Over here, Steve finds Tom ‘Chopper’ Paulin‘s attack on Raine’s biography of Eliot to be L-A-M-E. I’d add that I thought it was pretty cheap, getting Paulin to review: you know exactly what he’s going to write. A really clumsy and cynical commission, frankly.
On the wrongs/rights of it, I just feel an overwhelming sense of tiredness. We’ve been through this so many times before. Eliot is an inescapably great poet, but wasn’t keen on Jews: it’s not just the ‘jew/Jew’ thing in ‘Gerontion’, but also ‘Burbank with a Baedeker’ and ‘Sweeney Among the Nightingales’ and the ‘Dirge’ excised from The Waste Land, and the passage on ‘free-thinking Jews’ in After Strange Gods, plus a few more minor things. Put them all together, and any defence tends to a rococo confection of exceptions and forced readings.
I don’t think he was practically or actively anti-semitic. I have no doubt he personally liked, admired and helped various Jews (unlike say, Pound); the problems are more to do with the engine-room of the poetry – the pursuit of a monarchic Anglo-Catholic Seventeenth-Century aesthetic and perpetual concern with tradition do not lead to a happy-go-lucky joy-to-all-the-heathens sensibility.
(I do find that Seventeenth-Century aesthetic appealing in some ways. I spend a fair bit of time in the period, and this case of Eliot’s inevitably leads to self-examination: if I admire Donne or Dryden’s line, am I in thrall to something constructed out of a certain sort of exclusion, a christian-cum-Catholic version of verbal beauty that has ugly matter at its heart? I’m quite resistant to this mode in contemporary work – in theory, Geoffrey Hill should rock my world, but he leaves me appreciative-to-cold.)
I don’t think it damages the earlier poetry hugely: that’s made of clashing tones, short circuits of thought, sonic and allusive texture conflict, etc, etc, so even that vicious aspect of the personal sensibility is another layer – the verbal construct is the more complex for Eliot’s problems.
The later poetry, though, after his conversion, I find difficult to stomach. I don’t think there’s enough kicking against the Christianity.
Incidentally, I’ve made clear my position on Paulin’s political readings before now; Eliot’s an interesting case, though, because I don’t think the questions are settled, and he set the tone for so much of the last century’s criticism.
Of this, there is no end. I intended a quick post, then I thought it would be cowardly not to say a little on the central trouble; so instead I’ve just dumped out a sequence of statements that need a lot of unpacking. Go me.