Friday, 18 May 2012

The Enduring Legacy of T.S. Eliot

from the Imaginative Conservative [full article here]

"...It is not simply that Eliot understood the practical imperative of what Simone Weil calledl’enracinement, the need for roots—he wrote an appreciative preface to the English translation of her book of that title—but he also had a vital sense of what we might call the metaphysics of tradition. The variety of his writings, in poetry, drama, literary criticism, and cultural theory, all attests that tradition, rightly conceived, offers neither a refuge of security nor mastery of time but rather constitutes, with and through language, the very medium of our participation in the shared human enterprise, the ground of genuine self-knowledge, the pre-condition for the perception of order and for the possibility of authentic development.
Yet he knew as much without hypostasizing or deifying tradition or history as a monolithic entity; he had a keen sense of time as a dynamic field of tensions and of the fragmentary quality of our fitful resistance to both willed and unconscious uprootedness. He understood, as well, that tradition is no substitute for deeper forms of transcendence, that tradition can only point toward the discovery and the gift of the dispensation of faith handed down for our health. Though he never developed this understanding explicitly in one place, such is the persistent, unifying concern of all his work, from its first articulation as a dimension of literary experience in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) through his musings on time, memory, history, and transcendence in Four Quartets (1943). The same concern is not only explored but embodied and enacted in the sequence of his major poems, in his plays, essays, and lectures, branching out from specifically literary questions to encompass and characterize Eliot’s approach to society, culture, politics, and religion. Eliot sought to see the whole, yet he also accepted and embraced the particular limitations of his own (partially willed) rootedness in time and place and in the various traditions (some chosen) that composed his self-understanding: “Home is where one starts from,” but “History is now and England...”
"...For latter-day “pilgrims in the waste land,” T. S. Eliot offers neither a program for success nor a recipe of happiness, no remedy, nostrum or elixir, but simply the counsel of hope, the example of his prudence, play, and compassion, all as part of the imperative of the unremitting spiritual discipline of tradition. Tradition is a hard and rugged way—not without its consolations, but daunting nonetheless. Yet nothing else will do, arrayed as we are against the powers of darkness and the forces of forgetfulness, “But fare forward, voyagers.”[39] By his labor and in his words, Eliot modified the contours and contents of tradition with his particular fusion of horizons. He is now part of the tradition in which we find ourselves, and his are the tradita handed down to us by which we must take our own bearings and respond anew to “the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling.” The rest, Eliot enjoins us, “Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.”[40]..."

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