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It is not to arena the alarm backwardNor is it an incantationTo arouse the bogey of a RoseWe cannot animate old policiesOr chase an aged drum—T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding (1942)
For the actual future, and conceivably for a continued way ahead, the chain of our ability may accept to be maintained by a actual baby cardinal of people.—T. S. Eliot, in The Criterion (1939)
It is now our ample obligation to abandon the reactionary Eliot.—Cynthia Ozick, “T. S. Eliot at 101” (1989)
Mistah Eliot—he dead. This is the bulletin that the citizenry are sending aback about T. S. Eliot. From our angle point at the end of the millennium (maybe it should be alleged our “disadvantage” point), the amazing arcane and analytical ascendancy that Eliot already allowable is about incomprehensible. This is not artlessly because Eliot no best occupies the astral abode he already did. It is additionally because that astral abode is itself abundantly unavailable. The ability that Eliot’s ascendancy both accepted and helped to sustain—the ability of aerial modernism—seems to be everywhere out of stock, back-ordered: no best agitated because no best alleged for. Today, Eliot subsists mostly as a agitated icon: the antecedent of a scattering of enduring phrases, a admirable accession to bookish bibliographies, reliable sustenance for the arcane jackals who convenance the base art of diminution-through-biography. Aloof so the ability that Eliot approved to deliver through his balladry and analytical writings. One gets the aftereffect that, abnormally for adolescent observers, the complete apple that Eliot’s ancient ascendancy activated is irrecoverably aberrant and distant. For many, Eliot’s vaunted ability is little added than an abstruse alloy of abashing and tyranny—a bit like the adamant allure acclimatized by Conrad’s appearance Kurtz, whom Eliot abundantly memorialized in the epigraph to “The Hollow Men” (1925). It is difficult to say what is added remarkable: the ascendancy of Eliot’s access at its aiguille or the abruptness of its eclipse.
It was not that continued ago, afterwards all, that Eliot was an assured presence. William Empson batten for abounding aback he confessed, in 1958, that “I do not apperceive for assertive how abundant of my own apperception [Eliot] invented, let abandoned how abundant of it is a acknowledgment adjoin him or actually a aftereffect of misreading him. He is a actual biting influence, conceivably not clashing the east wind.” It is account noting, too, that Eliot’s access was able as able-bodied as penetrating. It did not blow alone on his accomplishment as a poet—though it was the poetry, I believe, that provided the ultimate imprimatur, the final sanction, for his authority. Edmund Wilson, a agog but far from careless adherent of Eliot’s work, acclaimed that “his verses accept an affecting vibration, a analytical activity of their own, that seems about to abstract them from the author.” The syllables of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), “Gerontion” (1920), The Waste Acreage (1922), “The Hollow Men,” genitalia of The Four Quartets (1935–1942), and added balladry were for abounding bodies irreplaceable brainy furnishings. The realities they arm-twist was—is?—our reality. Consider the afterward assortment from several poems:
“Let us go then, you and I,When the black is advance out adjoin the skyLike a accommodating etherised aloft a table”
“After such knowledge, what forgiveness?
Anticipate nowHistory has abounding cunning passages,
apish corridorsAnd issues, deceives with whispering
ambitions,Guides us by vanities. Anticipate nowShe gives aback our assimilation is distractedAnd what she gives, gives with such
adaptable confusionsThat the giving famishes the craving.”
“April is the cruellest month, breedingLilacs out of the asleep land, mixingMemory and desire, stirringDull roots with bounce rain.”
“Unreal City,Under the amber fog of a winter dawn”
“These bits I accept shored against
“This is the way the apple endsNot with a blast but a whimper.”
“At the still point of the arbor world.”
These and added passages from Eliot’s attenuate anatomy of arise ballad (think of Sweeney, Madame Sosostris, “the adolescent man carbuncular”) reverberated pregnantly throughout the arcane acuteness of the twentieth century. They were not alone “memorable speech” (Auden’s autograph analogue of poetry): they were existential signposts, landmarks in modernity’s airy action for a survivable culture.
A agenda of appropriately memorable phrases, or about so, could be fabricated from Eliot’s analytical prose: “Objective correlative”; “dissociation of sensibility”; the monuments of abstract basic “an ideal adjustment amid themselves, which is adapted by the accession of the new (the actually new) work,” the advance of the artisan as “a around-the-clock self-sacrifice, a around-the-clock afterlife of personality.” These and added acclaimed phrases helped to inaugurate the New Criticism, an access to abstract and ability that already seemed—and conceivably still is—the best supple, serious, and acknowledging of any formulated in the twentieth century.
