T.S. Eliot - Biography #
Like Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Mark Twain and Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot came from the mid west – with its more natural and grounded mindset. It valued white settlement and achievement, the righteous triumph of hard work and perseverance, casual conquering and acquisition. White people showed up and struggled to survive.
Midwestern imagery has long favored agrarian over urban or industrial images:
Dominant representations of the pastoral Midwest…sought to present the region and its inhabitants through the lens of a selective tradition of Midwestern farming, as a foil to the technology and modernity of industrial labor as well as its toil, pollution, inequalities, workers of color, and forms of alienation…. An iconic and imagined place, the Heartland remains coded as white.
It may be significant that today the midwest is Trump heartland.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri to a respectable and distinguished family, Eliot felt a need to break out of closeted family, yet he grew up within the family’s tradition of service to religion, community, and education.
He declared, “Missouri and the Mississippi have made a deeper impression on me than any part of the world." The Eliots spent summers on Cape Ann, Massachusetts..
When he arrived at Harvard at the age of 18, Eliot viewed Boston and modern cities like Paris and London with a critical disdain for their grimy industrial impersonality. Eliot often commented on the noise of a mechanised society.
You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
According to Peter Ackroyd:
The Eliot family motto is tace et fac, be silent and act, or, with some licence, keep separate the man who suffers from the artist who creates. … The assumption is that in spite of all that has to be said about Eliot’s insistence on ‘impersonality’ our understanding of his poetry will benefit from knowledge of his suffering, or at any rate of his life in general.
Indeed it seems that this profound and lonely man was under a compulsion to make every great alteration in his life a matter for remorse, for the incursion of a general horror into the particular life. He thought he had deserted his parents; and even his intellectual and spiritual development entailed what could be understood as a desertion of old friends and principles. Ackroyd shows, as one would expect, that this predisposition to guilt was early formed, and quite consistent with a determination to make his life on his own terms, in spite of all the breakdowns, alarming illnesses and deep loneliness of his whole life except for the last happy years.
Publication dates #
1915 - Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Protrait of a Lady, Preludes, Rhapsody on a Windy Night
1922 - The Waste Land, Gerontion
1925 - The Hollowman
1927 - Journey of the Magi
1930 - Ash Wednesday
1935 - Murder in the Cathedral
1936 - Burnt Norton
1939 - Family Reunion, Old Pussom
1940 - Fire Water, East Coker
1941 - The Dry Savages
1942 - Little Gidding
1943 - Four Quartets
Eliot’s poetry, written in the early 20th C. reflects a sombre, bleak, tired, world-weary view of the urban world of an effete, decadent, exhausted society. Eliot is profoundly influenced by the realistic novels of Dostoevsky; Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov and French and German Novels and Poetry.
Earlier, Eliot became influenced by the French Poet Baudelaire, who attempted to find beauty in the ordinary, but found the rise of urbanisism unnatural, grubby and alienating.
Percy Shelley in 1819, wrote:
“Hell, is a city much like London.”
Eliot in 1922 writes:
“London, Unreal city."
Ayn Rand wrote about the NY skyline as “the will of man made visible”.
Bertolt Brecht wrote
“I, who live not in London but in Los Angeles/Thinking about Hell, suppose it must be/Even more like Los Angeles.”
From 1910 – 11, Eliot studied French Literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris before returning to Harvard in 1912 and going to Munich in 1914. Eliot dedicated Prufrock and Other Observations to the memory of his Parisian boarding-house companion Jean Verdenal, who died serving as a medical officer during the First World War in Gallipoli. Some suggest repressed homosexual feelings.
In a letter of 1914 to his friend Conrad Aiken, Eliot admitted that his stay in Paris occasioned ‘one of those nervous sexual attacks which I suffer from when alone in a city’
Eliot returned to America to study at Harvard until 1914 when he went to Germany to study Philosophy.
The threat of war brought Eliot to England in October where he taught in a Grammar school for two years before joining Lloyd’s Bank until 1925. Eliot commented that teaching was twice as hard as working longer hours in a bank.
His early poetry was written in Boston and Paris and published in 1915. He lived in England until his death in 1965.
Eliot’s personal letters to Emily Hale, released in January, 2020, reveal a conflicted, socially insecure, buttoned-up private life, surrounded by highly mannered, but gossipy snobby hostesses.
