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T. S. Eliot and the Secularists

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Abstract

Even those critics suspicious of intermedia studies have come to acknowledge that the innovative aspects of T. S. Eliot’s poetry cannot be divorced from the changes that were occurring simultaneously in the visual arts. Recognition of that relationship has been slow to emerge, but from the 1960s onwards the broken images of his verse, its crabbed allusiveness, the disorienting contiguity of incidents disparate in time and space and connected only by mental association have come to be linked with experiments with collage in Cubist painting, with the juxtaposition of the incongruous in Surrealism, and with the provocative unconventionality of the Dadaists. The irony in his verse, as one critic defined it, ‘is due to a montage-principle of placing together statements having an entirely different poetic tone’, while a more recent study of Eliot is subtitled from skepticism to a surrealist poetic, the author seeing the sudden contrasts and unexpected transitions in his verse as paralleling the shock tactics of the Breton school.1 In all such forms of art, verisimilitude had been deserted in favour of cerebral affinities, objects no longer being considered as authentic in themselves but as elements interacting with other components, forming part of larger patterns or stimulating the connotative faculties of the viewer.

Keywords

Fourth Dimension Christian Faith Christian Belief Universal Truth Abstract Painting 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Wylie Sypher, Rococo to Cubism in art and literature (New York, 1960), p. 284;Google Scholar
  2. William Skaff, The Philosophy of T. S. Eliot: from skepticism to surrealist poetic, 1909–1927 (Philadelphia, 1986), pp. 131f. Other early explorers of such intermedia connections includeGoogle Scholar
  3. Jacob Korg, ‘Modern Art Techniques in The Waste Land’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 18 (1960), p. 456,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  5. John Dixon Hunt, ‘Broken Images: T. S. Eliot and Modern Painting’, in A. D. Moody (ed.), ‘The Waste Land’ in Different Voices (London, 1974), pp. 163–84. Hunt noted in that essay how few critics had, until that time, explored or even commented on the relationship of Eliot to the visual arts.Google Scholar
  6. 2.
    Werner Haftmann’s classic study Painting in the Twentieth Century: an analysis of the artists and their work, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York, 1965), 2:8–19, offers a valuable summary of the effects of modern physics and psychology upon painting. For certain aspects of science’s impact on literature in this period, see N. Katherine Hayles, The Cosmic Web: scientific field models and literary strategies in the twentieth century (Ithaca, 1984), and her Chaos Bound: orderly disorder and contemporary literature and science (Ithaca, 1990).Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    There is an excellent account of the relationship of Eliot’s verse to the work of Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and James Joyce in Eric Svarny, The Men of 1914: T. S. Eliot and early modernism (Milton Keynes, 1988), a study which confirms how little Eliot was concerned with the visual aspects of Vorticism. The book focuses instead upon the shared intellectual élitism of this group, and its assimilation of Symbolist poetics. On élitism in both art and literature at this time, see Charles Harrison’s fine study, English Art and Modernism, 1900–1939 (New Haven, 1994), especially pp. 56f.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    Allen Tate (ed.), T. S. Eliot: the Man and his Work: a critical evaluation by twenty-six distinguished writers (New York, 1966), pp. 37–8.Google Scholar
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    Although Eliot was acquainted with Roger Fry and Clive Bell, the friendship was never very close, as is recorded in Lyndall Gordon, Eliot’s Early Years (Oxford, 1977), pp. 77f.Google Scholar
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    T. S. Eliot, ‘Thoughts After Lambeth’, in Selected Essays (London, 1949), p. 358.Google Scholar
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    I am of course deeply indebted here to Linda D. Henderson’s study The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidian Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, 1983), which recounts the emergence of hyperspace theory, together with details concerning the use made of it by painters. Her examination of the theory’s effect upon literature (which was never an aim of her book) is restricted, as in most later critical accounts, to the more obvious instances of indebtedness such as the science fiction stories by H. G. Wells and others, or the parody of the theory in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Canterville Ghost’.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in René Huyghe, La Naissance du Cubisme (Paris, 1935), p. 80.Google Scholar
