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T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Lifespan: 1888 - 1965

Related: modernist literature - cultural elitism - cultural pessimism - American literature

[The] English-speaking poet who is unquestionably Baudelaire's most distinguished twentieth century follower [is] TS Eliot. Eliot first registered the impact of Les Fleurs du mal in 1907 or 1908; we can see the indirect but palpable reflection of this influence in the anti-aesthetic urban imagery of Prufrock (1919), with its celebrated opening of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock — which one may well regard as a modernisation of certain lines in Baudelaire's Crépuscule du matin. --Baudelaire: Les Fleurs Du Mal (1992) - F. W. Leakey

Cultural elitism was almost de rigueur amongst British intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s, especially after T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land came out in 1922 depicting its crowds of office workers swarming across London Bridge with the dead of Dante's Inferno. “The implication”, writes John Carey, “seems to be that London's crowds are not really alive…” (John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses, Faber, London, 1992, p. 10.)

... whether education can foster and improve culture or not, it can surely adulterate and degrade it. For there is no doubt that in our headlong rush to educate everybody, we are lowering our standards, and more and more abandoning the study of those subjects by which the essentials of our culture—of that part of it which is transmissible by education—are transmitted; destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanized caravans. --T. S. Eliot in Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1948)


Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) was an Anglo-American poet, dramatist, and literary critic, whose works like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land and Four Quartets, are considered major achievements of twentieth-century Modernism. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.S._Eliot [Sept 2005]

Tradition and the Individual Talent (1920) - T.S. Eliot

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Sacred Wood () - T.S. Eliot [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to “the tradition” or to “a tradition”; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is “traditional” or even “too traditional.” Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archæological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archæology.

“No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead” .

see also: tradition - individual - author - literature - lit crit - 1920

T.S. Eliot

T.S. ELIOT'S most recent book on a non-literary subject, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, proceeds largely on the assumption, familiar by now, that our culture is in decline. The... ...CLEMENT GREENBERG, in this two-part article, which takes off from an analysis of T. S. Eliot's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, tries to show that culture is moving today on a middle plane between the two, but argues that culture suffers under such a compromise, and must always direct itself towards the highest level... --via http://www.commentarymagazine.com/Summaries/V15I6P28-1.htm [Feb 2005]

T S Eliot and Cultural elitism

T S Eliot's cultural criticism has had an extensive influence, not simply on the academic field of cultural studies, but on the publishing industry, through his role as editor of Faber and Faber.

In Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (Faber & Faber, 1948) Eliot considers high culture to be complex, but absolute and objectively definable. Culture is the salvation of society from the materialism and barbarism associated with industrialisation and commerce. Only 'superior individuals' are able to participate in and contribute to this culture. He advocates the replacement of the existing class system by a system of meritocracy headed by a cultural elite.

'it is now the opinion of some of the most advanced minds that some qualitative differences between individual must still be recognised, and that the superior individuals must be formed into suitable groups, endowed with appropriate powers, and perhaps with varied emoluments and honours. These groups ... will direct the public life of the nation; the individuals composing themselves will be spoken of as 'leaders' . There will be groups concerned with art, and groups concerned with science, and groups concerned with philosophy as well as groups consisting of men of action: and the groups are what we call élite.' (Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p. 36)

Eliot thus argues that efforts and expense to make culture accessible to all, predominantly through the democratisation of the education system, are inappropriate and lead to falling standards in culture and education. It is more important for a society to invest in an excellence in education, academia and culture for a limited privileged audience. --http://www.brookes.ac.uk/schools/apm/publishing/culture/theory/cultcons.html! [Sept 2005]

See also: 1943 - mass - elite

Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1943) - T. S. Eliot

Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1943) - T. S. Eliot [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Critical treatise by T.S. Eliot, originally appearing as a series of articles in New England Weekly in 1943, and published in book form in 1948. In the Notes, Eliot presents culture as an organic, shared system of beliefs that cannot be planned or artificially induced. Its chief means of transmission, he holds, is the family. The book has been viewed as a critique of postwar Europe and a defense of conservatism and Christianity. --via Amazon.com

See also: 1943 - culture - notes - T.S. Eliot

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