Modernism and T. S. Eliot

Modernism and T. S. Eliot The appearance in 2015 of a new edition of Eliot’s complete poems, with its staggeringly detailed commentary, was an invitation to ponder once more the major contribution he made to what became known in academic circles as modernism. It was the Nobel laureate Peter Medawar who once wondered whether ‘doctrinaire psychoanalysis’ was not perhaps ‘the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century’.1 Anyone who proposed modernism as a strong candidate for second place would need to remember that having ideas that turn out to be false does not in itself make someone a confidence trickster. Only if the manner in which they are set out, and urged on the public, involves some degree of self-interest and deception might such a harsh term begin to seem justified. Modernism in Britain was crucially dependent of a number of ideas Eliot put forward in the years immediately following the First World War. The most well-known of these is the notion that ‘the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates’.2 The impersonality of great art appears to have been very much in the air as Eliot was making his mark. In one of the essays in the collection he called The Sacred Wood, published in 1920, he quotes with approval an obscure French critic who had written that ‘there is a literary beauty which is in some ways impersonal and perfectly distinct from the make-up of the author himself’.3 As far as the specifically English context is concerned, Eliot’s attitude could be seen as a response to a way of thinking that can be traced back to the preface to Lyrical Ballads, in which it is assumed that poets are people of powerful and interesting feelings, so that the more powerful and interesting those feelings are, the better poets they will be. This deflection away from the problems of composition no doubt gave rise to much artless self-expression, but if this is the tendency against which Eliot is protesting, his response to it is peculiar and extreme. ‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion’, he writes in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, the essay where most of his most frequently quoted formulations about impersonality appear, and that is no doubt quite true; yet it is a surprise to find him continuing immediately with ‘but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality’ (the repetition of ‘escape’ saves any commentator who finds the eyebrows lifting from having to put that word in italics). The impression here of inadvertent self-revelation is not lessened by Eliot ending this section of his essay with the foppish: ‘But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things’ (SE, p. 21). The progress of the real artist involves what in Eliot’s view is ‘a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality’, and to help his reader conceive the creative mind of such a person he famously compares it to the filament of platinum which is the catalyst when oxygen and sulphur dioxide come together to produce sulphurous acid but remains itself ‘inert, neutral and unchanged’ (p. 18). Asking how such a strange analogy came to be so successful is almost as puzzling as wondering why Freud’s theory of penis envy should have once enjoyed so much success, although it is only fair to point out that Eliot himself was inclined to find the way in which some of his early ideas about literature caught on embarrassing, and that he later modified many of them. An important factor in their catching on so quickly, however, is what he himself, in the preface to the 1928 edition of The Sacred Wood, referred to as ‘an assumption of pontifical solemnity’. Certainly he is able to adopt an air of authority quite alien to, for example, Virginia Woolf’s suggestion in Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown that ‘on or about December 1910 human character changed’;4 and this is bolstered by his apparent scientific expertise and his quotations in several different foreign languages. The combination can make him intimidating, and by failing to offer a challenge many of his subsequent commentators have heavily reinforced the intimidation factor. At first sight impersonality would seem a strange creed for Eliot to have adopted, given that the bulk of his poetry strikes most readers as being, however obscurely or obliquely, confessional – that is to say that it appears to arise from an urgent need to express powerful and troubling feelings, and in particular those associated with sex and guilt. One obvious way poets might unburden themselves of these is through the adoption of masks, or in the bringing together of a number of these masks (or personae) into a drama so that they form ‘an objective correlative’, that term from Eliot’s essay on Hamlet which had such a world-wide success. His complaint in the Hamlet essay is that the play is an ‘artistic failure’ because it is ‘full of some stuff that the writer could not drag to light, contemplate, or manipulate into art’ (SE, p. 144), phrases which imply a creative process not easy to reconcile with his filament of platinum. Whether or not his own ‘stuff’ is always successfully manipulated into art remains an open question, but if a good deal of it could be described as impersonal it is not because of any perfect artistry, but rather that so much of it has not been dragged into the light. Neither has it been contemplated, if what that word implies is a process of self-understanding which facilitates a similar degree of comprehension in the reader. The adoption of a mask is characteristic of some of Eliot’s early poetry, and in particular ‘Prufrock’. In the course of this poem the protagonist feels he should have been ‘a pair of ragged claws | Scuttling across the floors of silent seas’, an anticipation perhaps of the moment in ‘The Hollow Men’ when the speaking voice asks to be able to wear ‘Such deliberate disguises | Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves | In a field | Behaving as the wind behaves’, in order to avoid the eyes it ‘dare not meet in dreams’.5 The disguise in ‘Prufrock’ is in general more recognisably human and Browningesque, as well as a great success, however much the evocation of tortured self-consciousness might suggest not the adult which Prufrock appears to be, but a prematurely aged adolescent. The poem is full of memorable passages, but its deliberate lack of specificity and narrative coherence would make it difficult to connect anything in it with its author’s own experience, quite apart from its adoption of a mask. In one of its many fine moments, Prufrock speaks of ‘The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, | And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, | When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall …’ (Poems, p. 7). However much this may be Prufrock’s sense of things, his creator refuses to be pinned down, and this is also true of a shorter but also much admired and anthologised poem from the Prufrock collection, ‘La Figlia Che Piange’. One important feature of Eliot’s remarkable ability as a poet can be found in his lyrical evocation of moods which it is convenient to call romantic and which the first stanza of ‘La Figlia’ illustrates very well. The picture painted there of a girl standing on the top of some steps while the sunlight plays in her hair would be one of uncomplicated beauty were it not that all but one line in this first stanza begin with an imperative (‘Stand … Lean … Weave …’); but Eliot raises an expectation of the slight puzzle this creates being dissipated when, at the beginning of the second stanza, he introduces the autobiographical ‘I’: ‘So I would have him leave, | So I would have had her stand and grieve, | So he would have left | As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, | As the mind deserts the body it has used’. In a manipulation of pronouns which would become typical, the reader is here left unsure whether the ‘I’ of the poem is merely imagining a certain scenario, remembering how the weeping