The Criticism of Evasion: The Non-Literary Margins in T. S. Eliot's Early Criticism/ LA CRITIQUE DE L'EVASION: LES MARGES NON-LITTERAIRES DES PREMIERES CRITIQUES DE T.S. ELIOT

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This paper traces the non-literary margins in the youthful criticism of T. S. Eliot, focusing exclusively on the early essays in which he assumes an aesthetic stand in his early years as a critic. In "Tradition and Individual Talent," "Function of Criticism," "The Metaphysical Poets," besides other essays, Eliot pretends that literary appreciation/criticism can be practiced in isolation from any external influence, and that principles of criticism are purely literary in their origin as well as in their practice, that of establishing the value of the literary works. Relatedly, Eliot proposes that 'emotions', 'feelings' and 'experiences' in the literary work can be evaluated without connection to their non-literary margins. This paper explodes such claims by suggesting that non-literary margins dominated and shaped the early critical formulations and judgments of Eliot.

Keywords: T. S. Eliot; Criticism; Literary Tradition; Margins

Résumé: Ce document retrace les marges non- littéraires dans les premières critiques de T.S. Eliot, en se concentrant exclusivement sur les premiers essais dans lesquels il montre une position esthétique en tant que critique. Dans "Tradition et talent individuel", "Fonction de la critique"," Les poètes métaphysiques" et d'autres essais, Eliot prétend que l'appréciation/la critique littéraire peut être pratiquée de façon isolée de toute influence extérieure, et que les principes de la critique sont purement littéraires non seulement dans leur origine mais aussi dans leur pratique, afin d'établir les valeur des oeuvres littéraires. En plus, Eliot propose que «émotions», «sentiments» et «expériences» dans les oeuvres littéraires peuvent être évalués sans connexion à leurs marges non-littéraires. Cet article étudie ces revendications en suggérant que les marges non-littéraires ont dominé et façonné les premières formulations de critiques et des jugements d'Eliot.

Mots-clés: T.S. Eliot; critique; tradition littéraire; marges

We had the experience but missed the meaning,

And approach to the meaning restores the experience

In a different form, beyond any meaning

We can assign to happiness. I have said before

That the past experience revived in meaning

Is not the experience of one life only

But of many generations.

(The Dry Salvages, lines 93- 99; Eliot 1969: 186-87).

The literary criticism of Eliot in his early years was related to shaping the standards for the kind of literature required as a meaningful and contemporary framework of the human experience in the modern age. Eliot's criticism was a reaction against the literary modes of writing current in the ideal Georgian and Victorian eras, unable to respond the transience taking place within the new century (Kirsch). Eliot's critical mission attempted to formulate an order of modern aesthetics based upon his defense of "art as an autonomous activity" (Rosenthal 2006: 119). As a designated literary editor, critic, and an extension lecturer, Eliot evaluated various artists or literary movements and recruited those evaluations to illustrate his ideas and poetry, within his larger desire to formulate a conception of a European literary tradition (Sullivan 82; Margolis: 56). Similarly, the major critical pronouncements of Eliot belong to his endeavor to offer a personal vision of "modern life and its meaning" against the influence of "the corruption and decay of popular culture" (Scruton: 47, 44). Eliot describes these early pronouncements as "generalìzation[s]," "general affirmations" about his own poetry, and somewhat reactionary pronouncements against the literature of his early years (1978: 18; 16).

The scholarship of Eliot is an industry. Studies on Eliot are variant, ranging from the moral and classical to the post modern, historical, cultural and the postcolonial (Canary; Clarke; Brooker 2004; Cianci and Jason). Scholars and critics alike examined the homogenous aspect of Eliot's criticism, as they reviewed EHofs body of essays according to what they thought he intended to utter. …