He reveals his pain at her decision to release his letters, as he feels a private man who finds it difficult to write about himself. His brief reference of the indebtedness to his father for the expense of three years at Harvard could indicate some guilt, which could be relevant to some of his personas. While his mother and sister came to his wedding in London, his father failed to make the trip.
He had been unlucky in love. His first unrequited love was meeting Emily Hale at a Harvard Tea Party in 1912.
In 1913, Thomas Stearns Eliot and Emily Hale performed in a theatrical adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” in a parlor room right off Harvard’s campus.
When he declares his love, he sees no signs of her returning it. He writes: “I was very immature for my age, timid, inexperienced with gnawing doubt." A proposal appears to have been rebuffed, merely because she didn’t appear eagar enough.
Eliot left America for Germany but when war was declared, he went to London where he suddenly married Vivienne Haigh-Wood. They shared an apartment with Bertrand Russell, who was renown as a confident ladies man. (it’s possible he and Vivienne enjoyed a brief fling).
In a letter Vivienne writes:
“I am very popular with Tom’s friends, and who do you think in particular? No less a person than Bertrand Russell!! He is all over me, is Bertie, and I simply love him. I am dining with him next week."
Eliot’s father died in January 1919, producing a paroxysm of guilt in the son who had hoped he would have time to heal the bad feelings caused by his marriage and emigration.
After an extended visit in the summer of 1921 from his mother and sister Marion, Eliot suffered a nervous collapse and, on his physician’s advice, took a three month’s rest cure, first on the coast at Margate and then at a sanitarium Russell’s mistress Lady Ottoline Morell (who enjoyed an open marriage) recommended at Lausanne, Switzerland.
His doctor named Roger Vittoz. Vittoz practiced a precursor of cognitive behavioral therapy, teaching his patients to redirect compulsive thoughts. It worked for Eliot.
On his return, The Waste Land is published.
One account suggests, Eliot came home one night to find Vivienne and Bertrand in bed together. He then took leave at Margate Beach.
In a letter from Vivien to a friend on 13th October 1921, she states that,
“Tom has had a rather serious breakdown and has had to stop all work and go away for three months.’ (`The Letters of T S Eliot, Volume One, 1898-1922,’ Edited Valerie Eliot, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and London, 1988, 478).
A few days later on the 26th October, writing from the Albermarle Hotel, Cliftonville, near Margate she tells another friend that she has joined Eliot and that he is `getting on amazingly. It is not quite a fortnight yet but he looks already younger and fatter and nicer.’
On the 1st November, Vivienne wrote to the philosopher Bertrand Russell that Eliot was `at present in Margate, of all cheerful spots! But he seems to like it!’
Eliot himself wrote of his daily routine on 4th November.
I have done a rough draft of part III [of the`Waste Land’]but do not know whether it will do, and must wait for Vivien’s opinion as to whether it is printable. ‘
Eliot appears to be diplomatic and courteous to all, regardless of his actual feelings.
`I have done this while sitting in a shelter on the front – as I am out all day except when taking rest. But I have written only some fifty lines, and have read nothing, literally – I sketch the people, after a fashion, and practise scales on the mandoline (sic).’ (Ibid, 484-485).
Eliot’s last reference to Margate was on 17th November to Richard Aldington: `Your letter finds me in transit between Margate – which I was very sorry to leave! – and Lausanne.’ (Ibid 487).
He was heading there for medical treatment. There is no record of him ever having returned to the town.
Within a few months of his return from Lausanne, Eliot had a relapse. “Am very tired and depressed,” he wrote to Lewis in March, 1922. “Vivien has been in bed with fever, and life has been horrible generally.” The drip of complaints becomes a downpour. “I am feeling pretty well worn out at present and I am convinced that I cannot keep at this kind of life for very long” (February, 1923).
“I have been hopelessly tired out and run down for a long time” (January, 1924). “I have gone through some terrible agony myself which I do not understand yet, and which has left me utterly bewildered and dazed” (April, 1924).
To Virginia Woolf: “I have been boiled in a hell-broth” (August, 1924).
Peter Craven reviewing Robert Crawford’s Eliot after the Waste Land provides some primary quotes:
In a letter to John Hayward****, Eliot claims,
“I never lay with a woman I liked, loved or even felt any physical attraction to, and I no longer even regret this lack of experience”.