girl was deserted by a third party, or remembering how she was deserted by himself. The dilemma this manipulation creates is hardly solved by the third stanza, where the poet remembers the girl with ‘her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers’ and wonders ‘how they should have been together’, before ending with: ‘Sometimes these cogitations still amaze | The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose’ (Poems, p. 28). The tone of this too neat finale would appear to come from the same dandyish part of Eliot that is responsible for saying that only those who have personality and emotions know what it is to want to escape them. Assuming the ‘they’ referred to excludes the narrator, and picking up on this tone, one could treat the whole poem as no more than an exercise in late nineteenth-century aestheticism; yet in that case one might wonder what those images about the soul leaving the body torn and bruised, or the mind deserting the used body, are doing in it. It is not so much that one would like to know whether there were any specific aspects of Eliot’s own experience with which this poem is associated, but rather that one would like to have more clues about what would be an appropriate response to the action it relates. If these clues are not available, it is because the feelings that one can reasonably assume lie behind the poem have neither been escaped nor extinguished, as they would need to be in Eliot’s notion of the perfect artist, but are instead heavily camouflaged. Later in his career Eliot admitted that there were sometimes ‘personal causes’ which forced him to express himself obscurely.6 This was less impressive, if more honest, than affirming that the more a poet could separate himself from his feelings, the more of an artist he would be; yet that affirmation provided a convenient dogma for anyone who might be caught in the trap of wanting to yield to the pressure of feelings while at the same time not reveal how personal those feelings were. In the chapter on Mallarmé in Arthur Symons’s The Symbolist Movement in Literature (an important early influence on Eliot), the French poet is described as loving literature too much to write it except by fragments. But even more relevant here is Symons’s praise of Mallarmé for his obscurity: The oracles have always had the wisdom to hide their secrets in the obscurity of many meanings, or of what has seemed meaningless; and might it not, after all, be the finest epitaph for a self-respecting man of letters to be able to say, even after the writing of many books: I have kept my secret, I have not betrayed myself to the multitude.7 The implication in much of Eliot’s early poetry is that this is an epitaph he also would like to have earned. The curse of modernism has always been the demon of false analogy. Rémy de Gourmont, one of the critics who most inspired Eliot in his youth, writes in The Problem of Style: ‘For the people at large, everything depends on the subject of the poem or picture but what matters for the “intellectual” is the way that subject is treated.’ In an essay called ‘La deshumanización del arte’, which first appeared in a collection in 1925 when it set out many of the then current commonplaces about modern literature and art, Ortega y Gasset repeats this idea in much the same terms, insisting that the chief characteristic of modernism is an exclusive concentration on form rather than content. Like de Gourmont, he takes his illustrations from painting, where they are easier to find.8 A mid-Victorian representation of a family at tea, for example, might well excite all kinds of irrelevant interests associated with the people depicted; but these become less available when a similar subject is treated by a cubist, and are not available at all in the case of an abstract painting. Then the viewer has no choice but to concentrate on form, colour, contrast, and all the formal features of the painting in question. But language is not like paint: although words have sound and (in combination) rhythm, they also carry a sense. The false analogy which bedevils their use in poetry is not only with painting therefore, although that occurs often enough, but also with music. As the beginning of ‘La Figlia’ shows (and a poem like ‘Marina’ more clearly), the sound of Eliot’s poetry is often alluring so that it benefits from being read out; but he is not inclined to tuneful gibberish, and in a lecture he gave in 1942 made many of the essential distinctions. ‘The music of poetry is not something which exists apart from its meaning’, he said, clearly indicating that to call poetry musical could only ever be a metaphor; and later: ‘I doubt whether, from the point of view of sound alone, any word is more or less beautiful than another.’9 Yet thirteen years earlier it seems that he was referring largely to the sound and rhythm of poetry when he wrote that ‘I was passionately fond of certain French poetry long before I could have translated two verses of it correctly’, and he followed this up with a claim which is endlessly quoted as an encouragement to those who find much of his poetry obscure: ‘It is a test (a positive test, I do not assert that it is always valid negatively), that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.’10 If a negative test means that poetry which readers understand as they are reading it is not genuine, it is a relief that Eliot does not regard this as always the case. But the interpretation of his words is not easy. The most natural construction to put on them would seem to be that one may be attracted to several kinds of verse which only later, after further frequentation, or on further familiarity with a foreign language, become fully comprehensible. Yet if one assumes that the authors of the ‘certain French poetry’ to which Eliot refers are writers such as Mallarmé and Laforgue, which is not unreasonable given our knowledge of his tastes, then that reading becomes less obvious and perhaps much less a question of habituation or simple language learning. In a study in whose title the term ‘difficult’ seems to have been chosen quite deliberately, perhaps because, unlike ‘obscurity’, that word tends to shift responsibility away from the poet to the reader, Malcolm Bowie once tried to come to terms with two famous examples from Mallarmé’s later work and, in doing so, claimed that the difficulty resulted from their being ‘concerned with open metaphysical questions’, and that they represented ‘an intended and scrupulous indecision on the poet’s part’. ‘Our most important collaboration with the poet’, he wrote, ‘begins when we ourselves begin to be uncertain.’11 In the light of these remarks one might conclude that the notion of progressive enlightenment is too conventional to be applied to Eliot’s influential dictum, and that behind it lies the thought that genuine poetry can communicate even when it is never going to be understood. It would of course be wrong to assume his words are self-serving when what they mean is not made clear; but they have certainly been used by his followers to persuade generations of readers that the fog in which they occasionally find themselves (reading a poet they can never be sure they fully understand) is good for their lungs. What makes Eliot’s poetry so often difficult or obscure is the way in which it is composed of a series of pictures, mini-episodes, images or – to use the word as it was applied to some late nineteenth-century French poetry – symbols. As his commentators regularly illustrate, although these would appear to carry a powerful emotional charge, they are decipherable only in the most general terms. They are like the components of a bad dream which Eliot finds therapeutic relief in expressing, often in a hauntingly impressive fashion, but shows, in spite of the popularity of Freud in his day, no particular inclination to interpret. In the early part of his career especially, it was characteristic of him to compose in these short Imagist fragments (as his friend Pound might have said) and then look