Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Be Great...

Eliot, in Tradition and the Individual Talent, discusses in some detail the process by which new, major works of poetry transform and transmute our ideas about old(er) ones. Perhaps the task of this essay can be to transform and transmute (to whatever extent possible) our ideas regarding Eliot's essay. My motivating idea is to fill in some gaps in Eliot's construct. What if Eliot were writing today? Eliot encourages "past-consciousness," a necessary internalization of poetry's history. However, post-modernity in general encourages the exact reverse of this: the dismissal of "past-consciousness" as irrelevant, petrifying, and antithetical to the distinct brands of (often political) humor and irony that are relevant now. If Eliot were writing this essay today (at what might be, willy-nilly, the closing of the post-modern era and the opening of a new one), he would have to take account of this discrepancy between his own method and formula for greatness and the post-modern method/formula (the whole basis of which is that "greatness," as it has been handed down to us, is no longer possible.) Eliot, after all, published the essay in 1921, when he was still part of the avant-garde elite. How can "greatness" be reconciled with its own effacement? Can it be?


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