T.S.Eliot Tradition Individual Talent

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T. S. Eliot: Tradition and the Individual Talent


By Dr. Dilip Barad, [[http://www.bhavuni.edu | Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar, Gujarat.



Chapter Outline


4.0. Objectives
4.1. Introduction: T. S. Eliot as a Critic
4.2. ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’
4.2.1. Concept of ‘Tradition’ and ‘Individual Talent’
4.2.2. Concept of ‘Impersonality’
4.3. Let’s sum up
4.4. Glossary of some of the Key Terms
4.5. Reading List
4.6. Answers to Self Assessment Questions




Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you are expected to learn about:

4.0.1. Generating awareness amongst the learners about T. S. Eliot’s position as a Critic,
4.0.2. Enabling the learners to understand in detail the essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” as one of his most famous critical outputs.






Introduction


'T. S. Eliot as a Critic'

Besides being a poet, playwright and publisher, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) was one of the most seminal critics of his time. Carlo Linati, his Italian critic, found his poetry to be ‘irrational, incomprehensible… a magnificent puzzle’, and in his poetic endeavors ‘a deliberate critical purpose’. Also in his literary criticism Eliot’s personality has found its full expression. Thus Eliot’s literary criticism can be seen as expression of his poetic credo. As one of the seminal critics of the twentieth century; Eliot shows a disinterested endeavour of critical faculty and intelligence in analyzing a work of art. For the sake a systematic discussion, his critical works may be grouped under the following headings:

a) theoretical criticism dealing with the principles of literature,
b) descriptive and practical criticism dealing with the works of individual writers and evaluation of their achievements, and
c) theological essays.

‘Tradition and Individual Talent’ has been one of his extraordinarily influential critical works. It was first published in 1922 in Sacred Woods, and was subsequently included in the ‘Selected Essays’ (1917-1932). In this essay, Eliot has primarily dealt with his concepts of

1. Historical Sense, and Tradition
2. Interdependence of the past and the present
3. Impersonality in art in general and poetry in particular




Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

(1) Choose the correct option:
i. How does Carlo Linati find Eliot’s poetry?

a) Profound, soul-stirring and compassionate
b) Irrational, incomprehensible and a magnificent puzzle
c) Rational, comprehensible and simple
d) None of the above

ii. “Eliot shows a disinterested endeavour of critical faculty and intelligence in analyzing a work of art.”
What does this statement mean? a) Eliot believes one should be completely disinterested in being critical to the text.
b) Eliot manifests an effort of critical appreciation with objectivity and intelligence.
c) Eliot thinks that a work of art lacks in intelligence and hence requires no genuine efforts to study.
d) All of the above.

iii. ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’ has been one of his ......... Critical works.
a) Extraordinarily Influential
b) Ordinary and Cliché
c) Earlier and Neglected work
d) None of the above

iv. In the essay ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’, Eliot focuses on .........
a) Historical Sense and Impersonality
b) Tradition and Historical Sense
c) Impersonality and Depersoanlity
d) None of the Above

v. Apart from being a critic, Eliot was also .........
a) A poet
b) A publisher
c) A playwright
d) All of the above

To check you answers, click



4.2.1 The Concept of Tradition and Individual Talent


According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Tradition means a belief, principle or way of acting which people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a long time, or all of these beliefs, etc. in a particular society or group. Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes ‘Tradition’ an ‘inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)’. Eliot commences the essay with the general attitude towards ‘Tradition’.He points out that every nation and race has its creative and critical turn of mind, and emphasises the need for critical thinking. ‘We might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing.’In ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’, Eliot introduces the idea of Tradition. Interestingly enough, Eliot’s contemporaries and commentators either derided the idea as irrelevant, conservative and backward-looking stance or appreciated the idea and read it in connection with Matthew Arnold’s historical criticism of texts popularly known as ‘touchstone’ method. In this section we will first make an attempt to summarize Eliot’s concept of tradition and then will seek to critique it for a comprehensive understanding of the texts.