for some method of combining them. This is clear enough in The Waste Land, that most exemplary of modernist texts. Like ‘Prufrock’, but even more so, this poem is full of memorable passages which exhibit an impressive variety of poetic power and virtuosity; but that it has any overall structure and coherence became one of the major delusions of Anglo-American culture. How it was put together was illustrated when a facsimile of the rough draft which Pound helped to adapt for publication became available, and it was revealed that the section of the poem entitled ‘Death by Water’ had been reduced from ninety-two lines to ten, so that all it then consisted of was an effective translation of verses about a drowned Phoenician merchant which had originally been part of a poem by Eliot in French called ‘Dans le restaurant’. Alarmed by Pound’s comments and excisions, he asked whether this ought not to go also. On grounds of poetic quality Pound was right to reply in the negative, but the suggestion he made that they were worth keeping because the ‘drowned Phoenician sailor’ had already been mentioned as one of the cards in Madame Sosostris’s Tarot pack in the poem’s first section (‘The Burial of the Dead’) is misleading.12 It falsely implies that the mere previous naming of this figure, who occupies the whole of section IV, is part of a subterranean network which unifies the whole. There is apparently no drowned sailor in the Tarot pack, but then, in the infamous ‘Notes on the Waste Land’, Eliot cheerfully admits, ‘I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed for my own convenience’ (Poems, p. 73). These words capture well the tone of the notes, which constitute one of the blackest marks in the history of how modernism came to be established. It was with the same nonchalance that Eliot sent readers on a wild goose chase of anthropological reading in the vain hope of discovering the poem’s missing structure; but the prime exhibit here is his note on Tiresias. This name occurs only during the description in section III (‘The Fire Sermon’) of how a typist indulges in meaningless sex with a ‘young man carbuncular’, but it elicits a remark from Eliot which would be far too familiar to be worth quoting were it not that its shamelessness needs constant stressing: Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a ‘character’, is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. (Poems, p. 74)13 Even Eliot’s most fervent admirers have found it hard to believe that that this is anything more than outrageous bluff. The easiest way to characterise its spirit, and that of the notes in general, might be to recall Joyce’s well-known words to his French translator: ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.’14 From the beginning, many of those not entirely taken in by the notes have suggested that The Waste Land does have a unity, but one rather different from the one proposed here by its author. In 1926, for example, I. A. Richards appended to his Principles of Literary Criticism a note on Eliot in which he claimed that the various parts of the poem were ‘united by the accord, contrast, and interaction of their emotional effects, not by an intellectual scheme that analysis must work out’; and he added: ‘The value lies in the unified response which this interaction creates in the right reader’, which was to leave the problem of the putative unity of The Waste Land exactly where he found it.15 Others, at more or less the same time and indeed since, have claimed that what unity there is lies, not in the unified response of right readers but in the consciousness of the author. It is true of course that in Eliot’s work as a whole there are a certain number of recurring preoccupations or obsessions – forsaken girls, desert landscapes, images of seafaring – which might be said to act as Wagnerian motifs, and also a predominating emotional tone. To suggest, however, that these give structure to The Waste Land would seem to me to be equivalent to saying that the only criterion for unity in a literary work of art is that it should all have been written by the same person. The poem was certainly written by one person, and the consciousness it everywhere exhibits is highly distinctive, but that does not make the way it is put together seem any the less arbitrary. The Waste Land is not necessarily a less interesting and valuable work without the structure Eliot claims for it (and it is the way he makes his claim which principally concerns me); and as a source of reader discomfort its fragmentary nature has in any case usually been dwarfed by a feature so often discussed that there is good reason for giving it short shrift here: the omnipresence of either quotations from or allusions to other literary works. Some of these the educated reader might reasonably be expected to recognise, but many are highly recondite and only identifiable with the help of Eliot’s notes (or the new edition). Just how many of them are effective or necessary will always be a matter for debate. But what matters in this context is the way the world was persuaded that their heterogeneity was not only a consequence of a particular writer’s temperament, background, and educational training, the combination of circumstances which make it possible to describe the early Eliot as cosmopolitan, but an inevitable aspect of the culture in which people were then living. The smorgasbord of literary allusions in The Waste Land, that is, was interpreted as a reflection of the cultural confusion which had overtaken Europe during and after the First World War and was one of the more powerful reasons why it could so easily be adopted as the ideal representative text of its time, one that articulated, as I. A. Richards put it in the note from which I have just quoted, ‘the plight of a whole generation’. This designation of The Waste Land as representative may have been chiefly the work of commentators rather than Eliot himself, but in the 1920s he did make at least one powerful contribution to the efforts then being made to see the poem as culturally or sociologically rather than merely critically significant. Even more important for the invention of modernism than his ‘doctrine’ of impersonality, that is, would be the idea he put forward that the way he wrote was a consequence of the increasingly complex society in which he lived: We can only say that it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning. (SE, p. 289) These words come from a review essay on the ‘Metaphysical Poets’ which Eliot first published in 1921. They were part of a renewed interest in writers such as Donne and his contemporaries who, with their inclination to incorporate references to the latest scientific discoveries in their work, and their reliance on the diction and conversational rhythms of ordinary speech, provided a bracing contrast to the kind of poetry which had been popular just before the war. Eliot argued that they offered better models for modern poets than Milton or Dryden, but implicitly attributed any difficulty one might have in emulating them to a radical change which had taken place in the seventeenth century, and from which English culture had never recovered. He called this change a ‘dissociation of sensibility’, a separation of the intellect from the feelings. ‘Tennyson and Browning are poets, and they think’, he explained, ‘but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose. A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility’ (SE, p. 287). That modern poetry has to be difficult because modern civilisation has become so complex, and that in a previous age men and women felt their thoughts, are two of the core beliefs on which one important element in British modernism was founded. Both of them were expressed in so confidently sweeping a fashion, and at the same time were so lacking in specificity, that they presented considerable problems for anyone who might have wanted to challenge them. It seems relatively clear that English civilisation has become more complex, or at least more