The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Paul de Man

By Paul Morrison | Go to book overview

3
T. S. ELIOT The Poetics of Failure

Eliot's reputation, like Harry's homecoming in The Family Reunion, is troubled by the Eumenides, the vengeful ghosts of Milton and Shelley. Northrop Frye, an enemy only to Eliot's cultural polemic, suggests that this need not be so:

Since the nineteen-twenties, critics have become increasingly aware of the continuity of the English Romantic tradition and of Eliot's place in it. . . . One cannot both accept a tradition and decide what it is to be. For appreciating the real place of Eliot's drama, and perhaps his poetry too, in English literature, the amnesty proposed in "Little Gidding" ["These things have served their purpose: let them be"] does not go far enough. The greatness of his achievement will finally be understood, not in the context of the tradition he chose, but in the context of the tradition that chose him. 1

Frye's argument recalls Eliot's own "mature" contention that "literary politics" are but tactical games, 2 yet there is a sense in which this expanded amnesty is predicated on an understanding of the relation of the literary to the social which is distinctly (or at least characteristically) non-Eliotic. The cultural polemic "must be considered," Frye concedes, "but [it] can also be clearly separated from Eliot's permanent achievement, leaving that achievement intact" (6). Eliot's reputation could only profit from the separation, but Eliot himself utterly denies its validity:

I cannot see that poetry can ever be separated from something which I should call belief, and to which I cannot see any reason for refusing the

-60-

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The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Paul de Man
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Modernism (for the Other People) 3
  • 2 - Ezra Pound the Poetics of Money 16
  • 3 - T. S. Eliot the Poetics of Failure 60
  • 4 - Paul De Man the Poetics of Collaboration 109
  • Notes 147
  • Index 171
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