At the very outset, Eliot makes it clear that he is using the term tradition as an adjective to explain the relationship of a poem or a work to the works of dead poets and artists. He regrets that in our appreciation of authors we hardly include their connections with those living and dead. Also our critical apparatus is significantly limited to the language in which the work is produced. A work produced in a different language can be considered for a better appreciation of the work. In this connection, he notices “our tendency to insist…those aspects” of a writer’s work in which “he least resembles anyone else”. Thus, our appreciation of the writer is derived from exhumation of the uniqueness of the work. In the process, the interpretation of the work focuses on identifying the writer’s difference from his predecessors. Eliot critiques this tendency in literary appreciation and favours inclusion of work or parts of work of dead poets and predecessors.

Although Eliot attaches greater importance to the idea of tradition, he rejects the idea of tradition in the name of ‘Blind or Timid Adherence’ to successful compositions of the past. By subscribing to the idea of tradition, Eliot does not mean sacrificing novelty nor does he mean slavish repetitions of stylistic and structural features. By the term ‘Tradition’, he comes up with something ‘of much wider significance”. By ‘Tradition’, he does not refer to a legacy of writers which can be handed down from a generation to another generation. It has nothing to do with the idea of inheritance; rather it regrets a great deal of endeavour. He further argues, “It involves... The historical sense... and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past but its presence; … This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional.” By this statement, Eliot wants to emphasize that the writer or the poet must develop a sense of the pastness of the past and always seeks to examine the poem or the work in its relation to the works of the dead writers or the poets. To substantiate his point of view, Eliot says, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and the artists.” As he says this, he is perfectly aware of Matthew Arnold’s notion of historical criticism and therefore distances himself from such the Arnoldian critical stance. He identifies his approach to literary appreciation “as a principle of aesthetics and thereby distinguishes it from Arnold’s “Historical Criticism”. Thus, Eliot offers an organic theory and practice of literary criticism. In this, he treats tradition not as a legacy but as an invention of anyone who is ready to create his or her literary pantheon, depending on his literary tastes and positions. This means that the development of the writer will depend on his or her ability to build such private spaces for continual negotiation and even struggle with illustrious antecedents, and strong influences. Harold Bloom terms the state of struggle as “The anxiety of influence”, and he derides Eliot for suggesting a complex, an elusive relationship between the tradition and the individual, and goes on to develop his own theory of influence.


Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

(1) Choose the correct option:

i. Eliot’s contemporaries criticizes his concept of ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’ as _________.
a) irrelevant, conservative and backward
b) in connection with Wordsworthian Romanticism
c) comprehensive and epitomic
d) none of the above.

ii. Eliot believes that our appreciation of authors, we miss connection with ___________.
a) great artist of his time
b) Greek authors
c) Living and dead poets
d) Elizabethan Poets

iii. By referring the term ‘Historical Sense’ Eliot wants to convey a perception of _________.
a) pastness of the past and present
b) reading of Homer and Virgil,
c) Idea of inheritance,
d) None of the above.

iv. What does Harold Bloom term ‘the anxiety of influence’ mean in relation to Eliot’s ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’?
a) complete and elusive relationship,
b) Clear and inter-dependable
c) separate and individual
d) aesthetical and traditional.
To check you answers, click


4.2.2.The Concept of ‘Impersonality’


In the second part of the essay Eliot argues that “Honest Criticism and sensitive appreciation are directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry”. This hints at the actual beginning of ‘New Criticism’ where the focus will shift from author to the text. Eliot here defines the poet’s responsibility. The poet is not supposed to compose poetry which is full of his personal emotions. He must subscribe himself to something more valuable, i.e., what others have composed in the past. Thus, Eliot emphasizes objectivity in poetry. Eliot believes that some sort of ‘physical distancing’, to use Bullough’s term, is necessary for successful composition. He also mentions that the poet has to merge his personality with the tradition:"The progress of the artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality." The mind of the poet is a medium in which experiences can enter new combinations. He exemplifies this process as when oxygen and sulphur dioxide are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphuric acid. This combination takes place only in the presence of platinum, which acts as the catalyst. But the sulphuric acid shows no trace of platinum, and remains unaffected. The catalyst facilitates the chemical change, but does not participate in the chemical reaction, and remains unchanged. Eliot compares the mind of the poet to the shred of platinum, which will "digest and transmute the passions which are its material". He suggests the analogy of a catalyst’s role in a chemical process in a scientific laboratory for this process of depersonalization.