varied, since the Reformation; but the question in these matters is always: For whom? Can we say for certain that it was less so for Shakespeare than for Eliot? Industrialisation is one of the factors which has made for variety, and perhaps complexity, and was well on its way when Wordsworth wrote his preface to the Lyrical Ballads. There was also, at that time, great political turmoil comparable to that which accompanied the First World War. Yet his response was to try and persuade the public to take seriously, not poems like ‘Gerontion’ or ‘Ash Wednesday’, but ‘We are Seven’. As for a ‘dissociation of sensibility’, as an event in time, that is like the Loch Ness monster, more talked about than witnessed, and Eliot himself later moved back its inception from the period of Donne to that of Dante. To suggest how the situation might be retrieved he quoted in his essay on the metaphysicals a passage from Laforgue’s Derniers vers, although he did not identify it as such, and then claimed, in what is perhaps one of the strangest literary judgements he ever made, that it was ‘curiously similar’ to what one finds in Donne. ‘O géraniums diaphanes, guerroyeurs sortilèges, | Sacrilèges monomanes! | Emballages, dévergondages, douches!’ this untranslatable passage begins. Dr Johnson’s well-known complaint was that in metaphysical poetry ‘the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’. It is obvious enough that in Laforgue some of the effect depends on incongruous juxtapositions, but the method could hardly be more radically different from that of a poet like Donne, who is certainly fond of bringing together material from very diverse areas of human experience but who then either works hard to justify his juxtapositions, as in his extended similes, or relies on his readers’ quick wit to recognise the surprising ways in which they turn out to be apt. The manner in which he does this is a reminder that many of those readers came from the Inns of Court. The material brought together is certainly heterogeneous and sometimes tasteless, even by our own and not by Johnsonian standards; but if that makes him and the other metaphysicals difficult, it is in a way quite different from Laforgue, and not only because of his and their unavoidable lack of exposure to the consequences of a decaying late Romanticism. Donne is often hard to understand because his mind moves so quickly, and he sometimes requires of his readers what can seem like an unreasonable degree of intellectual as well as emotional agility. With Laforgue, on the other hand, the problems arise from too many of the associations which have been attached to certain words or images remaining private ‘“Geraniums” would appear to be some private sexual image’ says one of his commentators, although he does not then explain why they should be diaphanous or sacrilege monomaniacal, nor remove the suspicion that the three nouns which complete the quotation above are chiefly present for their sound.16 What is so different from the metaphysicals is that Laforgue proceeds in what appears to be a defiantly non-logical fashion, and it is hard (I would say impossible) to see why the problems this causes should be the responsibility of the material culture, or civilisation, in which he lived; or how his lines could be a contribution to the recovery of that blending of thought and feeling allegedly to be found in Donne. In spite of having edited an influential literary journal, and occupying an important post in a major London publishing firm, Eliot sometimes expressed surprise as well as embarrassment at the spectacular success of several of his early ideas about literature. That there was self-interest in what he had to say about the impersonality of great art, the necessary difficulty of poetry in modern times, or how the dissociation of sensibility contributed to that difficulty would seem obvious enough; but it hardly makes him a confidence trickster. After all, poets have traditionally tried to create the taste by which they could be appreciated, as Wordsworth and Coleridge were probably not the first to illustrate. That in performing this task so effectively Eliot also managed to lay the foundations of at least one version of modernism is probably a case of unintended consequences. He could hardly have foreseen that his ‘pontifical air’ and remarkable gift for a telling phrase would lead to thousands of university students poring over ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, or his essay on the metaphysical poets, in a reverently hermeneutic spirit. And there was of course the undoubted power of his poetry to justify close attention to his essays even if he often seemed to be, like Mallarmé in Symons’s characterisation of him, too respectful of literature ever to write in more than fragments. ‘Sensibility alters from generation to generation’, Eliot once wrote, ‘but expression is only altered by a man of genius.’17 Given the powerful impact his poetic idiom must have made on those looking for new ways of expression after the First World War, it was perhaps inevitable that he should have been singled out as the poet who could be assigned that role in what was then the modern world. From many points of view the assignation was well deserved, but the problem with the word ‘genius’ is that it suggests that someone who excels in one area can do no wrong in another. Writing passages of impressive poetry and explaining how they should be read are, however, two different operations. Never trust the artist, trust the tale, as someone once said who, while much further removed from the centres of social and literary power than Eliot, also had a gift for a telling phrase. Footnotes 1 The review, which originally appeared in the New York Review of Books in 1975, is reprinted in Medawar’s Pluto’s Republic (Oxford 1982) pp. 136–40. 2 Eliot, Selected Essays (London 1932) p. 18; hereafter SE. There is a modification of Eliot’s ideas on impersonality in the introduction he provided for an English translation of Valéry’s poem Le Serpent, published in 1924. These seem barely less coherent than the formulations in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, but it is in any case the astonishing success of those which concerns me here. 3 The Sacred Wood (London 1920) p. 40. 4 Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown (London 1924) p. 4. 5 The Poems of T. S. Eliot, ed. Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue (London 2015) pp. 7, 82. Hereafter Poems. 6 See Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London 1933) p. 150. 7 Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (London 1908) p. 182. 8 Le Problème du style (Paris 1902) pp. 193–4, and see the translation of Ortega y Gasset’s essay in The Dehumanization of Art and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature (Princeton 1968). 9 See Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (London 1957) pp. 29, 32. 10 From ‘Dante’, SE, p. 238. 11 Malcolm Bowie, Mallarmé and the Art of Being Difficult (Cambridge 1978) p. x. 12 For the exchange with Pound see The Letters of T. S. Eliot, ed. Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (London 2009) i. 629–30. 13 There is of course a debate about whether the notes were ever meant by Eliot to be taken seriously. I am less interested here in the motives behind them than their effect, but on the first point see Bernard Sharratt, On Eliot: These Fragments (New Crisis Quarterly, 2015), and in particular pp. 60–1. 14 Quoted by Richard Ellmann in his revised edition of James Joyce (Oxford 1983) p. 521. 15 I. A. Richards, The Principles of Literary Criticism (London 1926) p. 290. 16 Poems of Jules Laforgue, ed. J. A. Hiddleston (Oxford 1975) p. 293. 17 The phrase comes from an introduction Eliot wrote for an edition of Dr Johnson’s London and The Vanity Human Wishes, published in 1930. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Cambridge Quarterly. All rights reserved. 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Modernism and T. S. Eliot