In his many letters to Emily Hale, he repeatedly claims he will never marry any woman but her. “A couple have to love God more than each other which will make their love for each other more complete”.
Vivienne writes to Ottoline Morell that:
“I don’t think he was ever fond of me until he got me under. If you hear of me being murdered, don’t be surprised."
When she wanders the streets of Marylebone perilously late at night, she is certified. Eliot says he would prefer to never see her again – and doesn’t. “She is morally unpleasant and he’s physically indifferent to her.
When she dies in 1947, Eliot buries his head in his hands and cries,
“Oh God, Oh God!” All the nightmare of the past flows back. The thought of Vivienne’s unhappy, useless tormenting life appalls me. It’s much harder than simple grief, because my feelings have not even the dignity of being affectionate or altruistic.
He feels dislike of sex in any form and tells Hale he is shocked to discover I recoil from the prospect of marriage now.
Eliot writes his first letter to Emily Hale, attempting to re-ignite a relationship in 1922.
Ten years later, during a year teaching in Harvard in 1934, he and Emily Hale re-ignite their love for each other and write passioned letters for the next 13 years.
When Vivien dies in 1947, and Eliot jilts Emily, she informs him that she will donate all his personal correspondence to Princeton University.
He destroyed her letters, while she donated his to Princeton University, not to be opened for fifty years after the death of both.
Eliot, alarmed, responded with an illuminating three page covering letter, justifying his decisions, revealing a pettiness, unworthy of a great poet. He reveals some guilt for abadoning his father, who footed the bill for all his education and travel.
Excerpts of letters #
These excerpt quotes are courtesy of The Guardian’s Edward Helmore in Princeton, New Jersey Fri 3 Jan 2020, and The Atlantic’s James Parker, The Secret Cruelty of T. S. Eliot APRIL 6, 2020
Eliot separated from Vivienne in 1928, then for a long time, he was in love—chastely, unconsummatedly—with a woman who was not his wife, a woman named Emily Hale. Then, overnight as it seemed, he wasn’t. For 17 years, she in America and he in England, they had been maintaining an intense, and intensely sublimated, attachment. They wrote hundreds of letters. They saw each other infrequently, and behaved, when they did, with appalling propriety
‘I tried to pretend that my love for you was dead, though I could only do so by pretending myself that my heart was dead,’ the poet wrote to Emily Hale.
In 1932, on April 1, Eliot addresses Hale, as:
My dear lady. “Believe that though I am rushed, am not distracted from you in mood.” Early spring and late fall, are the two seasons most “troubling to my equilibrium” and “reviving of memories one must subdue.” Or to put it another way: “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire.”
‘I tried to pretend that my love for you was dead, though I could only do so by pretending myself that my heart was dead,’.
In 1932, responding to a suggestion that they take a holiday together, he writes:
“two people in our position.” They must do nothing, which could raise the slightest suspicion in any mind however vulgar.”, but “age has not abated my passions.”
Emily and Eliot spent the night before she left for America together, with Eliot literally at Hale’s feet.
“I am filled with wretchedness and rejoicing,” he wrote, almost as soon as she was gone, “and when I go to bed I shall imagine you kissing me; and when you take off your stocking you must imagine me kissing your dear dear feet and striving to approach your beautiful saintly soul.”
In January, 1936, Eliot wrote,
“I love your foot, and to kiss it has special symbolism, because you have to take off your stocking to let me kiss it, and that is a kind of special act of consent.”
Foot Fetishes #
Esmé Louise James a Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Melbourne claims
Foot fetishes are no new feat. In fact, we find evidence of this desire throughout the ancient world.
The letters of Philostratus evidence a particular interest in feet.
In To A Barefoot Boy, Philostratus worships the shape of his lover’s feet and implores them to always walk barefoot so he may kiss the footprints left behind:
“O perfect lines of feet most dearly loved! O flowers new and strange! O plants sprung from earth! O kiss left lying on the ground!
Things take a turn for the slightly kinkier once we get to his 37th letter. Philostratus describes the feet of a woman even better than those of Aphrodite (who, according to Hesiod’s origin story, had feet so perfect the grass grew beneath them) and wishes he could be dominated by these feet:
“O thrice charmed would I be and blessed, if you [feet] would tread on me.