Eliot sees the poet's mind as "a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together." He says that concepts like "sublimity", "greatness" or "intensity" of emotion are irrelevant. It is not the greatness of the emotion that matters, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure under which the artistic process takes place, that is important. In this way he dissociates the notion on the artistic process from an added emphasis on 'genius' and the exceptional mind.

Eliot refutes the idea that poetry is the expression of poet’s personality. Experiences in the life of the man may have no place in his poems, and vice-versa. The emotions occasioned by events in the personal life of the poet are not important. What matters is the emotion transmuted into poetry, the feelings expressed in the poetry. "Emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him". Eliot critiques Wordsworth's definition of poetry in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads: "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling: it takes its origins from emotion recollected in tranquility."For Eliot, poetry is not recollection of feeling, "it is a new thing resulting from the concentration of a very great number of experiences . . . it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation." Eliot defines that "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality." For him, the emotion of art is impersonal, and the artist can achieve this impersonality only by and being conscious of the tradition, He is talking about the poetic tradition and neglects the fact that even the poetic tradition is a complex mixture of written and oral poetry and the elements that go into them. It was only in his later writings that he realized that in poetic composition many elements are involved. In his poetic dramas, he sought to brodent his scope.

Eliot has also ignored other traditions that go into social formations. In 'Religion and Literature', he has dealt with the non-poetic elements of tradition at length. He kept on developing his notion of tradition right up to the time he wrote ‘Notes towards a definition on culture’.

Creative writer has artistic sensibility. He observes the world like any common men. But his vision observes the world quite differently. He can perceive from life-experience what common man cannot see at all. This experience and observation get imaginative colours with the help of artistic sensibility. He creates a world of imaginative reality. His world is more beautiful and artistic than the real world. He is naturally gifted to create the work which has power to move or transport the reader. He gets his raw material from the life. He is critic of life.



Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

(1) Choose the correct option:

i. “Honest Criticism and sensitive appreciation are directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry”. Can be elucidate as ------------
a) Only the poets can make honest criticism and sensitive appreciation of his own poetry.
b) Sincere criticism has to focus on the poet’s personality which would in turn lead him to neglect his poetic contribution.
c) The focus of literary criticism has to shift from author to the text. The poet is not supposed to compose poetry which is full of his personal emotions.
d) None of the above

ii. Eliot’s attention shifts in the second section from _________ to _________.
a) Tradition, individual talent
b) The author, the text
c) Individual talent, tradition
d) The text, author

iii. According to Eliot the emotion of art is _________.
a) Impersonal
b) Personal
c) Inaccurate
d) Spontaneous

iv. Eliot has not completed his notion of tradition in this essay; he develops it further in …….
a) ‘Notes towards a definition on culture’.
b) ‘Hamlet and His Problems’
c) ’A Note on Twentieth Century Literature’
d) None of the Above

v. T. S. Eliot defines poetry as ……………………
a) "The spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling: it takes its origins from emotion recollected in tranquility.
b) “Not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality."
c) “A metrical composition which is a blissful blend of emotions and intellect.
d) None of the above

To check you answers, click



4.3. Let's sum up:


Thus, Eliot denounces the romantic criticism of the nineteenth century (particularly Wordsworth’s theory of poetry); second, it underlines the importance of ‘tradition’ and examines the correlation between ‘tradition’ and ‘individual talent’ and finally, it announces the death of the author (i.e., the empirical author, the author in the biographical sense of term) and shifts the focus from the author to the text.

4.4. Reading List:


1. Eliot, T. S., ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, 1922, Print.

2. IGNOU eGyankosh, Study Material. Web.

3. Jovanovich, Harcourt Brace., Critical Theory Since Plato, ed. By Adams, Hazard, Uni. Of California, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1971, 783-791, ISBN – 0-15-516142-3. Print.

4. Nagarajan, M. S., English Literary Criticism and Theory, An Introductory History, Orient Blackswan Private Limited, 2006, 105-116. Print.

5. Prasad, Birjadish., A Short History of English Poetry. Macmillan India Limited, 1971, 121-124, ISBN – 033390 316 1, Print.

6. Praz, Mario., T. S. Eliot as a Critic, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 74, No. 1, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) (Winter, 1966), pp. 256-271, The Johns Hopkins University Press,2nd June, 2012. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/27541397>


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