Tuesday, June 8, 2010

(2) on T. S. Eliot, a Heideggerian Poet?..

Malcolm MacPherson left the following comment in regard to the post   "RE: on T. S. Eliot, a Heideggerian Poet?.":


No need to take offense, or to prepare your "debating" skills.

I will put it in terms you can understand. My post speaks to "new criticism," a movement in American literary criticism from the 1930s to the 1960s, which concentrates on the verbal complexities and ambiguities of poems considered as self
sufficient objects without attention to their origins or effects.

Eliot held this viewpoint, but surely someone as "learned" and "civilized" as you would already know this.



            It has been a considerable time, but yes I'm familiar with "New Criticism" but I don't quite see your comments as reflecting that school of criticism.  Here is an comment from Wiki:  "For instance, the work of the New Critics often contained an implicit moral dimension, and sometimes even a religious one: a New Critic might read a poem by T. S. Eliot or Gerard Manley Hopkins for its degree of honesty in expressing the torment and contradiction of a serious search for belief in the modern world. Meanwhile a Marxist critic might find such judgments merely ideological rather than critical; the Marxist would say that the New Critical reading did not keep enough critical distance from the poem's religious stance to be able to understand it. Or a post-structuralist critic might simply avoid the issue by understanding the religious meaning of a poem as an allegory of meaning, treating the poem's references to 'God' by discussing their referential nature rather than what they refer to."
            I wasn't attempting to reflect "New Criticism" in my comments, "New Criticism" being no longer new, but in my attempting to see The Waste Land as expressing the torment and contradiction of an intellectual viewing the results of World War One, my comments, it seems to me, reflect the "New Critics" better than yours.  But perhaps you are referring to something like Eliot said in his The Sacred Wood, Essays on Poetry & Criticism, page 53, "Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.  If we attend to the confused cries of the newspaper critics and the susurrus of popular repetition that follows, we shall hear the names of the poets in great number; if we seek not Blue-book knowledge but the enjoyment of poetry, and ask for a poem, we shall seldom find it." 
            Those may be Eliot's beliefs but it is at least coincidental that they are also self-serving, for if we became like his "Newspaper Critics" we would not put just Eliot's name to The Waste Land, but Ezra Pound's name as well.  Eliot and Pound might well have been most comfortable discussion the metaphors and symbolism, but one of the basic truths of poetry, it seems to me, is that the poet must be responsible for all the ambiguity in his poem .  He is not permitted to say I didn't mean this or that if the critic can get it out of the poem (an NC tenet by the way).  Freud forever denies us the right to say, "because I didn't intend to put it there, it isn't there." 
            What I have described seeing in Eliot's poem is also something I have read in the histories which describe what anyone living in England at the time would have seen.  Is it a coincidence to be ignored, or am I right in saying that if Eliot intended no reference to the aftermath of World War One then he either made a mistake in his poem, or he in a Freudian sense reflected it "unconsciously."  If he Eliot didn't intend it in his poem, then I am at least following "New Criticism" in finding it there despite him. 

1 comment:

Mike Geary said...

I think the most perspicacious criticism of The Waste Land was written by E. E. Cummings who said: "I think it's very sad that the man couldn't write his own poem." I laughed for a week. Of course there are unforgettable lines such as: "Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyant, had a bad cold, nevertheless is known to be the wisest woman in Europe with a wicked pack of cards." How I love those lines. So many of them, whether his or Pound's, who knows? Who cares? My oldest daughter is named Shantih after the ending on Waste Land. I was quite taken with the poem as a young man. Now I think it's a remarkably well-worded piece of tendentious crap.