Monday, June 27, 2005

Listening to Mr Eliot's sermons

T.S.Eliot seems to be utterly out of fashion which is most unfortunate. Of course the long story of his reputation is in itself highly interesting: his place, the way his place has been seen in the modernist pantheon is an independently fascinating cultural theme. The way the Waste Land seemed to speak directly to the 1920's high brow reading public, that clear, triumphant and pure poetry of J. Alfred Prufrock in the middle of Europe's hideous collapse in 1917. And not least Tradition and Individual Talent, its perverse but forcefully put and highly misleading arguments - a romantic praising classicism (in Eliot's terms, that is). Also highly interesting is his complicated, even tortured relationship with his poetry, his tendency to mislead and hide his path. His conservatism, his Christianity, his very unpleasant anti-semitism, his definite anti-postmodern thinking (ceaseless hankering after authority) have likely caused this present disfavour. All this seems nevertheless quite beside the point: you still listen with high enjoyment and respect to this strange music and strange thoughts, this eye witness to the death of a civilization: "I had not thought death had undone so many."

2 comments:

helsinkian said...

I think The Waste Land and Tradition and the Individual Talent are great stuff. My view on literature may be other than Eliot's but his writing is groundbreaking. I didn't know he was anti-semitic. When someone is canonized in literature, this kind of stuff often gets hushed up. Great writers aren't always great people - I think both topics are interesting - writers as writers and writers as people. Pound and his fascist sympathies have been perhaps more discussed than his poetry but I see that I know much less about Eliot the man than about Eliot the writer. I saw once the movie Tom & Viv about Eliot's marriage. I think Willem Dafoe was Tom - I liked his acting there.

stockholm slender said...

I don't think he was a very rapid or Nazi type anti-semite at all - just that the "cosmopolitan" and "rootless" Western Jewishness (as he saw it) was clearly something opposed to his traditionalist Christian values. There is that very unpleasant line, how did it go, "and the Jew underneath it all" or something, making just this point about materialism and cosmopolitanism. In itself it was fairly standard stuff for his time and class and I think he had Jewish friends, so it's not that bad. In general I like his poetry very much: Prufrock was a very shattering experience in the late 80's when I came to Helsinki to study at the university...