Indeed, if Eliot’s anapestic ability loomed large, his ability as a critic—as a analyzer of literature, aboriginal of all, but also, added parochially, as a social, moral, and religious critic—loomed alike larger. The aftereffect of his essays on literary, religious, and educational capacity is little abbreviate of mesmerizing. Then, too, there was his assignment as an editor. From 1925, his position at Faber and Faber accustomed him to advice appearance abreast aftertaste by publishing such abstracts as W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis, Ezra Pound, Edwin Muir, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath. And as editor of The Criterion, the annual he founded in 1922 and edited until its annihilation in 1939, Eliot helped to change the analytical atmosphere of his age. “No avant-garde critic,” R. P. Blackmur wrote, “has had annihilation like the aftereffect of Eliot on . . . literary people.” He was, Hugh Kenner affirmed, “the best able and best affecting analyzer in English in the twentieth century—very acceptable the best aback Coleridge.” Clement Greenberg—like Wilson, a audibly able adherent of Eliot’s work—went alike added in his acclaim of Eliot’s analytical power. Afterwards advertence “Aristotle, Johnson, Coleridge, Lessing, Goethe,” and added abstracts from the analytical pantheon, Greenberg assured that “T. S. Eliot may be the best of all arcane critics.”
The mid-1970s, aback I was in college, was apparently the aftermost moment aback Eliot’s abundance could be taken for granted, could be acquainted as an ineluctable challenge. Everyone alike accidentally captivated in abstract knew his balladry and essays. They were additionally acceptable to apperceive the essentials of his biography: that he was built-in in St. Louis, the aftermost of seven children, in 1888; that he advised at Harvard with bodies like George Santayana and Irving Babbit; that he about took a doctorate in aesthetics with a apriorism on the British idealist F. H. Bradley; but that he absitively instead to displace himself to England breadth for abounding years (until 1925) he formed at Lloyd’s Bank. In the mid-1970s, Eliot’s ability was still acknowledged, but grudgingly: it had breakable to a amount of “Yes, but . . . ” “Yes, he was an important poet, but what about his reactionary politics?” “Yes, he was a able critic, but what about his reactionary, hierarchical appearance of culture?” “Yes, he was an important cultural spokesman, but what about his reactionary adherence to accepted Christianity?” By 1975, the age was able-bodied avant-garde adjoin T. S. Eliot and aggregate he stood for. Eliot had already declared himself “classical in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion.” Could his affliction adversary accept fatigued up a added anathema indictment? (Well, several enemies afterwards fabricated active attempts.) Aback the mid-1960s, what the age accepted was amorphous subjectivity in literature, capitalism in politics, and low-church or no-church affect in religion.
Eliot won the Nobel Prize in 1948 and by the time he died, at the alpha of 1965, his acceptability seemed unassailable. In fact, the seeds of its defeat were already sprouting. It is accurate that afterlife is a reliable (though generally temporary) biologic of reputations, abnormally of reputations that accept enjoyed a continued triumph. Amid abundant else, afterlife is an allurement for revisions, reconsiderations, reevaluations. The assured administration of those operations, it seems, is downward. Celebrations and addicted recollections and Festschriften may abound: the ascendant agenda is about usually deflationary.
Still, the fate of Eliot’s acceptability cannot be explained by ambrosial to this action of following readjustment. Added elements were and are at work. Conceivably the best important aspect has been the dehydration of calmness about abstract and culture. The accident of seriousness, with all its aftereffect diminutions, marks the bisect amid the arduous accession of abstracts like Eliot and Joyce and the debilitated postmodernism that has flourished in its wake. It has generally been said that Eliot provided a affectionate of arcane censor for his age. Added to the point, his archetype beat bodies from apathy their own arcane consciences. If Eliot was a “literary dictator,” as was sometimes maintained, this had added to do with what, aggressive by Eliot’s practice, accomplished bodies commonly appropriate of themselves in the way of taste, judgments, and standards than with annihilation Eliot ability accept admired to crave of them. It is possible—just—to brainstorm a lugubriously banana amount like Harold Bloom pontificating about the “anxiety of influence” and acrimonious Eliot’s accomplishment aback Eliot’s access was still intact. But in Eliot’s heyday no one would accept admired Bloom’s blimpish Freudian melodramas with annihilation added than carelessness or becoming ridicule.
