The Case of the Missing Subject

  • John Harwood


Eliot’s poems, as Hugh Kenner remarked in 1959, ‘differ from reader to reader to an unusual degree, posed between meaning nothing and meaning everything, associating themselves with what the reader thinks of, and inclined to wonder whether Eliot was thinking of’.1 Unusual, that is, in terms of the kind of reading they invite; compared to John Ashbery, Eliot seems, at first sight, a model of discursive clarity. Each component is so precisely turned as to suggest, to the reader who takes up the challenge, that there can be only one right way of fitting them together. The trouble, as witness the collective record of interpretation, is that they combine all too readily into whatever pattern the interpreter is bent on discovering.


Individual Talent Black Swan Collective Record Miss Subject Literary Writer 
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  1. 1.
    Hugh Kenner, The Invisible Poet ( 1959; London: Methuen, 1965 ), p. 50.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Richard Poirier, The Renewal of Literature ( London: Faber, 1987 ), p. 108.Google Scholar
  3. 41.
    A. Walton Litz (ed.), Eliot in His Time ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ), p. 6.Google Scholar
  4. 44.
    Richard Poirier, The Renewal of Literature ( London: Faber, 1987 ), p. 6.Google Scholar
  5. 57.
    John Middleton Murry, ‘The Eternal Footman’, The Athenaeum, 20 February 1920, 239.Google Scholar
  6. 58.
    Michael Heyward, The Ern Malley Affair ( St Lucia: Queensland University Press, 1993 ), p. 156.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Harwood 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Harwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Flinders University of South AustraliaAustralia

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