Tuesday, March 31, 2009

1919: "Tradition and the Individual Talent" by T. S. Eliot

Author: T. S. Eliot.
Born in St. Louis in 1888, Eliot got his bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1909 and got his master's degree there in 1910. In 1914, he moved to England, where he remained for most of the rest of his life. Eliot worked at Lloyd's Bank in London between 1917 and 1925 and it was during this period that he published, "The Waste Land," which some consider the most influential poem of the 20th century. In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen.

The "central Anglo-American poet and critic of the twentieth century," Eliot "defined the critical standards of an era, recast the literary tradition, and establisehd key terms for analysis and evaluation." (Leitch et al., 1088) He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1948.

The Text: "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919) first appeared in The Egoist--An Individualist Review, an a monthly magazine where Eliot worked as an assistant editor between 1917 and 1919.

We critics have a "tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet's difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavor to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously." (1092-1093)

"... art never improves, but . . . the material of art is never quite the same." (1094)

"The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality." (1094)

"Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry." (1095)

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality." (1097) [The image at left is a still from 1921 motion picture The Goat, starring comic actor Buster Keaton, one of the most successful stars of the silent film era (which came to a close around 1927). Keaton’s nickname was “The Great Stone Face.” Click here to see a clip.)

"The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him." (1097)


1922: "The Waste Land: Part I: The Burial of the Dead" by T. S. Eliot

This is the first of the poem's four parts. It is read by the author.

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar kine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow.
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu,
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?

"You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
"They called me the hyacinth girl."
–Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed' und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: "Stetson!
"You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
"That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
"Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
"Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
"Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
"Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
"You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable—mon frère!"

Click here for a hypertext version of the poem with commentary on its many allusions.

These are Eliot's notes:

Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Macmillan). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognise in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies.

I. The Burial of the Dead

Line 20. Cf. Ezekiel II, i.
23. Cf. Ecclesiastes XII, v.
31. V. Tristan und Isolde, I, verses 5-8.
42. Id, III, verse 24.
46. I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the "crowds of people," and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself
60. Cf. Baudelaire:
"Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves,
"Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant
63. Cf. Inferno III, 55-57:
"si Iunga tratta
di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta."
64, Cf. Inferno IV, 25-27:
"Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
"non avea pianto, ma' che di sospiri,
"che l'aura eterna facevan tremare
68, A phenomenon which I have often noticed.
74, Cf. the Dirge in Webster's White Devil.
76. V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.

1921: The Goat--Starring Buster Keaton

This 5-minute, 18-second clip is the first of three:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

1919: "The Uncanny" by Sigmund Freud

The Author:
Sigmund Freud
Born in 1856 to a poor Jewish family in Moravia (in what is now the Czech Republic), Freud and his family moved to Vienna, Austria in 1860. In 1881, Freud got his medical degree at the University of Vienna and in 1900, he published his groundbreaking Interpretations of Dreams, which—literary scholars will note--“revolutionized the reading of two major canonical texts of Western culture”, SophoclesOedipus Rex (circa 429 BCE) and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (circa 1601) (Leitch et al, 916).

Freud was eighty-one-years old when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. He immigrated to London in May of 1838 and died there a little more than a year later, in September 1839.

Since Freud’s death, his writings have come under increasing scrutiny for “diverging from the protocols of science.” But they have grown in importance for literary scholars, who appreciate his attention to language, to the challenges of narrative, and to the way human reason both resists and is “motivated by . . . unconscious desires and forces” (Leitch, 913). As the editors of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism put it, “For Freud, it is always as if a bourgeois drama is playing on the conscious stage of the psyche, while a Greek tragedy is going on somewhere else.” (916)

The Text:
“The Uncanny” (1919)

“The Uncanny” analyzes the “uncanny” return of certain “disturbing, the unsettling, the uncomfortable” elements in E. T. A. Hoffman’s short story “The Sandman” (1816). Freud links these unsettling elements to castration anxieties and uses Hoffman’s story as evidence for his theory of “the compulsion to repeat,” “a psychological phenomenon in which a person feels the need to repeat, remember and work through [traumatic] memories that have been repressed.” (Clark)

Translated Excerpts (from German):
"A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that anxiety about one's eyes, the fear of going blind [which is a central theme in “The Sandmann”], is often enough a substitute for the dread of being castrated. The self-blinding of the mythical criminal, Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration — the only punishment that was adequate for him by the lex talionis [law of retaliation in kind (Latin)].” (Leitch, 938)

Crucial elements in Hoffman’s story “seem arbitrary and meaningless so long as we deny all connection between fears about the eye and castration; but they become intelligible as soon as we replace the Sand-Man by the dreaded father at whose hands castration is expected.” (938)

“To some people the idea of being buried alive by mistake is the most uncanny thing of all. And yet psycho-analysis has taught us that this terrifying phantasy is only a transformation of another phantasy which had originally nothing terrifying about it at all, but was qualified by a certain lasciviousness—the phantasy, I mean of intra-uterine existence.” (946) That is to say, the fear of being buried alive may be a repressed desire to return to the mother’s womb.

When the “stage [of narcissism which dominates the mind of the child and of primitive man] has been surmounted, the ‘double’ reverse its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.” (940)

With maturity, the idea of the “double” transforms into an agency that “is able to stand over against the rest of the ego, which has the function of observing and criticizing the self and of exercising a censorship with the mind, and which we become aware of as our ‘conscience. In the pathological case of delusions of being watched, this mental agency becomes isolated, dissociated from the ego . . .” (940)

Leitch, Vincent B, et al ed.
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001.
Clark, Robert. "Repetition Compulsion". The Literary Encyclopedia. 24 October 2005. [http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=947, accessed 18 February 2009.]


Freud on Freud

Can't Get Enough Freud?

This one (the first of five), from the Biography channel, is ten minutes long ...