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    Apollinaire’s lecture was published the following year as ‘Le Peinture Nouvelle’ in Les Soirées de Paris, April 1912, p. 90. The quotation from Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du Cubisme (Paris, 1912), p. 17, is from the translation inGoogle Scholar
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    L. Revel, ‘L’Esprit et l’éspace: La Quatrième Dimension in Le Théosophe, March, 1911. In exploring this connection, we may recall that one of the first published responses to The Waste Land, F. L. Lucas’s antagonistic review in the New Statesman, dismissed it as ‘a theosophical tract’.Google Scholar
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    W. F. Tyler, The Dimensional Idea as an Aid to Religion (New York, 1910), especially pp. 32, 44.Google Scholar
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    Sanford Schwartz, in his excellent study The Matrix of Modernism: Pound, Eliot, and early twentieth-century thought (Princeton, 1985), examining the relationship between Modernist literature and such nineteenth-century thinkers as Nietzsche and William James, employs the term ‘conceptual abstraction’ to describe those mental concepts that censor or filter out sense impressions, and obscure the more valid ‘stream of consciousness’. His theme should be distinguished from the more general usage of the term (as employed here), referring to certain ‘abstract’ truths sensed as existing beyond the tactile world. His book will be discussed more closely in a later chapter.Google Scholar
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    Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy: a contribution to the psychology of style, trans. Michael Bullock (New York, 1980), especially pp. 21, 28, 44. Although Eliot was not especially interested in the visual arts, he became aware of Worringer’s work through his admiration of Hulme, the latter incorporating Worringer’s theories into his own work and thereby encouraging the Imagists’ pursuit of the inorganic in verse, a cultivation of ‘hardness’ or objectivity in imagery. In connection with the religious undercurrent in Modernism, one may note how Hulme, although not a Christian, resuscitated the theme of Original Sin in his philosophy, arguing that the Renaissance humanist concept of man’s perfectibility, so influential throughout Western culture, was misleadingly shallow. He urged contemporary art and literature to come to terms with mankind’s ‘radical imperfections’ and to return to the concept behind Original Sin. See his Speculations: essays on humanism and the philosophy of art, ed. Herbert Read (London, I960, orig. 1924), p. 34.Google Scholar
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    Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. Michael Sadleir et al (New York, 1947), p. 29, the earlier quotation from his essay, ‘Über die Formfrage as translated by Kenneth Lindsay. For a close study of Kandinsky’s debt to Theosophy and of the mystical-religious elements in his aesthetic philosophy, seeGoogle Scholar
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  37. Robert P. Welsh and J. M. Joosten, Two Mondrian Sketchbooks, 1912–14 (Amsterdam, 1969), p. 33, the second from ‘No Axiom but the Plastic’, De Stijl, 6 (1924), 6–7.Google Scholar
  38. 36.
    Cf. Jonathan Rose, The Edwardian Temperament, 1895–1919 (London, 1986), especially pp. 4–16. Rose correctly notes that, after the war, the Society lost much of its scientific prestige as it pandered to the widespread desire among the bereaved to establish contact with their lost ones. But in the earlier decades of the century it was essentially a movement of intellectuals.Google Scholar
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    Sheldon Cheney, Expressionism in Art (New York, 1934), pp. 313f.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    The first extract is from Yeats’ Autobiography (New York, 1958), p. 77, the second from the autobiographical manuscript published in 1972, and the third quotation from his Memoirs, ed. Denis Donoghue (London, 1972). Yeats wrote to Ernest Boyd in 1915: ‘My interest in mystic symbolism did not come from Arthur Symons or any other contemporary writer. I have been a student of the medieval mystics since 1887. Of the French symbolists I have never had detailed or accurate knowledge.’ Ezra Pound’s interest in the occult is discussed in Alan Robinson, Poetry, Painting, and Ideas, 1885–1914 (London, 1985), especially pp. 150–81.Google Scholar
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    Ezra Pound quoted this remark with approval in ‘The New Sculpture’, Egoist, 16 February 1914, attributing it to an anonymous speaker at a meeting of the Quest Society. For his belief in a ‘Theos’ and for a more detailed account of such esoteric interests, see Timothy Materer, Modernist Alchemy: poetry and the occult (Ithaca, 1995), pp. 71f.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    T. S. Eliot, doctoral thesis, (written 1911–14), Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (London, 1964), pp. 147–8. On his vein of scepticism allowing for such adaptation of viewpoint in his response to other rites and religions, seeGoogle Scholar
  43. C. M. Kearns, ‘Religion, Literature, and society in the work of T. S. Eliot’, in A. David Moody (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot (Cambridge, 1994).Google Scholar