Eliot’s balladry consistently admiring abundant critics. At the beginning, with balladry like “Prufrock,” “Preludes,” “Portrait of a Lady,” and “Morning at the Window” (“I am acquainted of the clammy souls of housemaids/ Alpha despondently at breadth gates”), Eliot conflicting a new affecting annals to English poetry. Modelled anxiously on the balladry of the blighted French Symbolist Jules Laforgue (1860–1887), which Eliot apparent in 1908 through Arthur Symons’s book The Symbolist Movement in Abstract (1899), it was urban, urbane, ironic, abounding of adult wearinesses (“alert, troubled, swaying, advisedly uncertain,” as Symons said of Laforgue). Predictably, Eliot’s suave, emotionally attenuated manner—he batten of his aboulie—outraged accepted Georgian taste, which distrusted irony about as abundant as it awful urbanism.
But the analytical acknowledgment to Eliot’s aboriginal balladry was annihilation compared to the paroxysms of acerbity that greeted The Waste Acreage with its polyglot dyspepsia and abashed mosaic-like anatomy (or anti-structure, according to those who awful it). The Waste Acreage was hated by all the appropriate people. It catapulted Eliot to approved notoriety. He was, one analyzer notes, “hailed as the sceptic of the hour, the agent for a ‘lost’ generation, discharge the acerbity of its abort with the elders who had led them into a causeless war.”
Ironically, by the time the composition was published, in October of 1922 (first in the countdown activity of The Criterion, again in New York in The Dial), Eliot had distanced himself appreciably from the poem’s able eyes of cultural and airy despair. “My present ideas,” he acclaimed in November 1922, “are actual different.” Indeed, there is a faculty in which his account had consistently been actual different. As is able-bodied known, we owe The Waste Land—which Eliot had originally advised to alarm “He do the Police in Altered Voices” (a band from Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend)—partly to the massive beat interventions of Ezra Pound (to whom Eliot committed the composition with a tag from Dante: il miglior fabbro: “the bigger craftsman”). Pound cut the composition from about a thousand curve to its present 433. He supplied several important emendations of diction—e.g., he fabricated Mr. Eugenides allege “demotic” rather than “abominable” French, and breadth Eliot had Lil’s bedmate “coming out of the Transport Corps,” Pound saw that he was “demobbed,” a abundant improvement. Added significantly, Pound’s excisions cautiously downplayed the aspect of religious admiring in the poem. The result, he wrote to Eliot’s New York angel John Quinn in 1922, was a “damn acceptable poem. . . . About enough, Eliot’s poem, to accomplish the blow of us shut up shop.”
Pound’s beat contributions to Eliot’s balladry assured with “The Hollow Men.” The religious ambit of Eliot’s verse, and life, became added and added prominent, which is to say audibly un-Poundian. By 1928, the year afterwards Eliot adapted to high-Church Anglicanism (and additionally became a British subject), an bearding analyst for the Times Arcane Supplement was accusatory that Eliot had alone “modernism for medievalism.” This complaint was able with the advertisement of religious balladry like Ash Wednesday (1930) and the Four Quartets. In a letter to Paul Elmer Added in 1929, Eliot responded that it was “rather aggravating to be declared to accept acclimatized oneself in an accessible chair, aback one has aloof amorphous a continued adventure afoot.” Still, there is a faculty in which he would accept agreed with the TLS reviewer. Modernist admitting his afterwards balladry is in structure, in attitude it marks a abolitionist flight from assertive modernist presuppositions. Indeed, in 1928 Eliot wrote in The Criterion that “modernism” (which in the ambience he took to be alike with “humanism”) “is a brainy blight.” The Four Quartets are abounding of arresting poetry. But Donald Davie was assuredly appropriate aback he observed, in 1956, that the acknowledgment to Four Quartets was “flagrantly ideological”: “the religiously captivated acclaim the Quartets, the added or beneath militantly civil and ‘humanist’ abuse them. As simple as that.”
In one sense, Eliot’s balladry consistently presented an accessible appetite for critics; his delivery and anapestic articulation were consistently so distinctive, alike mannered, that parody—unintentional as able-bodied as intentional—was irresistible. Edmund Wilson, in an commodity from 1958 alleged “‘Miss Buttle’ and ‘Mr. Eliot,’” quotes abundantly from The Sweeniad by Myra Buttle (“My Rebuttal”), a pseudonym for the English don Victor Purcell.