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Abstract

The appearance in 2015 of a new edition of Eliot’s complete poems, with its staggeringly detailed commentary, was an invitation to ponder once more the major contribution he made to what became known in academic circles as modernism. It was the Nobel laureate Peter Medawar who once wondered whether ‘doctrinaire psychoanalysis’ was not perhaps ‘the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century’.1 Anyone who proposed modernism as a strong candidate for second place would need to remember that having ideas that turn out to be false does not in itself make someone a confidence trickster. Only if the manner in which they are set out, and urged on the public, involves some degree of self-interest and deception might such a harsh term begin to seem justified. Modernism in Britain was crucially dependent of a number of ideas Eliot put forward in the years immediately following the First World War. The most well-known of these is the notion that ‘the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates’.2 The impersonality of great art appears to have been very much in the air as Eliot was making his mark. In one of the essays in the collection he called The Sacred Wood, published in 1920, he quotes with approval an obscure French critic who had written that ‘there is a literary beauty which is in some ways impersonal and perfectly distinct from the make-up of the author himself’.3 As far as the specifically English context is concerned, Eliot’s attitude could be seen as a response to a way of thinking that can be traced back to the preface to Lyrical Ballads, in which it is assumed that poets are people of powerful and interesting feelings, so that the more powerful and interesting those feelings are, the better poets they will be. This deflection away from the problems of composition no doubt gave rise to much artless self-expression, but if this is the tendency against which Eliot is protesting, his response to it is peculiar and extreme. ‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion’, he writes in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, the essay where most of his most frequently quoted formulations about impersonality appear, and that is no doubt quite true; yet it is a surprise to find him continuing immediately with ‘but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality’ (the repetition of ‘escape’ saves any commentator who finds the eyebrows lifting from having to put that word in italics). The impression here of inadvertent self-revelation is not lessened by Eliot ending this section of his essay with the foppish: ‘But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things’ (SE, p. 21). The progress of the real artist involves what in Eliot’s view is ‘a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality’, and to help his reader conceive the creative mind of such a person he famously compares it to the filament of platinum which is the catalyst when oxygen and sulphur dioxide come together to produce sulphurous acid but remains itself ‘inert, neutral and unchanged’ (p. 18). Asking how such a strange analogy came to be so successful is almost as puzzling as wondering why Freud’s theory of penis envy should have once enjoyed so much success, although it is only fair to point out that Eliot himself was inclined to find the way in which some of his early ideas about literature caught on embarrassing, and that he later modified many of them. An important factor in their catching on so quickly, however, is what he himself, in the preface to the 1928 edition of The Sacred Wood, referred to as ‘an assumption of pontifical solemnity’. Certainly he is able to adopt an air of authority quite alien to, for example, Virginia Woolf’s suggestion in Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown that ‘on or about December 1910 human character changed’;4 and this is bolstered by his apparent scientific expertise and his quotations in several different foreign languages. The combination can make him intimidating, and by failing to offer a challenge many of his subsequent commentators have heavily reinforced the intimidation factor. At first sight impersonality would seem a strange creed for Eliot to have adopted, given that the bulk of his poetry strikes most readers as being, however obscurely or obliquely, confessional – that is to say that it appears to arise from an urgent need to express powerful and troubling feelings, and in particular those associated with sex and guilt. One obvious way poets might unburden themselves of these is through the adoption of masks, or in the bringing together of a number of these masks (or personae) into a drama so that they form ‘an objective correlative’, that term from Eliot’s essay on Hamlet which had such a world-wide success. His complaint in the Hamlet essay is that the play is an ‘artistic failure’ because it is ‘full of some stuff that the writer could not drag to light, contemplate, or manipulate into art’ (SE, p. 144), phrases which imply a creative process not easy to reconcile with his filament of platinum. Whether or not his own ‘stuff’ is always successfully manipulated into art remains an open question, but if a good deal of it could be described as impersonal it is not because of any perfect artistry, but rather that so much of it has not been dragged into the light. Neither has it been contemplated, if what that word implies is a process of self-understanding which facilitates a similar degree of comprehension in the reader. The adoption of a mask is characteristic of some of Eliot’s early poetry, and in particular ‘Prufrock’. In the course of this poem the protagonist feels he should have been ‘a pair of ragged claws | Scuttling across the floors of silent seas’, an anticipation perhaps of the moment in ‘The Hollow Men’ when the speaking voice asks to be able to wear ‘Such deliberate disguises | Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves | In a field | Behaving as the wind behaves’, in order to avoid the eyes it ‘dare not meet in dreams’.5 The disguise in ‘Prufrock’ is in general more recognisably human and Browningesque, as well as a great success, however much the evocation of tortured self-consciousness might suggest not the adult which Prufrock appears to be, but a prematurely aged adolescent. The poem is full of memorable passages, but its deliberate lack of specificity and narrative coherence would make it difficult to connect anything in it with its author’s own experience, quite apart from its adoption of a mask. In one of its many fine moments, Prufrock speaks of ‘The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, | And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, | When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall …’ (Poems, p. 7). However much this may be Prufrock’s sense of things, his creator refuses to be pinned down, and this is also true of a shorter but also much admired and anthologised poem from the Prufrock collection, ‘La Figlia Che Piange’. One important feature of Eliot’s remarkable ability as a poet can be found in his lyrical evocation of moods which it is convenient to call romantic and which the first stanza of ‘La Figlia’ illustrates very well. The picture painted there of a girl standing on the top of some steps while the sunlight plays in her hair would be one of uncomplicated beauty were it not that all but one line in this first stanza begin with an imperative (‘Stand … Lean … Weave …’); but Eliot raises an expectation of the slight puzzle this creates being dissipated when, at the beginning of the second stanza, he introduces the autobiographical ‘I’: ‘So I would have him leave, | So I would have had her stand and grieve, | So he would have left | As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, | As the mind deserts the body it has used’. In a manipulation of pronouns which would become typical, the reader is here left unsure whether the ‘I’ of the poem is merely imagining a certain scenario, remembering how the weeping girl