The emergence of foot-washing as a custom, intimately tied to displays of reverence and love. In the 9th century, Pope Eugene II began the custom of kissing the feet of the Pope, which still continues today.
In the century following this, the torturous practice of foot-binding was brought to life in 10th century China during the reign of Emperor Li Yu. He was said to have been entranced by a court dancer, Yao Niang, who bound her feet into the shape of a moon, and danced on her toes inside a six-foot golden lotus.
This obsession was linked to sexual desire from the very beginning. It was quickly taken up as a fashion by ladies of the court, and became a symbol of high status feminine refinement. The last shoe factory only ceased to make “lotus” shoes in 1999.
By the 13th century, troubadour poets began singing praise of the beautiful feminine foot, desiring arches that were high, and toes that were slender and long. One group of researchers have suggested feet surged in erotic interest during this time as a result of the 13th century gonorrhoea epidemic. Their 1998 study found erotic literature about feet rises exponentially during major sexually transmitted epidemics in history.
For instance, during the syphilis epidemic of the 16th century, a movement in popular fashion began to draw eroticised attention to women’s feet. The term “toe-cleavage” became used to describe shoes which displayed the base of the first two toes. Similarly, by the 19th century epidemic, brothels began to specialise in foot-eroticisation.
When genital-contact proves to dangerous, feet are (historically) the next most-likely body part to be eroticised.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (or, Feet-zgerld, if you will) is believed to have been one patron of this new specialisation. Fitzgerald repeatedly visited one sex-worker because of her feet, and was even described by her as a “foot fetishist”. Esmé Louise James Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Melbourne writng in The Conversation, October 2022.
Laura was a muse for Petrarch, Beatrice for Dante and Eliot claims Emily Hale was his, leading him to transcendent paths.
Hyacinth Girl One of Eliot’s earliest poems, “La Figlia Che Piange” (“The Girl Who Weeps”), meditates on the poetic gain that comes out of romantic loss.
Written in 1911 or 1912, around the time that Eliot first met Hale, it reads now as an eerie prefiguration of their relationship.
The speaker observes a forlorn girl and her erstwhile suitor from afar:
She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
The prospect of the lovers’ togetherness, including the sexual fulfillment that is suggested by the woman’s “arms full of flowers,” tantalizes the speaker, but it also threatens him: such joyous connection is beyond the purview of his poetry, and all he can know is that gaining it would mean losing his art. Only pain, this poem asserts, can produce the “gesture and a pose” that turns life into literature.
Longing, then, is essential to the poet, and Eliot knew what he got from his longing for Hale. “Unsatisfied desires can play a most important part in keeping the soul alive and urging one higher,” he wrote to her.
For him, the alternative to “unsatisfied desires” was not satisfied ones but, rather, “just deadening feeling.” He yearned for a world of “significance,” one that would do more than simply please the man, because it would “amaze” the poet.
Eliot admitted to Hale,
“A woman usually wants a husband: some men want a kind of divinity, a sort of human surrogate for the B.V.M. [Blessed Virgin Mary] I have had this.”
Many poets conveniently choose a muse who has already died, who cannot set the terms for her compensation. Eliot claimed that the man who had needed the muse was dead, and therefore unable to pay his debts.
In “Ash Wednesday,” Eliot depicted Hale as his “lady of silences.” Burning her letters (which he probably did, not when she asked him to, in 1943, but when she wanted them back, twenty years later) was one way of insuring that silence.
Often, muses are depicted as the breath of inspiration that moves through the poet, the secret author of the bard’s song. The poet depicts himself as her faithful servant, but his prayers are littered with commands:
“Sing to me”! “Tell me of the man”!
This painfully thin pretense of subservience and humility does little to mask the truth: that it is the muse who serves as the instrument, while the poet places his words in her more comely mouth.
And the muse—because she loves the poetry, or because she loves the man, or because she can’t tell if there’s a difference—lets him.
When the poet gives himself over, as Eliot gave up life and happiness, what’s left is his voice. When the muse surrenders herself, what can she hope to leave behind? What good are words to a woman whom no one can hear?
His love for Emily Hale, while he felt it, had the force of a spiritual necessity. It helped him toward the church, he tells her in the first letter in the Hale collection.
“I want to convince you, that my love for you has been the one great thing all through my life”.
According to some biographers, Hale has long been understood to be the inspiration for some of Eliot’s most breathtaking verse, including the first lines from Burnt Norton, the first poem of his Four Quartets.
