They are what you call "biographical critic[s]." So just who are these
perpetrators of "reductionist readings" if they are not the major
biographical critics of Eliot?

>>> Chanan Mittal 10/28/15 1:46 PM >>>
Ah, we're all too well aware of certain reductionist readings that
Eliot's work has been subjected to. Lyndall Gordon, Peter Ackroyd, and
Robert Crawford do not fall into that trap. They are quite alive to the
innate beauty of Eliot's art. A la Helen Gardner. 

On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I find it astounding that you imagine Lyndall Gordon, Peter Ackroyd, and
Robert Crawford simply dread failures. That is absurd and based on
nothing in this post.

>>> Chanan Mittal 10/28/15 11:30 AM >>>
The Biographical Critic versus The New Critic 
Accosted by a work of art (in a book, a journal, a news magazine) a
biographical critic would like to learn all about the artist's life and
the circumstances of the piece's composition before he is able to
appreciate the work. And when all that is learnt, the piece would be
pinned down to the wall in a formulated phrase. That's surely case of
imaginative failure. A dread failure to which many a critic are liable
these days.


On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, Ken Armstrong
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:

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

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 criticism.

Ken A

On 10/27/2015 12:29 PM, Nancy Gish wrote:

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 ayou 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 poetry.

>>> Ken Armstrong 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

Ken A

On 10/23/2015 12:49 PM, Nancy Gish wrote:

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

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 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 one way."

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 ahands. 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
exhausted captor."

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."

Ken A 

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.