The Aristotelian Mr. Eliot: Structure and Strategy in the Waste Land

By Timmerman, John H. | Yeats Eliot Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

The Aristotelian Mr. Eliot: Structure and Strategy in the Waste Land


Timmerman, John H., Yeats Eliot Review


Agnostic though he was at the time, T.S. Eliot undoubtedly was searching for some degree of spiritual direction in his Waste Land Cycle of poems. His thoughts might well have been incarnated in Gerontion's words:

   I have not made this show purposelessly
   And it is not by any concitation
   Of the backward devils.
   I would meet you upon this honestly. (1)

The pronoun "this" in the final line is strategically ambiguous. Does it refer to his earlier deliberation on the vacuity of human history and the soul-robbing lack of passion in the modern age? Or, more likely, does it refer to the immediate subject of the stanza in which it appears--the spring (appearance or leap) of the tiger in the new year (spring)?

Since Eliot did consider "Gerontion" as a prefatory poem to The Waste Land, the questions are not without merit, both in their criticism of the modern age and also their search for the meaning of Christ in an age without apparent meaning. "Gerontion" sets against each other, in a tension typical of The Waste Land, the Logos of the Gospel of John, the sign already given, and a search for answers located within the age itself. Thus, while "Christ the Tiger" is divided in a profaned sacrament by such people as Mr. Silvero, the profanation itself causes the tiger to leap and snap our hollowness under its jaws. The pivotal passage on human intellectual history--"After such knowledge, what forgiveness?"--that also expresses Gerontion's own rationalist defense against passionate commitment, whirls apart in mere words when the tiger springs.

Spiritual stultification marks Eliot's modern wasteland. The individual self remains impotent to reach beyond itself in any directed commitment. The inhabitants of the waste spaces peer into mirrors, unable to escape the pitiless stare of their shrunken passion. The Waste Land, with its sustained deliberation on self-gratification and urgency, welds together the bleakness of modernism and the tense uncertainty of a culture mired in spiritual quicksand. Yet, The Waste Land also points toward a way out of the wasteland.

Many readers have recognized the lyrical and symbolic suggestiveness of Section V and have related it as a response to earlier sections. Only partially explored is the careful way in which the thunder's commands respond to the debased trinity of earlier sections. Essentially, Eliot establishes a three-fold devolution in which passion becomes mere urgency, the quest for the divine becomes immediate gratification, and civilization becomes the Unreal City. In each of these patterns, moreover, Eliot carefully adapts the philosophy of Aristotle to nuance his analysis of the modern human condition. Particularly important to this study are Aristotle's use of the via negative, his analysis of animal and human distinctions in Partibus Animalium and De Anima, and his teleological ethics in Nicomachaean Ethics.

Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Via Negativa

Eliot's acquaintance with Aristotle was lengthy and profound already by the time of The Waste Land. Sections of his dissertation lauded Aristotle for his ability to combine realism and idealism in the Physics. In a 1916 essay on Leibniz, Eliot appreciated this balance of Aristotle: "Aristotle is too keen a metaphysician to start from a naive view of matter or from a one-sided spiritualism." (2) In "The Perfect Critic" (1920), an essay that addressed the modern schism between intelligence and sense perception, Eliot turns again to Aristotle: "He was primarily a man of not only remarkable and universal intelligence; and universal intelligence means that he could apply his intelligence to anything.... There is no method except to be very intelligent, but of intelligence itself swiftly operating the analysis of sensation to the point of principle and definition." (3) This modulation of intelligence and sensation to a syncretic whole became something of a lifelong creed for Eliot, affecting his life, essays, and poetic theory. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Aristotelian Mr. Eliot: Structure and Strategy in the Waste Land
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.