“What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
My words echo Thus, in your mind.”
Eliot and Hale met up at a tea party in London in late 1930, the unhappily married poet wrote on 3 October of that year:
“If you knew what pages and pages of tenderness I am not writing now [underscored] I think you would trust me. “I have no really intimate friends, though vast acquaintances,” Eliot wrote, in his own hand, imploring Hale to accept his ardour.
“For the first and last time, praying that I have given no offense. For I see nothing in this confusion to be ashamed of – my love is as pure … as any love can be.” He concluded: “If this is a love letter it is the last I shall ever write in my life. And I will sign it.”
Hale, whose replies no longer exist, accepted Eliot’s entreaties. So began a passionate correspondence with his paramour, who by now was based in Boston, while he was in England.
By November of 1930, Eliot – now typing – wrote he had been in a “state of torment” for a month.
“You have made me perfectly happy: that is, happier than I have ever been in my life; the only kind of happiness now possible for the rest of my life is now with me; and though it is the kind of happiness which is identical with my deepest loss and sorrow, it is a kind of supernatural ecstasy.” He continued: “I tried to pretend that my love for you was dead, though I could only do so by pretending myself that my heart was dead; at any rate, I resigned myself to celibate old age.”
Describing himself to be in a “kind of emotional fever”, by December he confessed that “the pain is more acute, but it is a pain which in the circumstances I would not be without”.
With the death of his wife in 1947, he decides not to continue the relationship with Emily because she would have killed the poet in him. His explains his surprising marriage to Vivienne:
“All I wanted of Vivienne was flirtation or a mild affair. I was too shy and inexperienced. I was a divided man, as I had been from 1911 - 1915."
Eliot accuses Emily of loving him for his reputation but insensitive to his poetry and a lack of respect for his newly found religion.
Emily Hale is devastated and also suffers a breakdown, however with quiet dignity:
“The memory of the years when we were most together and so happy are mine always.”
“I accepted conditions as they were offered under the unnatural code which surrounded us, so that perhaps more sophisticated persons than I will not be surprised to learn the truth about us.” JAMES PARKER is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Turned On.
Ten years later, in 1957, Eliot married his secretary, Valerie Fisher, and lived happily ever after; or at least, until his death in 1965. She wrote of him:
“There was a little boy in him that had never been released. Cats may have released it”.
Eliot presented Valerie with the first edition of “The Waste Land,” on February 17, 1958, with the words inscribed:
This book belongs to Valerie, and so does Thomas Stearns Eliot, her husband. He could not give her this book, for he had no copy to give her. She had wanted the book for many years. She had possessed the author for over a year, when the book came. She had made his land blossom and birds to sing there.
In his first wife’s copy of “Poems 1909-1925,” he had written, “For my dearest Vivienne, this book, which no one else will quite understand.”
He considered Emily Hale both his saintly muse and his ideal reader. “There is no need to explain ‘Ash Wednesday’ to you, no one else will ever understand it.” Eliot depicted Hale as his “lady of silences.”
Historical Context #
The period from the suppression of the 1848 Revolutions gave rise to supreme optimism of the ruling classes working toward unlimited progress. Isms emerged, flourished and died. The unifications of Italy and Germany posed a threat to the status quo.
Europe suffered under the delusions of la belle époque (1890-1914), a period in history characterized by the very rich’s inability to deal with the grim reality of modern life, and, as a consequence, their retreat into a frivolous, fairy-tale kind of existence of their own making, reminiscent of The Bourbon courts of Versailles under Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Most of this is reflected in what W.B. Yeats, called confining conventions established by “The parish of rich women”, the soirees of Eliot’s Prufrock, where “the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo, Gatsby’s parties “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy,” or Mrs Dalloway’s party with all the right people.
As depicted in Downton Abbey, This aristocracy rejected reality and thus dissociated itself from the real world. Instead, this elite constructed a rigidly structured society based on the domination of the weak—whether the poor, the opposite sex, or children. Most are trapped in their rigid mannerisms.
The right people judged others according to social standards in no way connected to merit. Besides being based on social inequality, this elitist system was also founded on faith in the unquestioned values of the 19th century. The rich behaved in such an arrogant, autocratic manner, clinging tenaciously to an ordered world that would withstand the forces of modernity and preserve their privilege.
