Saturday, 30 June 2012
Eliot the Adversary
by Mark Anthony Signorelli (July 2012)
In an article published previously at the website called The Imaginative Conservative, entitled “T.S. Eliot as Conservative Mentor,” Roger Scruton attempts to make the case for Eliot as one of the great representatives of the conservative tradition in the twentieth century. Considering his achievements as both a poet and a critic, Mr. Scruton concludes that Eliot is a vital author, one who has reconciled an allegiance to the broad traditions of Christianity and conservative politics with the unique social conditions of modernity. more>>>
Posted on 06/30/2012 7:56 AM by NER
1 Jul 2012
Elliott A Green
Impressive argument. I always wondered why I didn't like Eliot --besides his Judeophobia-- why he seemed superficial, although in high school --where his work was compulsory & his name uttered worshipfully-- his weird rhymes were attractive to the juvenile mind.
Signorelli has explained much, treating Eliot without the usually requisite adulation.
1 Jul 2012
Thank you! Yes! I suffered TSE in high school and in university, and only recently took up The Four Quartets (as if there could be three or five) to attempt to give it a fair reading.
It's all close to drivel.
Murder in the Cathedral has its moments, though.
2 Jul 2012
G. Murphy Donovan
Amen! Art, if we can feel it, makes us better men. Science only makes us comfortable.
2 Jul 2012
I must say that of all Eliot's poems the ones that I think will endure are his poems about cats. It is abundantly clear from those poems that he liked cats very much, and understood and with wry amusement (like all genuine cat-lovers) tolerated their strange little ways. We have two cats, and there are many lines from 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats' that pop into mind, irrepressibly, as we watch their antics.
6 Jul 2012
Thanks are due to Mark Signorelli for referring us to Roger Scruton's magnificent presentation of the imperishable verse and thought of T. S. Eliot. Searching and comprehensive, Scruton's essay is an analytic gem, a model of even-handed criticism, which avoids the temptations of facile cant and rigid ideology, electing instead to show that conservatism is itself a species of modernity. Many in their haste will miss that insight. It's unfortunate that for some a hatchet job is preferable to an appreciative notice for the simple reason that given enough objections, no matter how ill founded, we have a dandy excuse not to bother reading. It is stated as self-certifying that Eliot's poetry is "disorderly," as though one were describing the cell of a juvenile delinquent. Without adequate and fair demonstration, such a claim remains hollow. Mr. Signorelli appears to situate the poet in a spiritual vacuum in which he can pronounce condemnation on his age through "orderly" verse. But art is the fruit of culture, and Eliot's poetry, like that of Homer and Shakespeare, arises naturally from its time and place. The aim of poetry is never to dismiss its world but rather to give it ideal expression, binding it to its predecessors. Few have succeeded in that venture with the vigor and precision of Eliot. Not a few bold souls accused Shakespeare of being disorderly. Where are they today? Modernism is not a cabal or perversion, nor is it a costume we can put on and off at a whim. It is, rather, since the advent of the Copernican revolution, the response we make to our cosmological predicament. Seeking to demonize a major poet who has given us so much can only be accomplished by winking at his virtues while whining at his vices. And Eliot was not perfect. Under the spell of logical positivism and the notion of the "objective" correlative, he went so far as to condemn The Tragedy of Hamlet as a "failure." And why, after all, didn't he return to Harvard to defend that crabbed dissertation on Bradley? But Mr. Signorelli is not interested in Tom Eliot the man, and offers not a shred of biography. Thus, untethered to life, Mr. Signorelli's "T.S. Eliot" is allowed to balloon in a nanosecond into a literary bogeyman so terrible that one is liable to swear off poetry altogether. In his shrill verdicts against Eliot and Mr. Scruton, Mr. Signorelli mistakes the doctors for the disease.
6 Jul 2012
Those with an interest in Eliot's social and political views may wish to return the The Imaginative Conservative (6/13/12) to peruse "Permanent Things: T.S. Eliot's Conservatism," by Prof. Ben Lockerd.
7 Jul 2012
I had a disappointing experience at a meeting of The T.S. Eliot Society a couple of years ago. Therev was a talk by Frank Kermode. I tried to point out that Eliot is constantly described as a Modernist when infact his essays are Conservative.
The whole room looked completely blank and a few stuttered. Later I tried to explain my point but no one seemed to get it. A PHD student was non plussed by my sincere comments. Later I was insulted by a volunteer receptionist in Great St. Mary Church and when I complained to a vicar my complaint was ignored. I'm afraid standards of education have dropped alarmingly in Britain and even PHD studentsin Cambridge don't seem to know very much.
16 Jul 2012
There is much in this article I agree with - eg. the critique of Modernism. But I am reminded that the rejection of Eliot's poetry by C. S. Lewis ("I tried and tried to see the night as a patient etherised upon a table, but simply was not able" (or something; from memory)) went hand-in-hand with Lewis's own rhythm-and-rhyme poetry ... and yet Lewis's poetry is the least-appreciated part of his oeuvre; and much modern rhythm-and-rhyme poetry is equally opaque as to meaning (and not only moderm); and, ultimately, some of Eliot's poems are poetic, despite having no rhythm-and-rhyme. Isn't the truth simply that The Waste Land, etc., came when Eliot was young, revolutionary, idealist and modernist (as the young were, and perhaps always will be), but the High Church Tory was the older man ... Don't we all progress in this direction? Well, many do (though, actually, I myself find the abstract, even in architecture, easier to appreciate, now (I'm 61), than when I was 30).
26 Jul 2012
Many lines by Eliot and many extended verse paragraphs, from various poems and plays, will remain unerased from readers' memories. His poetic sensibility will appeal to readers of many political persuasions and none. We don't have to care about the politics of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Yeats in order to appreciate their literary worth.