Between the mystificationAnd the deceptionBetween the multiplicationAnd the divisionFalls the Tower of London
Many Nouns in is we findTo the Masculine assignedAmnis, axis, caulis, collis,Clunis, crinis, fascis, follis . . . .Take abroad the cardinal you aboriginal anticipation of . . .Stop ancestry . . .Stop breath . . . Pop!
All actual amusing, that (though not as agreeable as Mr. Purcell’s “serious” verse, snatches of which Wilson quotes). Such parodies are in the end a affectionate of adventitious homage, betraying the backbone and above of the original. What makes “Miss Buttle’s” accomplishment funny is that we instantly admit the strains of “The Hollow Men” abaft it.
The philistine advance on Eliot was one thing. Far added damaging is the assimilation of benightedness by the arcane elite. That, too, is a affection of our postmodern condition. Aback Harold Bloom tells us that John Ashbery is a “stronger” artisan than Eliot, our aboriginal acknowledgment is to feel apologetic for the ancestors of Yale acceptance Bloom has inflicted himself on. But aback a able and acute biographer like Cynthia Ozick attacks Eliot as the apotheosis of a reactionary aerial ability whose time has passed, the aftereffect is far added shocking. In “T. S. Eliot at 101,” a continued and absinthian commodity arise in The New Yorker in 1989, Miss Ozick accumulated ad hominem acidity and fashionable cultural populism to advance both Eliot and the ambitious eyes of aerial art that he articulated. Eliot himself she castigated as an “autocratic,” “inhibited,” “narrow-minded,” and “considerably biased affected Englishman,” while at the aforementioned time abnegation the ability of aerial accession he represented as otiose. “High art,” Miss Ozick concluded, “is dead.”
One of the things that fabricated Cynthia Ozick’s achievement so atrocious was the actuality that she had ahead arrayed herself, if not on the ancillary of Eliot, exactly, again at atomic on the ancillary of the affectionate of calmness about art and ability that Eliot stood for. She presented her commodity as an exercise in “nostalgia.” In fact, it was a anatomy of departing defection. Lyndall Gordon’s new adventures of Eliot leaves one with a agnate feeling.
I say “new biography,” but in actuality T. S. Eliot: An Amiss Activity is a accumulation and amplification of Gordon’s two aboriginal volumes about Eliot, Eliot’s Aboriginal Years (1977) and Eliot’s New Activity (1988). In her exordium to the new volume, Gordon says that the afterlight and changes she fabricated “go above revision.” This is true. The beforehand volumes constituted a somewhat banal but able adventures of Eliot—with Peter Ackroyd’s T. S. Eliot: A Activity (1984), amid the first. But Gordon’s new book qualifies as an attack. She was never abounding with a allowance for narrative, but in her aboriginal volumes she presented the accouterments of Eliot’s activity and career acutely and succinctly. The new book introduces a blubbery brighten of animus. Gordon tells us that her aim was not to deflate Eliot but “to chase the trials of a searcher whose flaws and doubts allege to all of us whose lives are imperfect.” In fact, she never misses an befalling to highlight Eliot’s failings. It is about cool to analyze her new aggregate with its predecessors: everywhere she has affronted up the aggregate of criticism.
The aberration amid the aboriginal volumes and the present alms is abridged by a explanation in Gordon’s index. In the aboriginal volumes, beneath “Eliot, Thomas Stearns,” one finds the class “Opinions.” In the new book, that is adapt as “Opinions and Prejudices.” In the aboriginal biography, Gordon aggrandized at times on Eliot’s “misogyny.” There is a lot added of that now. She describes the agilely atrocious sports that Eliot beatific to accompany in belletrist as “loathsome things”: “There’s ailing acerbity here,” Gordon writes in one archetypal addition, “an obsessional abhorrence of women and sex, castigating in its virulence.”
In the new book, Gordon additionally predictably expatiates on Eliot’s anti-Semitism—a advance industry these days—going so far as to say that “he did not ascendancy aback from the mass-prejudice that played a allotment in the bigger atrociousness of the century.” Meaning what? That Eliot was some array of active Nazi? Eliot was assuredly anti-Semitic. Critics continued ago acicular out the scattering of anti-Semitic curve in Eliot’s balladry (“And the jew squats on the window sill,” “Rachel née Rabinowitz,” etc.). And the animadversion he fabricated in a 1933 alternation of lectures—published as Afterwards Aberrant Gods, a book he never reprinted—that “reasons of chase and adoration amalgamate to accomplish any ample cardinal of advanced Jews undesirable” bound became notorious.
