Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Puzzling over value 9A. T.S. Eliot as critic

I'm tracking back through Eliot's criticism.

Before commenting, here's the young Eliot, in the first chapter of his first book, laying down the law about criticism.
Almost a hundred years later there are still people who think their emotional response to a poem is not only sufficient but far superior to any critical attempt at understanding or evaluation. There's also a flat earth society.

This impression [an uneducated response to over powering beauty] may be so deep that no subsequent study and understanding will intensify it. But at this point the impression is emotional: the reader in the ignorance which we postulate is unable to distinguish the poetry from an emotional state around in himself by the poetry, a state which may be merely an indulgence of his own emotions. The poetry may be an accidental stimulus. The end of the enjoyment of poetry is a pure contemplation from which all the accidents of personal emotion are removed: thus we aim to see the object as really is and find a meaning for the words of Arnold [What words of Arnold?].And without a labour which is largely a labour of the intelligence, we are unable to attain that stage of vision 'amor intellectualis Dei'.
Such considerations, cast in this general form, may appear commonplaces. But I believe that it as always opportune to call attention to the torpid superstition that appreciation is one thing, and ‘intellectual’ criticism something else. Appreciation in popular psychology is one faculty, and criticism another, an arid cleverness building theoretical scaffolds upon one’s own perception or those of others, On the contrary, the true generalization is not something superposed upon an accumulation of perceptions; the perceptions do not, in a really appreciative mind, accumulate as a mass but form themselves as a structure; and criticism is the statement in language of this structure, it is developed sensibility, the bad criticism on the other hand is that which is nothing but an expression of emotion. (The Perfect Critic in The Sacred Wood p15)

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