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The Eliot Way

Posted in Poésie by hadyba on septembre 14, 2011

Cette discussion par James Longenbach de l’oeuvre de T.S. Eliot, qui prend prétexte de la publication de ses lettres me parait géniale. Ceci dit, je suis notoirement ignorant en matière de critique littéraire ou poétique ce qui relativise mon appréciation. J’ai aimé en tout cas.

The Eliot Way—a stultifying compulsion to weigh the details of everything from pajamas to the PhD—was something Eliot himself knew all too well. In an uncollected essay about Henry Adams, to whom Eliot was distantly related (Adams having been the great-grandson of the second president), he referred to the Eliot Way more generally as the Boston Doubt, “a scepticism which is difficult to explain to those who are not born to it.” Eliot’s ancestor Andrew Eliot had settled in Massachusetts around 1670, and there the family remained until William Greenleaf Eliot, Eliot’s grandfather, moved to St. Louis to establish the first Unitarian church west of the Mississippi. “This scepticism,” Eliot went on, “is a product, or a cause, or a concomitant, of Unitarianism.” Wherever someone infected with the Eliot Way stepped, “the ground did not simply give way, it flew into particles.” Such people “want to do something great,” said Eliot, but “they are predestined failures.”

Eliot’s first great artistic success grew from an effort to distance himself from the threat of such failure by dramatizing it. Not only the voice but the very linguistic texture of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” embodies the typically Eliotic stalemate between fortitude and inertia (“There will be time…yet for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions,/Before the taking of a toast and tea”), the sonorous, incantatory rhyming of the words “indecisions,” “visions” and “revisions” upbraided by the fussily alliterative monosyllables of “toast” and “tea.” Subsequently, the condition of being paralyzed by a multiplicity of possible feelings became the emotional core of The Waste Land, the long poem in which the Eliot Way repeatedly thwarts erotic promise:

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