T.S. Eliot and the Poetics of Evolution: Sub/Versions of Classicism, Culture, and Progress

T.S. Eliot and the Poetics of Evolution: Sub/Versions of Classicism, Culture, and Progress

T.S. Eliot and the Poetics of Evolution: Sub/Versions of Classicism, Culture, and Progress

T.S. Eliot and the Poetics of Evolution: Sub/Versions of Classicism, Culture, and Progress

Synopsis

"Cuddy examines how the nineteenth-century union of evolution, history, and myth became Eliot's definition of the Western Tradition from Homer to the present. Homer's Odyssey and the tradition it inspired became one of Eliot's most successful paradigms for historical re/vision of women, father/son relationships, cultural evolution, time, and poet's struggle with words. Guided by Eliot's own allusions and references to specific authors and historical moments, Cuddy adds a feminist, cultural, and intertextual perspective to the familiar critical interpretations of Eliot's work in order to reread poems and plays through nineteenth-century ideologies and knowledge set against our own time. By considering the implications and consequences of Eliot's culturally approved assumptions, this study further reveals how Eliot was trapped between the idea of Evolution as a unifying project and the reality of his own and his culture's hierarchical (and fragmenting) beliefs about class, gender, religion, and race. Cuddy concludes by exploring how this conflict undermined Eliot's mission of unity and influenced his (and Modernism's) place in history." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

It is a fact that what we learn in youth remains with us forever. In some form, the fragments of the past become part of an epistemology that helps to define who we are. Though we may accept or ultimately reject those early lessons and memories, what we know and how we know it establish patterns of thinking for a lifetime. So it was for T. S. Eliot and his contemporaries as they grew up in an intellectually exciting and terrifying moment when many beliefs and a secure way of life for the privileged classes were being challenged. The lines between science, history, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and religion were blurred as the principle of evolution dominated not only scientific research, but new ways of thinking about the origin of life and mind, human nature, history, and social contracts. For the culture in which Eliot and his modernist contemporaries were educated, evolution was the principle that suggested both chaos and comfort, progress and regression, unity and fragmentation. Evolution embraced theories of origins and attempted to answer questions about the genesis and development of both the universal and the particular in terms of the cosmos, of earth, and of human life. And while the doctrine of evolution related specifically to observable phenomena based on scientific and mechanical principles, the laws of evolution were applied to societal, cultural, and individual issues of growth and development. No area of knowledge was excluded as the doctrine of evolution, which was firmly established on the laws of adaptation and development, became a guiding principle of thought and a way of ordering experience. T. S. Eliot, whose poetry embraced the history of Eastern and Western ideas, did not remain untouched by such cultural reinventions, conflicts, and challenges.

The importance of the doctrine of evolution circulating in America and Europe during Eliot's formative years cannot be underestimated. While theories anticipating modern definitions of evolution are as old as the ancient Greek and Eastern philoso-

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