But to insinuate, as Gordon does, a affiliation amid Eliot’s all-too-common cast of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust is preposterous. The adolescent Eliot may accept been a modernist, but there were aspects of change that abashed him. The complete enemies, he thought, were those aspects of modern, automated association that encouraged agreeable uprootedness and debilitated chain with the past. The problem, as he put it in The Idea of a Christian Association (1940), was the “tendency of complete affairs . . . to actualize bodies of men and women . . . detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and affected to accumulation suggestion: in added words a mob. And a mob will be no beneath a mob if it is able-bodied fed, able-bodied clothed, able-bodied housed, and able-bodied disciplined.” Of course, Eliot’s arch claims on our assimilation are as a artisan and a critic, not as a agreeable or political theorist. Nevertheless, there is some irony, as Hilton Kramer empiric in affiliation with the catechism of Eliot’s anti-Semitism, “that Eliot was himself an outstanding archetype of the deracinated cosmopolitanism he so abundant feared and despised. As a polyglot departer American who had burst his built-in roots in adjustment to accomplish his way in an conflicting association that was acutely adjoin to the accession he accomplished as a poet, Eliot activate himself as abundant at allowance with the ability and backroom of his adopted country as he believed himself to be with those of his homeland.”
None of these added issues is appropriately dealt with in Gordon’s biography. She is too active attractive for “strains of virulence” and “racial hatred.” This chase alike spills over into her comments on some abstracts who afflicted Eliot. Thus Jules Laforgue is accused of autograph “women-riddled poetry”—unlike the added kind, I suppose. Gordon has accumulated a lot of advice in her decades of assignment on Eliot. And she makes some memorable observations forth the way. About Eliot’s aboriginal cruise to Paris in 1910, for example, she addendum that breadth Laforgue afore him was a participant, Eliot was “an ambassador of vice. . . . While Laforgue tended to abuse women for his faculty of banality, Eliot understands the boiler of carnality itself.” Nevertheless, it is bright that whatever drew Gordon to Eliot to activate with was supplanted about forth the band with a army of fashionable grievances. There is alike a bit of bookish social-constructivism about sex: “Who can now determine,” she asks in a area about Eliot’s affiliation with his associate Jean Verdenal (to whom Prufrock and Added Observations is dedicated), “the exact agency bodies of the accomplished angled their inclinations in adjustment to assemble gender according to the cool models of adulthood and femininity?” Right: “And I Tiresias . . . ” Well, never mind.
In both the aboriginal adventures and the new work, Gordon says that her aim is “to trace the chain of Eliot’s career and to see the balladry and the activity as commutual genitalia of one design, a arresting chase for salvation.” Whether or not she succeeded, that aim was apparent in Eliot’s Aboriginal Years. In the new book, that aboriginal appetite is active beneath alternate litanies about Eliot’s “trajectory” “leaving burst lives in its wake” and his “intolerance for the masses, for women and Jews.” Gordon emits declarations of high-mindedness at approved intervals (“biography . . . can’t abate a man to the adversarial categories—guilty or not guilty—of the courtroom”), but again gain anon with some anathema abreast (“undoubtedly, an infection is there in Eliot—hate.”) Gordon’s acrimony alike extends to Eliot’s forebears. In her aboriginal biography, she tells us that Andrew Eliot “was believed to accept officiated at the Salem witch trials.” In her new afterlight we apprehend instead that “he was fatigued into the aberration of the Salem witch trials, breadth he accursed innocents to death.” The implication, presumably, is that we shouldn’t be afraid that Eliot affronted out to be a fanatic: afterwards all, the man had witch-burners in his background.
I beforehand quoted Edmund Wilson’s ascertainment that Eliot’s “verses accept an affecting vibration, a analytical activity of their own, that seems about to abstract them from the author.” Wilson continues: “Of no added poet, perhaps, does a bon mot of Cocteau’s assume so true: The artisan is a affectionate of bastille from which the works of art escape.”
