Saturday, April 01, 2006

looking for the re-storable in Eliot, part two

From "Tradition and Individual Talent:"
Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, "tradition" should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.

Similarly, from "The Possibility of a Poetic Drama:"
By losing tradition, we lose our hold on the present; but so far as there was any dramatic tradition in Shelley's day there was nothing worth the keeping. There is all the difference between preservation and restoration.

-T.S. Eliot, in The Sacred Wood

And how to read these remarks today, with the proper 'historical sense', no less? Is it not the case that reducing them to apparent rubble with snide remarks about unifying narratives, nationalism, or even Europe would fall rather grossly beside the point? And not least of all because 85 years have now passed?  "A writer always addresses himself to a community of others, both living and dead..."  "Ruins...what else is there to love, really?"

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