Sorry you think it is rude. I don't see it that way. Direct, yes,
but meant to be taken at face value. You and I disagree in
fundamental ways. You started the email to which mine was an answer
with "I am unable..." My answer is meant to be enabling. It was
addressed to you because you asked me for an answer, but it could
have easily been addressed to anyone else, as it was not a
remonstrance (contra Carrol's take), but the postulation of my
understanding of what one must bring to the poem to read it as a
poem. I'm disappointed you took it otherwise, but not honestly
surprised. You want to be in conversations, but only if you can be
left out of them. I don't think that is a paradox or a possibility.
As far as it goes, I stand by it. I've said repeatedly that one's
appreciation of E's life and effects contribute to understanding his
poetry. But it does not do the essential first thing which the
latter studies must be subordinate to, and that's the rub:
subordinate to. And decidedly with E's earliest poetry, one does not
need information outside of the poems to understand their force as
poems, not as coded commentaries on E's life. Obviously E's life --
the man who suffers -- enters into them as material. But the
inability of his critics to understand even the earliest poems in
their dynamic as poems and instead with the weight of gravity refer
them to E's life for their meaning speaks to a general paucity of
understanding across the Eliot criticism spectrum.
As far as New Criticism goes, that's your bugaboo, not mine. On
current criticism, I'd sign off on Peter's remarks; there's no
progress in the arts, and that includes most assuredly the art of
On 10/27/2015 12:29 PM, Nancy Gish
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I have been trying to think how one could answer this very
personal, rude, and astonishing direct address informing me by
name what I need to do and how I have failed.
So I have failed again. There is no way to answer it except
in kind, and that is not useful.
But the assumptions behind Ken's theory (it is a theory, not
a fact or set of facts) are simply no longer tenable. As a quick
random sample, read Jayme Stayer's work that CR posted. Or the
fascinating sources in Robert Crawford's bio or Nancy Hargrove's
account of Eliot in Paris or the connections in Däumer and
Bagchee's collection of essays on international Eliot or Anita
Patterson's fascinating account of links to Japan or Louis
Rainey's dating of TWL fragments by paper and typewriter or the
many studies of Eliot and Dante or Eliot's own letters or the
writings of his colleagues and friends--read anything other
than New Critical rewrites if you are at all interested in
poetry and its importance. Read any major scholarship in the
past several decades, and you will not find this assumption that
a poem, as published, is a thing in itself with no connection to
its author, culture, history, composition, or anything at all
except its meaning "to me"--which many students imagine is
anything at all.
I have no idea what Ken imagines I have been doing for half
my life to be utterly obtuse and incompetent about reading
>>> Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>10/25/15
10:20 AM >>>
You and I it appears think of "making" differently. In my way of
thinking about it, it is not possible for us to "know a great
deal more about it than Lewis did" -- because Lewis had the
poem. We might learn more about the background to its
composition, but either the "making" is accessible through the
poem itself, ie it is a successful poem, or it isn't. And the
degree to which it is or isn't, or a comprehending rendering of
its registry as a poem, what it does as a poem, also does not
depend on ever expanding background data.
I know what the usual objections to this are, and I know where
they go off track. But communicating that I'm not so good at,
because really, to understand what I'm trying to get at you 'd
have to, as Eliot once said, believe it first. Perhaps "see it
first" or "experience it first" would be less objectionable ways
of putting it. The long and short of it is, you have to work out
not what the poem meant for Eliot -- he gave you all you need to
know when he published it -- but what it means for you, Nancy
Gish, for your existence as a human being, i.e. you have to
participate, really participate with your whole being, in the
creative act that is the making of the poem. It can't just be
Eliot's life on the line, it has to be yours, too. Always
referring it back to Eliot only guarantees that the creative act
will never be availed to a reader, thus the whole purpose of
having the poem in the first place is defeated.
As I said, I'm not particularly skilled at presenting this. I
offered the Lewis piece really just because Eliot in it is so
un-Prufrock like, I hoped it might be a wake-up call that shakes
someone off that dead-end track.
On 10/23/2015 12:49 PM, Nancy Gish
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I am unable to see here what the "meaning" of the poem
ostensibly is. But if it is about the "making," we know a
great deal more than Lewis did (though the excerpt below
says nothing about the "making" of "Prufrock." In a
fascinating seminar led by Cassandra Laity at the TSE
Society, a lot of new information appeared. In my own case,
I was focused on the writing of "Prufrock's Pervigilium,"
which was inserted in the Notebook and then removed (See
IMH). It offers a quite disturbing and very different voice.
But it is part of what was very much in the "making."
What, for example, is presumed to be the meaning that
provides an absolute significance to "grow old" as literal?
Or did I miss something?
>>> Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>10/23/15
12:30 PM >>>
Some years ago, when my wife's father was stopped going the
wrong way on a one way street in this small town, the
officer, well known to Red, said, "Red, don't you know this
is a one way street?" "But Rod," said Red, "I'm only going
Red, of course, knew he was making a joke with the law.
Happily he was let off with a warning. Carrol, on the other
hand, wants us to believe that a one way street really is a
two way street. Well, okay, you pays your money and you
makes your choices. But what you choose doesn't determine
the nature of the street, only the approach you bring to it.
I don't see any new questions or pressing observations in
his post, and all in all don't believe my certainty exceeds
anything Carrol always has on display. To the degree that
"Prufrock" is a successful poem, it's meaning inheres in its
making, which, again, would have been what Pound so
enthusiastically pounced on.
Consider Wyndham Lewis' account of meeting TSE:
" As I entered the room I discovered an agreeable stranger
parked up one of the sides of the triangle. He softly
growled at me, as we shook hands. American. A graceful neck,
I noted, with what elsewhere I have described as 'a Gioconda
smile.' Though not feminine -- besides being physically
large his personality visibly moved within the male pale --
there were dimples in the warm dark skin;
undoubtedly he used his eyes a little like a Leonardo. He
was a very attractive fellow then....I liked him, though I
may say not at all connecting him with texts Ezra had shown
me about some fictional character dreadfully troubled with
old age, in which the lines....'I am growing old....'.....I
was unable to make head or tail of.
Ezra now lay flung back in typical posture of aggressive
ease... However, he kept steadily beneath his quizzical but
self-satisfied observation his latest prize, or discovery --
the author of Prufrock. The new collector's piece
went on smiling and growling out melodiously his apt and
bright answers to promptings from the proud figure of his
After this description of a most un-Prufrockian like
character, Lewis stumbles in the same place Carrol does, but
only partly for the same reason: he can't make sense of the
meaning of the "growing old" line for Prufrock, whereas
Carrol's attention is in another dimensionaaaaa, trying to
make it work for Eliot. The answer lies in how Prufrock's
actions and alarms make him what he is and bring him to an
end meant to be perceived as his fall, but moreover,
in the first place, meant to be perceived by the structure
and technique and signs in the poem. I think the telling
phrase used to be "follow the lines of force."
PS I am impressed by Carrol's evident respect for
"Prufrock." In a post from him I stumbled upon by virtue of
my email client deciding to open to posts from 2009, he
noted that in the long run Eliot would be largely forgotten
by future generations with only two poems, in a minor way,
meeting the test of time. No doubt "Prufrock" is one of
them. I suppose it is only a matter of time until this
projection comes to pass, and we will all be on the Marianne
Moore list, discussing as per Carrol those much richer and
more powerful poems.
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