This is true. And it is commodity that requires aberrant acumen and airiness from any biographer who wishes to present us with Eliot the artisan and not a affecting caricature. (Eliot actually declared that he did not appetite a biography: now we apperceive why.) Eliot is aces of assimilation not because he had assertive attitudes about women or Jews or apprenticeship or adoration of which we blame today. He is aces of assimilation aboriginal of all because he wrote balladry bedevilled of those “vibrations,” that “curious life,” of which Wilson spoke. Of advance there is a biographical allusive to abundant of Eliot’s poetry. And aback we apprehend this oft-quoted access in The Waste Land—
“My fretfulness are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me. “Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak. “What are you cerebration of? What thinking? What? “I never apperceive what you are thinking. Think.”
—it is conceivably anecdotic to apperceive that Eliot wrote best of the composition while recuperating from a afraid breakdown in 1921 and that his aboriginal wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, was a drug-sodden agitated invalid who eventually went mad. Bertrand Russell, who had an activity with Vivienne not continued afterwards she affiliated Eliot, wrote about it to a friend: “At aftermost I spent a night with her. It was complete hell. There was a affection of loathsomeness about it which I can’t describe.” “She gave the aftereffect of complete terror,” addition associate recalled,
of a actuality who’s apparent a abominable goblin. . . . Her face all fatigued and white, with wild, frightened, affronted eyes. An over-intensity over nothing, you see. Supposing you were to say to her, “Oh, will you accept some added cake,” she’d say “What’s that? What do you mean? What do you say that for?” She was terrifying. At the end of an hour I was actually exhausted, sucked dry. And I said to myself: Poor Tom, this is enough! But she was his brood all the same.
Well, maybe. Vivienne assuredly fabricated her contributions to Eliot’s work. (It was she, for example, who came up with the appellation for The Criterion: Eliot had advised to alarm it The London Review.) But lots of bodies accept hysterical, half-mad spouses. Few are abundant poets. Eliot himself already remarked that “various critics accept done me the honour to adapt [The Waste Land] in agreement of criticism of the abreast world, accept advised it, indeed, as an important bit of agreeable criticism. To me it was alone the abatement of a claimed and wholly bush bickering adjoin life; it was aloof a allotment of artful grumbling.” But that is disingenuous. The bickering may accept been claimed and insignificant; the poem—qua poem, not biographical artifact—is neither alone claimed nor insignificant. As Eliot abundantly acclaimed in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919),
It is not in his claimed emotions, the affections affronted by accurate contest in his life, that the artisan is in any way arresting or interesting. His accurate affections may be simple, or crude, or flat. The affect in his balladry will be a actual circuitous thing, but not with the complication of the affections of bodies who accept actual circuitous or abnormal affections in life. . . . Balladry is not a arbor apart of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the announcement of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, alone those who accept personality and affections apperceive what it agency to appetite to escape from these things.
For Eliot, autograph The Waste Acreage may accept been in allotment a claimed catharsis. For us, it is the impersonality of the affect that makes the composition significant. It speaks to us not of Eliot’s agony but of a agony inseparable from our culture.
The anarchy of Eliot’s affecting activity in the 1910s and 1920s did not anticipate him from anxiously stage-managing his arcane career. As anon as he gave up on an bookish career, in 1914, he threw himself into London arcane life. Autograph to his mother in 1919, he batten proudly of the “privileged position” he occupied: “There is a baby and baddest accessible which commendations me as the best active critic, as able-bodied as the best active poet, in England. . . . I actually anticipate that I accept far added access on English belletrist than any added American has anytime had, unless it be Henry James.” His pride was all the added justified because, as he acclaimed in addition letter, for an American, “getting accustomed in English belletrist is like breaking accessible a safe.” Eliot displayed abundant application and artfulness in his following of arcane fame. There are, he wrote to a above abecedary from Harvard in 1919,
alone two agency in which a biographer can become important—to address a abundant deal, and accept his writings arise everywhere, or to address actual little. It is a catechism of temperament. I address actual little, and I should not become added able by accretion my output. My acceptability in London is congenital aloft one baby aggregate of verse, and is kept up by columnist two or three added balladry in a year. The alone activity that affairs is that these should be complete in their kind, so that anniversary should be an event.
And so it was. Eliot’s calm poems, excluding the children’s verse, runs to one-hundred-and-forty-odd pages; thirty or added of those pages are accustomed over to “minor” or “unfinished” poems. But Eliot fabricated up in absorption what he lacked in quantity. From Prufrock through the Four Quartets, advertisement of Eliot’s balladry consistently was a galvanizing arcane event, arresting assimilation alike aback it did not arm-twist amateur assent.
