that path means opening yourself up to a reality you may not have wanted to entertain and that, to cross the t, masses of evidence cannot substitute for.
Doubtless not adequately laid out, but must return to home repair.