was deserted by a third party, or remembering how she was deserted by himself. The dilemma this manipulation creates is hardly solved by the third stanza, where the poet remembers the girl with ‘her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers’ and wonders ‘how they should have been together’, before ending with: ‘Sometimes these cogitations still amaze | The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose’ (Poems, p. 28). The tone of this too neat finale would appear to come from the same dandyish part of Eliot that is responsible for saying that only those who have personality and emotions know what it is to want to escape them. Assuming the ‘they’ referred to excludes the narrator, and picking up on this tone, one could treat the whole poem as no more than an exercise in late nineteenth-century aestheticism; yet in that case one might wonder what those images about the soul leaving the body torn and bruised, or the mind deserting the used body, are doing in it. It is not so much that one would like to know whether there were any specific aspects of Eliot’s own experience with which this poem is associated, but rather that one would like to have more clues about what would be an appropriate response to the action it relates. If these clues are not available, it is because the feelings that one can reasonably assume lie behind the poem have neither been escaped nor extinguished, as they would need to be in Eliot’s notion of the perfect artist, but are instead heavily camouflaged. Later in his career Eliot admitted that there were sometimes ‘personal causes’ which forced him to express himself obscurely.6 This was less impressive, if more honest, than affirming that the more a poet could separate himself from his feelings, the more of an artist he would be; yet that affirmation provided a convenient dogma for anyone who might be caught in the trap of wanting to yield to the pressure of feelings while at the same time not reveal how personal those feelings were. In the chapter on Mallarmé in Arthur Symons’s The Symbolist Movement in Literature (an important early influence on Eliot), the French poet is described as loving literature too much to write it except by fragments. But even more relevant here is Symons’s praise of Mallarmé for his obscurity: The oracles have always had the wisdom to hide their secrets in the obscurity of many meanings, or of what has seemed meaningless; and might it not, after all, be the finest epitaph for a self-respecting man of letters to be able to say, even after the writing of many books: I have kept my secret, I have not betrayed myself to the multitude.7 The implication in much of Eliot’s early poetry is that this is an epitaph he also would like to have earned. The curse of modernism has always been the demon of false analogy. Rémy de Gourmont, one of the critics who most inspired Eliot in his youth, writes in The Problem of Style: ‘For the people at large, everything depends on the subject of the poem or picture but what matters for the “intellectual” is the way that subject is treated.’ In an essay called ‘La deshumanización del arte’, which first appeared in a collection in 1925 when it set out many of the then current commonplaces about modern literature and art, Ortega y Gasset repeats this idea in much the same terms, insisting that the chief characteristic of modernism is an exclusive concentration on form rather than content. Like de Gourmont, he takes his illustrations from painting, where they are easier to find.8 A mid-Victorian representation of a family at tea, for example, might well excite all kinds of irrelevant interests associated with the people depicted; but these become less available when a similar subject is treated by a cubist, and are not available at all in the case of an abstract painting. Then the viewer has no choice but to concentrate on form, colour, contrast, and all the formal features of the painting in question. But language is not like paint: although words have sound and (in combination) rhythm, they also carry a sense. The false analogy which bedevils their use in poetry is not only with painting therefore, although that occurs often enough, but also with music. As the beginning of ‘La Figlia’ shows (and a poem like ‘Marina’ more clearly), the sound of Eliot’s poetry is often alluring so that it benefits from being read out; but he is not inclined to tuneful gibberish, and in a lecture he gave in 1942 made many of the essential distinctions. ‘The music of poetry is not something which exists apart from its meaning’, he said, clearly indicating that to call poetry musical could only ever be a metaphor; and later: ‘I doubt whether, from the point of view of sound alone, any word is more or less beautiful than another.’9 Yet thirteen years earlier it seems that he was referring largely to the sound and rhythm of poetry when he wrote that ‘I was passionately fond of certain French poetry long before I could have translated two verses of it correctly’, and he followed this up with a claim which is endlessly quoted as an encouragement to those who find much of his poetry obscure: ‘It is a test (a positive test, I do not assert that it is always valid negatively), that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.’10 If a negative test means that poetry which readers understand as they are reading it is not genuine, it is a relief that Eliot does not regard this as always the case. But the interpretation of his words is not easy. The most natural construction to put on them would seem to be that one may be attracted to several kinds of verse which only later, after further frequentation, or on further familiarity with a foreign language, become fully comprehensible. Yet if one assumes that the authors of the ‘certain French poetry’ to which Eliot refers are writers such as Mallarmé and Laforgue, which is not unreasonable given our knowledge of his tastes, then that reading becomes less obvious and perhaps much less a question of habituation or simple language learning. In a study in whose title the term ‘difficult’ seems to have been chosen quite deliberately, perhaps because, unlike ‘obscurity’, that word tends to shift responsibility away from the poet to the reader, Malcolm Bowie once tried to come to terms with two famous examples from Mallarmé’s later work and, in doing so, claimed that the difficulty resulted from their being ‘concerned with open metaphysical questions’, and that they represented ‘an intended and scrupulous indecision on the poet’s part’. ‘Our most important collaboration with the poet’, he wrote, ‘begins when we ourselves begin to be uncertain.’11 In the light of these remarks one might conclude that the notion of progressive enlightenment is too conventional to be applied to Eliot’s influential dictum, and that behind it lies the thought that genuine poetry can communicate even when it is never going to be understood. It would of course be wrong to assume his words are self-serving when what they mean is not made clear; but they have certainly been used by his followers to persuade generations of readers that the fog in which they occasionally find themselves (reading a poet they can never be sure they fully understand) is good for their lungs. What makes Eliot’s poetry so often difficult or obscure is the way in which it is composed of a series of pictures, mini-episodes, images or – to use the word as it was applied to some late nineteenth-century French poetry – symbols. As his commentators regularly illustrate, although these would appear to carry a powerful emotional charge, they are decipherable only in the most general terms. They are like the components of a bad dream which Eliot finds therapeutic relief in expressing, often in a hauntingly impressive fashion, but shows, in spite of the popularity of Freud in his day, no particular inclination to interpret. In the early part of his career especially, it was characteristic of him to compose in these short Imagist fragments (as his friend Pound might have said) and then look for some