The arch acumen that Eliot allowable the assimilation he did was absolutely the originality, power, and affection of his work. The assignment was the basal presupposition. But above that, Eliot activated aggregate he affected with a attenuate affection and coercion of conviction. “Culture,” he wrote in Addendum Towards the Analogue of Ability (1948), “may alike be authentic as that which makes activity account living.” And although afterwards his about-face he consistently beheld ability as inseparable from adoration (“if Christianity goes,” he wrote, “the accomplished of our ability goes”), he nonetheless announced through his balladry and criticism a faculty that affairs of great, of absolute, moment were actuality broached. To apprehend Eliot is an apprenticeship in calmness about the things that crave it. This is not to say that Eliot was consistently somber. Far from it. There is an aspect of casual archness in abundant of his work. W. H. Auden was appropriate that in the domiciliary that was T. S. Eliot, a august abbot lived calm with a querulous old barbarian woman who had accomplished famines, pogroms, the lot, as able-bodied as a arch boy decumbent to applied jokes. It is not hasty that the columnist of The Waste Acreage was additionally the columnist of Old Possum’s Book of Applied Cats or that he was an ardent adherent of amphitheater and the Marx Brothers. The abundant analyzer E. R. Curtius, who translated The Waste Acreage into German, recalled that aback he aboriginal apprehend the composition “it captivated me with abrupt and admirable flashes of abstruseness and music, with a beating happiness.”
At first, “resonant happiness” may assume odd. Afterwards all, as Curtius went on to note, “with Eliot the depressive aspect predominates.” In the aboriginal balladry there is generally a biting aura of impotence, exhaustion, dryness. Later, that arrangement of activity is captivated into an atmosphere of religious angst. And yet Curtius is right. Account Eliot imparts a appropriate faculty of buoyancy, of tensed vitality—in Edmund Wilson’s phrases, “vibrations” and “curious life.” One reason, I believe, is that Eliot is everywhere boarded on a boating of discovery. Abounding critics accept acclaimed a progression in Eliot’s development from the advancement of Arnold and Pater through acrid dejection to abandonment and, finally, Christian affirmation. I accept no agnosticism that there is some such development in Eliot’s thought. But the leitmotif of Eliot’s adventure is a appetite for reality. That appetite is the antecedent of the “resonant happiness” Curtius discerned. It is the antecedent of Eliot’s religious convictions—“Man is man,” he wrote in an commodity on humanism, “because he can admit abnormal realities, not because he can ad-lib them.” Eliot’s appetite for absoluteness additionally stands abaft his again admonitions about the perils of accepting artful substitutes. “We apperceive too abundant and are assertive of too little,” he warned in “A Dialogue on Dramatic Poetry.” “Our abstract is a acting for religion, and so is our religion.” In The Use of Balladry and the Use of Criticism (1933), he reflects added absolutely on this point.
Annihilation in this apple or the abutting is a acting for annihilation else; and if you acquisition you charge do after something, such as religious acceptance or abstract belief, again you charge aloof do after it. I can actuate myself . . . that some of the things that I can achievement to get are bigger account accepting than some of the things I cannot get; or I may achievement to adapt myself so as to appetite altered things; but I cannot actuate myself that it is the aforementioned desires that are satisifed, or that I accept in aftereffect the aforementioned activity beneath a altered name.
Eliot was bedeviled with reality. That is the ultimate antecedent of his ability as a artisan and his ascendancy as a critic. He was everywhere affianced in a action adjoin ersatz: bogus culture, bogus religion, bogus humanity. That, finally, is what makes alike the late, religious Eliot adapted to modernism: his agitation with imposture. In “Burnt Norton,” Eliot wrote that “human kind/ Cannot buck actual abundant reality.” It was his abandoned assignment to admonish us of this alike as he set about adulation us against greater and greater feats of endurance.
NotesGo to the top of the document.
Eliot smiled faintly—as admitting to say he was thoroughly accustomed with his balladry and didn’t charge me to recite them. So I took a bash at King Lear. . . . That, too, bootless to basin over the poet. He seemed added captivated in discussing Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera. He quoted a joke—one of mine—that I had continued aback forgotten. Now it was my about-face to smile faintly.” Go aback to the text.
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. His latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Ability and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine’s Press).
This commodity originally appeared in The New Criterion, Aggregate 18 Cardinal 2, on folio 18Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.comhttps://newcriterion.com/issues/1999/10/a-craving-for-reality-ts-eliot-today
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