Well here is where we find real disagreement. There may not be "progress in the arts" or in criticism, but in the latter there is certainly change and, where new material appears, there is essential reconsideration. Eliot is famous in part because he did take on new ways of reading, and did it convincingly. He never let himself be limited by the bounds of critics or poets fifty years before himself. It would be hard to find anyone less framed by accepting conventional wisdom, so applying it to him seems a genuine paradox.
 
If you are not, in fact, aiming your critiques at me, I don't know why they always turn up when I say anything, but whoever the "journalists" are, they are not whom I read. So I don't get the point. And most of the material I find so fascinatingly significant was not, as a matter of fact, available to critics then. All one need do is review the early major books on Eliot, and none of the recent material--the letters, IMH, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, major biographies, Eliot's experiences in Paris, his itinerary in Italy, which Nancy Hargrove has found--it goes on and on--was accessible. Critics like Brooks, Drew, Gardner, Kenner, Leavis, Matthiesen, Smith, et. al., developed major insights we all build from, but they mainly took Eliot at his own word and wrote from assumptions of, say the notes, before Eliot--as an example--made that a real ambiguity. It is just not true that whatever was said without these sources is no different from what has come after, and it is hardly comparable to the kind of thinking Eliot himself did.
 
I don't think it is an issue of disadvantage (is the "you," this time, me?); it is an issue of changing knowledge. But of course I have also read them--and recently reread them to write the section on the reception of Eliot to 1965. It is not a matter of my "seeming to think" anything. Or as someone very famous once said, "We know so much more than the past, and they are what we know." (from memory) The same person who said the present changes the past as much as the past changes the present.
Nancy

    Yes, well, again there is no progress in the arts and none, I'd suggest, in criticism either; and no one has said that his life is not linked to his art. What I've said is that seeing that link may well be helpful, but is not tantamount to seeing what the life of the poem is. Once you have a life event critical to the poem, you still need to discover what the poem does with that event. And a sensitive reader could in most cases, I think, surmise from the poem the character of the event without having to have the journalist's version of it. In addition, most of these life facts were available fifty and many more years ago, and the people who read and studied Eliot then were not at nearly the disadvantage you seem to think they were, if at any at all. After all, they had the advantage of not being distracted from the poetry by the minutiae of the life.
>>> Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>10/16/13 10:36 PM >>>

On 10/16/2013 1:05 PM, Nancy Gish wrote:
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Dear Ken,
 
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.

     My premise is certainly not that my view of E is full and rich, far from it. Nor was I addressing you specifically, so please don't take it that way. What I said about the absolute, as an example of how we talk past each other ("we" in general, not [just] you and me), you do not address. Am I off base there?
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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.

   Again, wasn't about you as an individual but about two orientations that do not seem to me to find common, defined and mutually understood as such, ground. Therefore they talk past each other, as it seems to me this exchange demonstrates. That, and my belief that to understand Eliot's work, critical and poetical, one does need to have an understanding -- a feel for -- his intellectual orientation. Calling this New Critical (a term than never crosses my mind until you bring it up) misses the point.
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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.

    No needs here. Rather an assertion that you have not acknowledged, positively or negatively.
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As for my comment, "read," I mean it literally.

     It would be nice if you would see that your assumption here is in one important sense no different than what you characterize mine to be. You believe you know something -- do something --  that I or CR do not understand or do or acknowledge. Should I say to you then, " So, again, as long as this is based in your need to dismiss any but the very limited  set of assumptions to which you subscribe, there is not much to discuss." As in fact that is what I think you, specifically, do.

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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.

    Yes, well, again there is no progress in the arts and none, I'd suggest, in criticism either; and no one has said that his life is not linked to his art. What I've said is that seeing that link may well be helpful, but is not tantamount to seeing what the life of the poem is. Once you have a life event critical to the poem, you still need to discover what the poem does with that event. And a sensitive reader could in most cases, I think, surmise from the poem the character of the event without having to have the journalist's version of it. In addition, most of these life facts were available fifty and many more years ago, and the people who read and studied Eliot then were not at nearly the disadvantage you seem to think they were, if at any at all. After all, they had the advantage of not being distracted from the poetry by the minutiae of the life.

  Ken A