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Flashcards in Tradition and the Individual Talent Deck (7)
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1

Context

-anglo-american poet and critic
-self made modernist
- unhappy marriage. Viviens mental illness deepens in 1920-30. harrowing for both of them and his despair is reflected in much of his poetry E.G 1922 wasteland
- had a near nervous breakdown.

2

the two angles of Eliot's work and criticism

- 'No artist produces great art by a deliberate attempt to express his personality. He expresses his personality indirectly through concentrating on a task in the same sense as the making of an efficient engine'
- From one angle, Eliot's work is itself impersonal and objective; it is filled with masks, role-playing, and multiple voices. Yet it is saturated everywhere, too, with the displaced personal pain, regret, sexual desire, and emotional and spiritual yearning. His personal despair is reflected in torment, bitterness, and isolation expressed in much of his poetry.

3

how it has been criticised

• Some later critics, such as Harold Bloom, have labelled Eliot a 'weak' poet-critic because in assigning such priority to tradition, they overlook the extent to which the poet challenges and revises the tradition to which he or she defers.
• Eliot has also been criticised for his conceptualisation of tradition as 'something that happens simultaneously to all works of art that preceded it': ' a 'living whole'; a 'living order', 'the mind of Europe'. Eliot therefore idealises its conflicts, contradictions and subjectivity. Although Eliot's work does contain non-European influences, such are the Fire Sermon in The Waste Land, postcolonial critics may be alarmed by his Eurocentric, Western, and generally exclusive canonisation.
• Poststructuralist critics of Tradition and the Individual Talent, although praising Eliot for his awareness of the impact of tradition upon the author, would condemn his analysis of it as active and exclusive.

4

what tradition means to poetry

• For Eliot, each poem exists within the tradition from which it takes shape and which it, in turn, redefines: it exists in a constant state of both past and present. Thus tradition is both something to which the poet must be 'faithful' and something that is actively created. Novelty, the 'really new', emerges from consciousness of the works of the past.

5

Part One: Eliot's Conceptualisation of Tradition:

Shows a gap in the way we define the word tradition – only used in phrases of censure.
Looks at the tendency within criticism to praise a poet for uniqueness, to find the individual.
This is wrong, the best parts of a work are those which are similar to poets of the past.
Tradition does not mean a blind adherence to the ways of the previous generation or generations
Poet needs a historical sense, needs to exist in a historical context of literature and be aware of what came before.
When a new piece of art is created, everything that preceded it changes. Relationship between past and present is reciprocal
If a work of art is not new it is not a work of art.
There is no qualitative improvement in art
Process of dehumanisation, removing the sense of the individual in the place of tradition.

6

Part Two: The theory of depersonalisation

Uses the analogy of the artist as a catalyst. The poet as a receptacle to store sensations and emotions, which unite to create a new compound altogether. No trace of the original ingredients.
Poetry isn’t about looking for new emotions to express, it’s about expressing the same, universal emotions in new and surprising ways.
Poetry as organisation rather than inspiration
Something wrong with ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ – not about letting emotion loose and thinking about it and constructing it later, more of a passive experience.

7

quotes in order of appearance

-what we consider good writing is that which in which the author least resembles anyone else. however if we remove these prejudices, we will find that the "best" and "most individual parts of his work" are those in which "the dead poets assert their immortality most vigorously".
- tradition "cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour"
-must have a "historical sense" a "timelessness"
-"the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past"
- the author being the "platinum" of sulphuric acid.
-art must be "impersonal" and in order to achieve this he must "surrender himself wholly to the work".