The French Revolution gave a promise that all things seemed possible and life was on a trajectory of unlimited improvement heading towards perfectibility and the ultimate triumph of good.
The rise of competing ideologies, Marxism, socialism, liberalism, democracy …. ushered in an era of diverse thinking as opposed to the in a number of fields encouraging plurality of ideologies and the binary of autocracy vs democracy. Many intellectuals were wary of democracy fearing it would result in mediocrity..
Among many things, it was the Industrial Revolution and later the ferocity and wanton destruction of WWI that rocked the sensibilities of the Romantics forcing them to reevaluate their fanciful assumptions, creating doubt and disillusionment on a massive scale.
It is surprising that Eliot favours a Royalist society.
American high society aped Europe’s decadence. Most early literature reflects a world at the beginning of the 20th C, The Gilded Age, with its faux aristocracy, with a sense of disillusionment as a result of a collapse of public and private values.
Most historians agree on the needlessness of the first world war - leading mediocre politicians naively sleep walked into a futile war - the war to end all wars - the Great War, thought to be “over by Christmas”.
A WWI General, who after four years directing the war from the comfort of his bunker, safely ensconced fifty miles behind the lines, on first seeing the battle fields after the war, commented, “Did we send men to fight in this?”
Allan Clark remarked:
“The troops were Lions; Lions led by Donkeys”.
confirming this aphorism of one of the better British commanders, Field-Marshal Lord Slim:
‘‘There are no bad regiments, only bad officers."
The later butchery and aftermath of WWI utterly demoralised many intellectuals.
Even worse was the spiteful, vindictive and vengeful Treaty of Versailles where the machinations of Clemenceau and some allies imposed outrageous and impossible peace terms that brought about the next world war. John Maynard Keynes called it
the ‘murder of Vienna,’ - a Carthaginian one.
Woodrow Wilson claimed that:
a lasting peace could be achieved only by ‘‘A peace without victory.'
Both Boston and Paris had degenerated from their former glory wearied and stifled by propriety and cultural decadence.
New times marked a dislocation from rural life to the unreal muttering of polluted cities; a fragmented impersonal world. City life was sterile, wearied, exhausted, enervated, effete, sapless, stuffy, over cultured, pretentious, buried, smothered ….. they had lost their heroic sense of revolution and dynamism. Entropy refers to cosmic decline.
Eliot appears to speak for a disillusioned generation yearning for some mystical purpose and inner peace to fill the void. Raised as a Unitarian (reason over spiritualism, they rejected the trinity) he early demonstrates a high mindedness with strong moral duty and respect for tradition. Later he is drawn to eastern religions of Buddha and Hinduism, but eventually is converted to high Anglicanism and Classicism as a rejection of the “highly undisciplined squads of emotion”.
He is attracted to kneeling to a superior being, a surrender to a greater power by submission and even abasement. He prefers the structure and degrees of Royalism, by quoting Shakespeare’s:
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows. Troilus and Cressida
He felt that the Protestant reformation’s emphasis on individualism had destroyed Western Civilisation.
Protest Art #
Artists are in the best position to understand and reflect their times.
All human communication has a persuasive element to it. Peter Brooks, calls it
“the storification of reality.”
Whether Hollywood, the White House, the courtroom or corporate boardroom, or election narrative, stories provide power.
In Brooks’ Reading for the Plot what he calls “narrative turn” he reminds us that among the powers of narrative is the power to deceive.
“There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can defeat it.”
claims Brooks, reckoning with today’s flourishing cult of story.
Fiction trumps reality.
We are holistic being with cerebral, emotional and visceral capacities and effective narratives need to appeal to all to be successful. Words are not the only vehicle of communication. Music and paintings can also be persuasive.
Eliot attempts disassociation from emotions but is defeated because language is sensual.
He attempts to display a fragmented world, but his art is unified by recurring motifs.
Eliot claims an attempt to replicate the mournful music of Beethoven.’s last requiems:
Or the discordance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring
Edvard Munch’s best known work, The Scream, has become one of Western art’s most iconic images. See:
Picasso’s Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace.
Bob Dylan’s protest songs motivated many anti Vietnam war movements.
At Eliot’s memorial W.H. Auden and Igor Stravinsky were upstaged. Groucho Marx turned up and read Gus, The Theatre Cat.