  44. 43.
    Robert Klein, Form and Meaning: writings on the Renaissance and modern art (Princeton, 1981), pp. 184f.;Google Scholar
  45. J. Hillis Miller, Poets of Reality: six twentieth-century writers (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), p. 9.Google Scholar
  46. 45.
    The first extract is quoted in Athena T. Spear, Brancusi’s Birds (New York, 1969), p. 21, and the second in Paul Morand’s preface to the catalogue he prepared for the artist’s first one-man exhibition at the Brummer Gallery, New York, December, 1926.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Maud Ellmann, The Poetics of Impersonality (London, 1987), discusses this aspect of Eliot and Pound, attributing its origin primarily to Berg-son’s claim for the fugitive quality of the individual self.Google Scholar
  48. 50.
    The principle was explored in Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence: a theory of poetry (New York, 1973), his A Map of Misreading (New York, 1975) and his Agon: towards a theory of revisionism (New York, 1982). In these he counters what he terms the nihilism of deconstructionism by an assertion of the active force of poet or writer, applying in the interpretive reading a conscious ‘misprision’ of Freud’s Oedipal theory, with the powerful author-predecessor viewed as a father figure whom the later author must resist and overpower.Google Scholar
  49. 51.
    Mary Hutchinson’s comment, recorded in Anne Olivier Bell (ed.), The Diaries of Virginia Woolf (New York, 1978) 2:178.Google Scholar
  50. 52.
    Eugène Jolas, in Our Exagmination Round his Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (1929).Google Scholar
  51. 53.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth’, The Dial, 75 (1923), 480. See also the discussion of this aspect inGoogle Scholar
  52. David Lodge, The Modes of Modern Writing: metaphor, metonymy, and the typology of modern literature (Ithaca, 1977), pp. 138f.Google Scholar
  53. 56.
    Franco Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders: essays in the sociology of literary forms (London, 1988), pp. 220f. Morettt’s argument leads him to the conclusion that the process fails in this poem, producing myth rather than poetry: ‘The Waste Land is a cultural milestone precisely because it is no longer literature’ (p. 236).Google Scholar
  54. 57.
    The passage can be found most conveniently in the abridged one-volume edition of James Gordon Frazer’s, The Golden Bough (London, 1960), pp. 418–19. The original work appeared in twelve volumes, issued between 1890 and 1915.Google Scholar
  55. 58.
    T. S. Eliot, in The Dial, 75 (December 1923), 597.Google Scholar
  56. 59.
    His reservations concerning Frazet’s theory appear in Criterion, 5 (June, 1927), 283. Maud Bodkin’s Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (Oxford, 1922) was among the first to recognise the value of using Jung’s theory as a critical tool for exegesis, and offered a brief analysis of The Waste Land in those terms. But she made no suggestion that in composing the poem Eliot himself had been employing Jung’s perceptions.Google Scholar
  57. 60.
    Robert Langbaum, The Mysteries of Identity: a theme in modern literature (New York, 1977), p. 98.Google Scholar
  58. 61.
    C. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, trans. W. S. Dell and C. F. Baynes (New York, 1934), p. 215. Although this passage was published in 1933, after the appearance of The Waste Land, its principles were of course implicit in Jung’s earlier work.Google Scholar
  59. 62.
    D. H. Lawrence, The Man Who Died (New York, 1960, orig. 1922), pp. 188, 124. The quoted passages are not contiguous in the story, but their juxtaposition here is in full accord with the story’s theme and message.Google Scholar
  60. 63.
    D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious (London, 1933), pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  61. 64.
    Eliot, Knowledge and Experience, op. cit., especially pp. 121f. There is a helpful discussion of this point in William Skaff, The Philosophy of T. S. Eliot: from skepticism to a surrealist poetic, 1909–1927 (Philadelphia, 1986), pp. 115–16.Google Scholar
  62. 68.
    Quoted in Werner Haftmann, Painting in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1965) 1:179–80. The Melancholy and Mystery of a Street was in fact painted in 1914, before the foundation of the scuola metafisica, but the principles of that school were clearly based on the kind of work De Chirico was producing around that time.Google Scholar
  63. 69.
    Quoted in Hyatt Waggoner, American Poets (Boston, 1968), p. 508.Google Scholar
  64. 70.
    Cf. Balachandra Rajan, The Overwhelming Question: a study of the poetry of T. S. Eliot (Toronto, 1976), p. 12, which recognises this phrase as a call for commitment.Google Scholar
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    A. Walton Litz (ed.), Eliot in His Time: essays on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of ‘The Waste Land’ (Princeton, 1973), p. 7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Murray Roston 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

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