An Outline of Modern Criticism & T. S. Eliot's Tradition
Complied by Mohamed Zayed
a. Eliot’s Tradition:
According to Eliot, “tradition” is a word that disagreeable to the English ear. The English praise the poet for his “individual” and original aspects. Eliot believes that the English praise the poet for the wrong things. Eliot believes that a great writer is someone who shows the maximum influence of the writers of the past (=tradition). Eliot revolted against Romantic subjectivity and individuality (=not following the poets of the past).
The Value and Significance of Tradition:
Tradition does not mean the blind adherence to the past or the ways of the previous generations. Tradition is not an imitation or a repetition of the past. Eliot believes that tradition can be obtained by hard work. This hard works means knowing the past writers and shifting the good from the bad. Tradition is knowing what is good and useful. Tradition can be obtained by writers who have historical sense. He believes that all of the literature of Europe forms one literary tradition. In other words, the past exists in the present. The present is fully expressed in terms of the past. Hence, the past and the present form one order It is the historical sense that makes the writer traditional. Eliot believes that no writer has his value and significance in isolation. To judge the works of a poet, we must compare and contrast his work with the works of the past poets. Eliot’s Tradition is more dynamic than Arnold’s Touchstone. Eliot states that tradition is not static or fixed. It is constantly changing and growing. A writer of the present must conform to the literary tradition (=the past). He must seek guidance from the past. The past directs the present and the present modifies the past. The function of Tradition. Tradition serves as a tool for analyzing the new and not judging it as good or bad. It aims at forming a better understanding of the new work of art.
Eliot & the Impersonality of Poetry (Anti-Romanticism)
The artist should be objective and surrender himself to something more valuable than himself. That thing is literary tradition. The artist must allow the past to modify and shape his sensibility. There must be greater impersonality and objectivity. The emotions and passions of the poet must be depersonalized (=objective). He must be objective and impersonal like a scientist. The personality of the poet (=feelings, emotions, atmosphere) is not important. The important thing is the poet’s sense of tradition. It is tradition that helps the artist to escape his own personality. Eliot states that “poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion”.
b. Eliot & the Poetic Process
The mind of the poet is like catalyst and the process of poetic creation is a chemical reaction. Thus, the poet’s mind is responsible for combining different emotions into something new. Eliot & Poetry as Organization The poet’s mind is a jar which stores endless feelings and emotions in unorganized way. Thus, poetry is an organization rather than inspiration. The greatness of a poem doesn’t depend on the intensity of emotions but it depends on the process of poetic composition (organization).
c. Eliot’s Objective Correlative
The phrase “Objective Correlative” was first used by Eliot in his essay on “Hamlet.” According to Eliot, emotion can best be expressed in poetry in terms of the use of a suitable objective correlative. Objective correlative means a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula for the poet’s emotions to be best expressed. For example, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the mental suffering and agony of Lady Macbeth is represented by using the sleeping-walking scene, not through direct quotation or narration. Hence, her suffering had been made objective since it can be seen with the eyes and felt with the heart. Eliot sees Hamlet as an artistic failure. Hamlet is in excess of sadness which is not objective.