23 July 2008

More on TS Eliot

Since we talked a little about Eliot's politics on Tuesday, I thought some of you might find the following useful. It's an extract from a longer piece by Terry Eagleton on Eliot's politics and poetics published in the London Review of Books:

"Yet as one who had never believed in liberalism, Romanticism or humanism in the first place, he was energised as well as alarmed by the cataclysm. It may have helped to put him into a sanatorium, but it also turned his thoughts towards a constructive solution. If civilisation lay in ruins, then there was a momentous opportunity to sweep away this heap of broken images and start afresh. Or rather, start once more with the good old things, moving forward to a classical, orderly, tradition-bound past in the face of that squalid cult of anarchic subjectivism, self-expressive personality, economic laissez-faire, Protestant ‘inner light’ and Bolshevik subversion which Eliot lumped together with cavalier indiscriminateness under the name of ‘Whiggery’.

"This Janus-faced temporality, in which one turns to the resources of the pre-modern in order to move backwards into a future that has transcended modernity altogether, is at the heart of Modernism. The pre-modern in Eliot’s poetry is a matter of Fisher Kings and fertility cults; in his prose it is a question of classical order, Tory traditionalism and the Christian church. In both cases, however, a discredited individualism must yield to a more corporate form of being, roughly at the time when laissez-faire capitalism was giving way to its international monopoly version. Whether as slain god or submissive Christian, the point of having a self is to give it away. It is the Romantic-humanist heresy which holds that we should nurture our egos rather than abnegate them. ‘Tradition’ is the order to which the poet must perpetually surrender his selfhood, and writing a poem involves an extinction of personality rather than an affirmation of it. It is no accident that Eliot wrote his doctoral thesis on the philosopher F.H. Bradley, late Victorian deconstructor of the autonomous self. As a rootless, sexually ambiguous American √©migr√© turned pin-striped London banker, his own personal version of that entity had been in question for some time."

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