Sunday, 31 March 2013

Tradition and the Individual Talent’

According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Tradition means a belief, principle or way of acting which people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a long time, or all of these beliefs, etc. in a particular society or group. Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes ‘Tradition’ an ‘inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)’. Eliot commences the essay with the general attitude towards ‘Tradition’.He points out that every nation and race has its creative and critical turn of mind, and emphasizes the need for critical thinking. ‘We might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing.’In ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’, Eliot introduces the idea of Tradition. Interestingly enough, Eliot’s contemporaries and commentators either derided the idea as irrelevant, conservative and backward-looking stance or appreciated the idea and read it in connection with Matthew Arnold’s historical criticism of texts popularly known as ‘touchstone’ method. In this section we will first make an attempt to summarize Eliot’s concept of tradition and then will seek to critique it for a comprehensive understanding of the texts.

At the very outset, Eliot makes it clear that he is using the term tradition as an adjective to explain the relationship of a poem or a work to the works of dead poets and artists. He regrets that in our appreciation of authors we hardly include their connections with those living and dead. Also our critical apparatus is significantly limited to the language in which the work is produced. A work produced in a different language can be considered for a better appreciation of the work. In this connection, he notices “our tendency to insist…those aspects” of a writer’s work in which “he least resembles anyone else”. Thus, our appreciation of the writer is derived from exhumation of the uniqueness of the work. In the process, the interpretation of the work focuses on identifying the writer’s difference from his predecessors. Eliot critiques this tendency in literary appreciation and favors inclusion of work or parts of work of dead poets and predecessors.

Although Eliot attaches greater importance to the idea of tradition, he rejects the idea of tradition in the name of ‘Blind or Timid Adherence’ to successful compositions of the past. By subscribing to the idea of tradition, Eliot does not mean sacrificing novelty nor does he mean slavish repetitions of stylistic and structural features. By the term ‘Tradition’, he comes up with something ‘of much wider significance”. By ‘Tradition’, he does not refer to a legacy of writers which can be handed down from a generation to another generation. It has nothing to do with the idea of inheritance; rather it regrets a great deal of endearing He further argues, “It involves... The historical sense... and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastiness of the past but its presence; … This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional.” By this statement, Eliot wants to emphasize that the writer or the poet must develop a sense of the pastiness of the past and always seeks to examine the poem or the work in its relation to the works of the dead writers or the poets. To substantiate his point of view, Eliot says, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and the artists.” As he says this, he is perfectly aware of Matthew Arnold’s notion of historical criticism and therefore distances himself from such the Arnold critical stance. He identifies his approach to literary appreciation “as a principle of aesthetics and thereby distinguishes it from Arnold’s “Historical Criticism”. Thus, Eliot offers an organic theory and practice of literary criticism. In this, he treats tradition not as a legacy but as an invention of anyone who is ready to create his or her literary pantheon, depending on his literary tastes and positions. This means that the development of the writer will depend on his or her ability to build such private spaces for continual negotiation and even struggle with illustrious antecedents, and strong influences. Harold Bloom terms the state of struggle as “The anxiety of influence”, and he derides Eliot for suggesting a complex, an elusive relationship between the tradition and the individual, and goes on to develop his own theory of influence.

Saturday, 30 March 2013


Another important aspect of Romanticism is the exotic. Just as Romantics responded to the longing of people for a distant past, so they provided images of distant places. The distances need not be terribly great: Spain was a favorite "exotic" setting for French Romantics, for instance. North Africa and the Middle East provided images of "Asia" to Europeans. Generally anywhere south of the country where one was resided was considered more relaxed, more colorful, more sensual.

Such exoticism consisted largely of simple stereotypes endlessly repeated, but the Romantic age was also a period in which Europeans traveled more than ever to examine at first hand the far-off lands of which they had read. Much of this tourism was heavily freighted with the attitudes fostered by European colonialism, which flourished during this period. Most "natives" were depicted as inevitably lazy, unable to govern themselves while those who aspired to European sophistication were often derided as "spoiled." Many male travelers viewed the women of almost any foreign land one could name as more sexually desirable and available than the women at home, and so they are depicted in fiction, drama, art, and opera.

Just as Scott was the most influential force in popularizing the romantic historical novel, exoticism in literature was inspired more by Lord Byron--especially his Child e Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-1818)--than by any other single writer. Whereas the Romantic lyric poetry of Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth had a negligible influence outside of their native tongue, the sweep of Byron's longer poems translated well into other languages and other artistic media.

Romantic exoticism is not always in tension with Romantic nationalism, for often the latter focused on obscure folk traditions which were in themselves exotic to the audiences newly exposed to them. Goethe's witches were not more familiar to his audience because they were Germanic, unlike, say, the Scottish witches in Macbeth.

Friday, 29 March 2013


Rousseau was a moody, over-sensitive, even paranoid sort of fellow, much given to musing on his own feelings. Like the Englishman Samuel Richardson, he explored in his fiction the agonies of frustrated love--particularly in his sensationally successful novel The New Heloise--and celebrated the peculiar refinement of feeling the English called "sensibility" which we call "sensitivity." Of all aspects of Romantic fiction, the penchant for tearful sentimental wallowing in the longings and disappointments of frustrated protagonists is most alien to modern audiences. Only in opera and film where the power of music is summoned to reinforce the emotions being evoked can most modern audiences let themselves go entirely, and then only within limits.