method of combining them. This is clear enough in The Waste Land, that most exemplary of modernist texts. Like ‘Prufrock’, but even more so, this poem is full of memorable passages which exhibit an impressive variety of poetic power and virtuosity; but that it has any overall structure and coherence became one of the major delusions of Anglo-American culture. How it was put together was illustrated when a facsimile of the rough draft which Pound helped to adapt for publication became available, and it was revealed that the section of the poem entitled ‘Death by Water’ had been reduced from ninety-two lines to ten, so that all it then consisted of was an effective translation of verses about a drowned Phoenician merchant which had originally been part of a poem by Eliot in French called ‘Dans le restaurant’. Alarmed by Pound’s comments and excisions, he asked whether this ought not to go also. On grounds of poetic quality Pound was right to reply in the negative, but the suggestion he made that they were worth keeping because the ‘drowned Phoenician sailor’ had already been mentioned as one of the cards in Madame Sosostris’s Tarot pack in the poem’s first section (‘The Burial of the Dead’) is misleading.12 It falsely implies that the mere previous naming of this figure, who occupies the whole of section IV, is part of a subterranean network which unifies the whole. There is apparently no drowned sailor in the Tarot pack, but then, in the infamous ‘Notes on the Waste Land’, Eliot cheerfully admits, ‘I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed for my own convenience’ (Poems, p. 73). These words capture well the tone of the notes, which constitute one of the blackest marks in the history of how modernism came to be established. It was with the same nonchalance that Eliot sent readers on a wild goose chase of anthropological reading in the vain hope of discovering the poem’s missing structure; but the prime exhibit here is his note on Tiresias. This name occurs only during the description in section III (‘The Fire Sermon’) of how a typist indulges in meaningless sex with a ‘young man carbuncular’, but it elicits a remark from Eliot which would be far too familiar to be worth quoting were it not that its shamelessness needs constant stressing: Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a ‘character’, is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. (Poems, p. 74)13 Even Eliot’s most fervent admirers have found it hard to believe that that this is anything more than outrageous bluff. The easiest way to characterise its spirit, and that of the notes in general, might be to recall Joyce’s well-known words to his French translator: ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.’14 From the beginning, many of those not entirely taken in by the notes have suggested that The Waste Land does have a unity, but one rather different from the one proposed here by its author. In 1926, for example, I. A. Richards appended to his Principles of Literary Criticism a note on Eliot in which he claimed that the various parts of the poem were ‘united by the accord, contrast, and interaction of their emotional effects, not by an intellectual scheme that analysis must work out’; and he added: ‘The value lies in the unified response which this interaction creates in the right reader’, which was to leave the problem of the putative unity of The Waste Land exactly where he found it.15 Others, at more or less the same time and indeed since, have claimed that what unity there is lies, not in the unified response of right readers but in the consciousness of the author. It is true of course that in Eliot’s work as a whole there are a certain number of recurring preoccupations or obsessions – forsaken girls, desert landscapes, images of seafaring – which might be said to act as Wagnerian motifs, and also a predominating emotional tone. To suggest, however, that these give structure to The Waste Land would seem to me to be equivalent to saying that the only criterion for unity in a literary work of art is that it should all have been written by the same person. The poem was certainly written by one person, and the consciousness it everywhere exhibits is highly distinctive, but that does not make the way it is put together seem any the less arbitrary. The Waste Land is not necessarily a less interesting and valuable work without the structure Eliot claims for it (and it is the way he makes his claim which principally concerns me); and as a source of reader discomfort its fragmentary nature has in any case usually been dwarfed by a feature so often discussed that there is good reason for giving it short shrift here: the omnipresence of either quotations from or allusions to other literary works. Some of these the educated reader might reasonably be expected to recognise, but many are highly recondite and only identifiable with the help of Eliot’s notes (or the new edition). Just how many of them are effective or necessary will always be a matter for debate. But what matters in this context is the way the world was persuaded that their heterogeneity was not only a consequence of a particular writer’s temperament, background, and educational training, the combination of circumstances which make it possible to describe the early Eliot as cosmopolitan, but an inevitable aspect of the culture in which people were then living. The smorgasbord of literary allusions in The Waste Land, that is, was interpreted as a reflection of the cultural confusion which had overtaken Europe during and after the First World War and was one of the more powerful reasons why it could so easily be adopted as the ideal representative text of its time, one that articulated, as I. A. Richards put it in the note from which I have just quoted, ‘the plight of a whole generation’. This designation of The Waste Land as representative may have been chiefly the work of commentators rather than Eliot himself, but in the 1920s he did make at least one powerful contribution to the efforts then being made to see the poem as culturally or sociologically rather than merely critically significant. Even more important for the invention of modernism than his ‘doctrine’ of impersonality, that is, would be the idea he put forward that the way he wrote was a consequence of the increasingly complex society in which he lived: We can only say that it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning. (SE, p. 289) These words come from a review essay on the ‘Metaphysical Poets’ which Eliot first published in 1921. They were part of a renewed interest in writers such as Donne and his contemporaries who, with their inclination to incorporate references to the latest scientific discoveries in their work, and their reliance on the diction and conversational rhythms of ordinary speech, provided a bracing contrast to the kind of poetry which had been popular just before the war. Eliot argued that they offered better models for modern poets than Milton or Dryden, but implicitly attributed any difficulty one might have in emulating them to a radical change which had taken place in the seventeenth century, and from which English culture had never recovered. He called this change a ‘dissociation of sensibility’, a separation of the intellect from the feelings. ‘Tennyson and Browning are poets, and they think’, he explained, ‘but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose. A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility’ (SE, p. 287). That modern poetry has to be difficult because modern civilisation has become so complex, and that in a previous age men and women felt their thoughts, are two of the core beliefs on which one important element in British modernism was founded. Both of them were expressed in so confidently sweeping a fashion, and at the same time were so lacking in specificity, that they presented considerable problems for anyone who might have wanted to challenge them. It seems relatively clear that English civilisation has become more complex, or at least more varied, since the Reformation; but the question in these matters is always: For whom? Can we say for certain that it was less so for Shakespeare than for Eliot? Industrialisation is one of the factors which has made for variety, and perhaps complexity, and was well on its way when Wordsworth wrote his preface to the Lyrical Ballads. There was also, at that time, great political turmoil comparable to that which accompanied the First World War. Yet his response was to try and persuade the public to take seriously, not poems like ‘Gerontion’ or ‘Ash Wednesday’, but ‘We are Seven’. As for a ‘dissociation of sensibility’, as an event in time, that is like the Loch Ness monster, more talked about than witnessed, and Eliot himself later moved back its inception from the period of Donne to that of Dante. To suggest how the situation might be retrieved he quoted in his essay on the metaphysicals a passage from Laforgue’s Derniers vers, although he did not identify it as such, and then claimed, in what is perhaps one of the strangest literary judgements he ever made, that it was ‘curiously similar’ to what one finds in Donne. ‘O géraniums diaphanes, guerroyeurs sortilèges, | Sacrilèges monomanes! | Emballages, dévergondages, douches!’ this untranslatable passage begins. Dr Johnson’s well-known complaint was that in metaphysical poetry ‘the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’. It is obvious enough that in Laforgue some of the effect depends on incongruous juxtapositions, but the method could hardly be more radically different from that of a poet like Donne, who is certainly fond of bringing together material from very diverse areas of human experience but who then either works hard to justify his juxtapositions, as in his extended similes, or relies on his readers’ quick wit to recognise the surprising ways in which they turn out to be apt. The manner in which he does this is a reminder that many of those readers came from the Inns of Court. The material brought together is certainly heterogeneous and sometimes tasteless, even by our own and not by Johnsonian standards; but if that makes him and the other metaphysicals difficult, it is in a way quite different from Laforgue, and not only because of his and their unavoidable lack of exposure to the consequences of a decaying late Romanticism. Donne is often hard to understand because his mind moves so quickly, and he sometimes requires of his readers what can seem like an unreasonable degree of intellectual as well as emotional agility. With Laforgue, on the other hand, the problems arise from too many of the associations which have been attached to certain words or images remaining private ‘“Geraniums” would appear to be some private sexual image’ says one of his commentators, although he does not then explain why they should be diaphanous or sacrilege monomaniacal, nor remove the suspicion that the three nouns which complete the quotation above are chiefly present for their sound.16 What is so different from the metaphysicals is that Laforgue proceeds in what appears to be a defiantly non-logical fashion, and it is hard (I would say impossible) to see why the problems this causes should be the responsibility of the material culture, or civilisation, in which he lived; or how his lines could be a contribution to the recovery of that blending of thought and feeling allegedly to be found in Donne. In spite of having edited an influential literary journal, and occupying an important post in a major London publishing firm, Eliot sometimes expressed surprise as well as embarrassment at the spectacular success of several of his early ideas about literature. That there was self-interest in what he had to say about the impersonality of great art, the necessary difficulty of poetry in modern times, or how the dissociation of sensibility contributed to that difficulty would seem obvious enough; but it hardly makes him a confidence trickster. After all, poets have traditionally tried to create the taste by which they could be appreciated, as Wordsworth and Coleridge were probably not the first to illustrate. That in performing this task so effectively Eliot also managed to lay the foundations of at least one version of modernism is probably a case of unintended consequences. He could hardly have foreseen that his ‘pontifical air’ and remarkable gift for a telling phrase would lead to thousands of university students poring over ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, or his essay on the metaphysical poets, in a reverently hermeneutic spirit. And there was of course the undoubted power of his poetry to justify close attention to his essays even if he often seemed to be, like Mallarmé in Symons’s characterisation of him, too respectful of literature ever to write in more than fragments. ‘Sensibility alters from generation to generation’, Eliot once wrote, ‘but expression is only altered by a man of genius.’17 Given the powerful impact his poetic idiom must have made on those looking for new ways of expression after the First World War, it was perhaps inevitable that he should have been singled out as the poet who could be assigned that role in what was then the modern world. From many points of view the assignation was well deserved, but the problem with the word ‘genius’ is that it suggests that someone who excels in one area can do no wrong in another. Writing passages of impressive poetry and explaining how they should be read are, however, two different operations. Never trust the artist, trust the tale, as someone once said who, while much further removed from the centres of social and literary power than Eliot, also had a gift for a telling phrase. Footnotes 1 The review, which originally appeared in the New York Review of Books in 1975, is reprinted in Medawar’s Pluto’s Republic (Oxford 1982) pp. 136–40. 2 Eliot, Selected Essays (London 1932) p. 18; hereafter SE. There is a modification of Eliot’s ideas on impersonality in the introduction he provided for an English translation of Valéry’s poem Le Serpent, published in 1924. These seem barely less coherent than the formulations in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, but it is in any case the astonishing success of those which concerns me here. 3 The Sacred Wood (London 1920) p. 40. 4 Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown (London 1924) p. 4. 5 The Poems of T. S. Eliot, ed. Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue (London 2015) pp. 7, 82. Hereafter Poems. 6 See Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London 1933) p. 150. 7 Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (London 1908) p. 182. 8 Le Problème du style (Paris 1902) pp. 193–4, and see the translation of Ortega y Gasset’s essay in The Dehumanization of Art and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature (Princeton 1968). 9 See Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (London 1957) pp. 29, 32. 10 From ‘Dante’, SE, p. 238. 11 Malcolm Bowie, Mallarmé and the Art of Being Difficult (Cambridge 1978) p. x. 12 For the exchange with Pound see The Letters of T. S. Eliot, ed. Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (London 2009) i. 629–30. 13 There is of course a debate about whether the notes were ever meant by Eliot to be taken seriously. I am less interested here in the motives behind them than their effect, but on the first point see Bernard Sharratt, On Eliot: These Fragments (New Crisis Quarterly, 2015), and in particular pp. 60–1. 14 Quoted by Richard Ellmann in his revised edition of James Joyce (Oxford 1983) p. 521. 15 I. A. Richards, The Principles of Literary Criticism (London 1926) p. 290. 16 Poems of Jules Laforgue, ed. J. A. Hiddleston (Oxford 1975) p. 293. 17 The phrase comes from an introduction Eliot wrote for an edition of Dr Johnson’s London and The Vanity Human Wishes, published in 1930. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Cambridge Quarterly. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Published: Mar 1, 2018

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