The great minds of the 20th century have generally rejected sentimentalism, even defining its essence as false, exaggerated emotion; and we tend to find mawkish or even comical much that the Romantic age prized as moving and beautiful. Yet there was more than cheap self-indulgence and escapism in this fevered emotionalism. Its proponents argued that one could be morally and spiritually uplifted by cultivating a greater sensitivity to feelings. The cultivation of empathy for the sufferings of others could even be a vehicle for social change, as in the works of Charles Dickens. That this emotionalism was sometimes exaggerated or artificial should not obscure the fact that it also contained much that was genuine and inspiring. It is not clear that we have gained so much by prizing in our modern literature attitudes of cynicism, detachment, and ruthlessness.

Of all the emotions celebrated by the Romantics, the most popular was love. Although the great Romantic works often center on terror or rage, the motive force behind these passions is most often a relationship between a pair of lovers. In the classical world love had been more or less identical with sex, the Romans treating it in a particularly cynical manner. The Medieval troubadours had celebrated courtly adultery according to a highly artificial code that little reflected the lives of real men and women while agreeing with physicians that romantic passion was a potentially fatal disease. It was the romantics who first celebrated romantic love as the natural birthright of every human being, the most exalted of human sentiments, and the necessary foundation of a successful marriage. Whether or not one agrees that this change of attitude was a wise one, it must be admitted to have been one of the most influential in the history of the world.

This is not the place to trace the long and complex history of how the transcendent, irrational, self-destructive passion of a Romeo and Juliet came to be considered the birthright of every European citizen; but this conviction which continues to shape much of our thinking about relationships, marriage, and the family found its mature form during the Romantic age. So thoroughly has love become identified with romance that the two are now generally taken as synonyms, disregarding the earlier associations of "romance" with adventure, terror, and mysticism.


The Gothic novel embraced the Medieval ("Gothic") culture so disdained by the early 18th century. Whereas classical art looked back constantly to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Romantics celebrated for the first time since the Renaissance the wilder aspects of the creativity of Western Europeans from the 12th through the 14th centuries: stained glass in soaring cathedrals, tales of Robin Hood and his merry men, and--above all--the old tales of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. This influence was to spread far beyond the Gothic romance to all artistic forms in Europe, and lives on in the popular fantasy novels of today. Fairies, witches, angels--all the fantastic creatures of the Medieval popular imagination came flooding back into the European arts in the Romantic period (and all are present in Faust).

The longing for "simpler" eras not freighted with the weight of the Classical world gave rise to a new form: the historical novel. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was by far its most successful practitioner. Although credit for writing the first historical novel should probably go to Madame de Lafayette for her La Princess de Clèves(1678), Scott is generally considered to have developed the form as we know it today. Almost forgotten now, his novels like The Bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe nevertheless inspired writers, painters, and composers in Germany, France, Italy, Russia and many other lands.

Romantic Period in American Literature, 1830-1865.

The period between the "second revolution" of the Jacksonian Era and the close of the Civil War in America saw the testings of a nation and its development by ordeal. It was an age of great westward expansion, of the increasing gravity of the slavery question, of an intensification of the spirit of embattled sectionalism in the South, and of a powerful impulse to reform in the North. Its culminating act was the trial by arms of the opposing views in a civil war, whose conclusion certified the fact of a united nation dedicated to the concepts of industry and capitalism and philosophically committed to egalitarianism. In a sense it may be said that the three decades following the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson in 1829 put to the test his views of democracy and saw emerge from the test a secure union committed to essentially Jacksonian principles.

In literature it was America's first great creative period, a full flowering of the romantic impulse on American soil. Surviving form the Federalist Age were its three major literary figures: Bryant, Irving, and Cooper. Emerging as new writers of strength and creative power were the novelists Hawthorne, Simms, Melville, and Harriet Beecher Stowe; the poets Poe, Whittier, Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, Dickinson, and Whitman; the essayists Thoreau, Emerson, and Holmes; the critics Poe, Lowell, and Simms....

The poetry was predominantly romantic in spirit and form. Moral qualities were significantly present in the verse of Emerson, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, and Thoreau. The sectional issues were debated in poetry by Whittier and Lowell speaking for abolition, and Timrod, Hayne, and Simms speaking for the South. Poe formulated his theories of poetry and in some fifty lyrics practiced a symbolic verse that was to be, despite the change of triviality by such contemporaries as Emerson, the strongest single poetic influence emerging from pre-Civil War America, particularly in its impact on European poetry....Whitman, beginning with the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, was the ultimate expression of a poetry organic in form and romantic in spirit, united to a concept of democracy that was pervasively egalitarian.

In essays and in lectures the New England transcendentalists-- Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Alcott--carried the expression of philosophic and religious ideas to a high level....In the 1850s emerged the powerful symbolic novels of Hawthorne and Melville and the effective propaganda novel of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Poe, Hawthorne, and Simms practiced the writing of short stories through the period, taking up where Irving had left off in the development of the form,,,,

At the end of the Civil War a new nation had been born, and it was to demand and receive a new literature less idealistic and more practical, less exalted and more earthy, less consciously artistic and more honest than that produced in the age when the American dream had glowed with greatest intensity and American writers had made a great literary period by capturing on their pages the enthusiasm and the optimism of that dream.

T. S. Eliot as a Critic

Besides being a poet, playwright and publisher, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) was one of the most seminal critics of his time. Carlo Linati, his Italian critic, found his poetry to be ‘irrational, incomprehensible… a magnificent puzzle’, and in his poetic endeavors ‘a deliberate critical purpose’. Also in his literary criticism Eliot’s personality has found its full expression. Thus Eliot’s literary criticism can be seen as expression of his poetic credo. As one of the seminal critics of the twentieth century; Eliot shows a disinterested endeavour of critical faculty and intelligence in analyzing a work of art. For the sake a systematic discussion, his critical works may be grouped under the following headings: